Either by coincidence or because it features ever so often in everyday discussions or in the media, tradition and the great division between people of different ethnicity or communities seems to have been on my mind a lot recently. I was reading a book lent to me by my brother-in-law, Anand. It's an author I dislike, Chetan Bhagat, because of his way too simplistic and forced style (if you can refer to it as a style), but the story was fairly engaging. Perhaps because it was inspired by his story about his marriage (him being Punjabi) to his Tamilian wife and the difficulty of inter-community marriages, there was a little more character to this piece of work then some of his other writing. Anyhow, this isn't about Bhagat's writing, but rather the theme and the great opposition that is still rampant across India (and I'm sure across the world) to marrying and associating outside one's comfort zone. For what else is a community based on religion or ethnicity, but a comfort zone? Traditions that bind communities together that have been followed for years are held on to fiercely and any signs of erosion or assimilation are viewed as a threat. It is unrealistic of course, as the world grows smaller, travel increases, work takes you around the country or the world, one's exposure grows and isolation becomes obsolete.
Anyone who knows me well enough, knows my great passion for musicals - the cheesier the better. I watched 'Fiddler on the Roof' again when it came on television, taking advantage of Sid's absence to watch it at leisure (without the whining of the utter dreariness of all this song and dance!). The small Jewish community in Anatevka in early 20th century Russia hang on to their traditions, not bothering anyone and hoping nobody would bother them. Of course, I watch it mostly for the great songs sung by Tevye, his family and the whole community. Tevye slowly watches his three daughters choose their own husbands, greatly disturbed by this break from tradition, but finally accepts it. The entire village is finally made to leave in a cruel upheaval where they all leave for different parts of the country and the world - Tevye and family for America. It's heartbreaking to watch them leave, but there is also a sense of hope and opportunity.
And so it goes on...friends not finding rented accommodation because they're Muslim, or Christian, or North Indian, or fish-eating, or single, or they're names sound dodgy - the list is endless. It's a miracle how one manages to find tenants in India. Hanging on to one's traditions is understandable, and to most people these traditions are so sacred and binding, it's unfathomable to let go. However, opening oneself up can be so rewarding. Most of my friends are married outside their community, religious or regional. I myself find it a highly entertaining experience. My "Christian" origins (I don't mention my regional origins because it's really mixed!) married into a Rajasthani/UP-ite family, even though from a similar Air Force background, leads to much amusement, since all the cliches of us terribly alien "Kish-chuns" (as I overhead my dhobi once say)! Digressing for a moment from personal experience, Sid and I were watching Rahul Dulhaniya Leh Jayegaa, where each of the contestants did a dance routine for the creepy protagonist. The girl from Bengal dressed in a sari, traditional style, and performed accordingly, the Punjabi girl wore a lovely salwar kamees and did a robust gida and so on. When a young girl who Siddharth and I thought was Christian because of her name (Crystal or something, can't remember) came out in a tight pair of pants and gyrated violently, we screamed with laughter at this "keeping with tradition"! Personally, both our families have been equally entertaining (and I mean no offense by narrating these instances!). From being asked whether I know what jalebis are to being told that I don't have to eat a traditional breakfast of kachauri aloo as cornflakes were available as well to being told that I can put on a solo performance at Sid's cousin's sangeet since their style of dancing may not be to my liking! When asked what style that may be, I was told that it was more Bollywood and I could perhaps do some salsa if I preferred! From being asked whether I enjoyed the "Indian wedding" as opposed to what I obviously thought was an Indian wedding when I was married, I recounted the story to Sid and family among screams of laughter. My family is much the same, not understanding that not everyone is carnivorous and Sid has been vegetarian most of his life - my mother's absolute guilt ridden face if she can't manage to cater a single meal without a sliver of meat at the table for Sid (who pleads with me each time to please convince my family to not give him gout or kidney stones!). My nani looks utterly horrified if I tell her about a daily meal at my in-laws consisting of perhaps a rajma chawal or an arbi and paratha combo. "So they're really really vegetarian vegetarian"?, she asks, which is obviously a different question from just "So they're really vegetarian?"! So like I said, it's highly entertaining (for me and Sid - not so sure about the rest of the family!) and there's so much to enjoy. I think if people opened up a bit, they'd realize that. From the food, to the festivals, to the celebrations, to the camaraderie - traditions should definitely be held on to, because they're beautiful and sacred to all of us, but when shared they become even more special.