Swami Vivekananda described Kerala as a madhouse. Interestingly, the followers of the Swami turned out to be quite as mad as the inhabitants of what he described as a madhouse and what later has been advertised as God’s own country.
I once visited an ashram of the Vivekananda Swamis in the north-eastern part of India. I was quite down and out at that time, thanks to the manipulative games played by my boss with the help of many social, political and religious leaders. I was an atheist looking for a solution from a theist, from any god or demon. The Guru of the Anandashram made me feel like a piece of garbage. He expected me to fall prostrate at his feet. As a result, the first thing I did after coming out from the ashram was to order a paan with strong tobacco in it and add a cigarette to the order.
A few months later, a classmate of mine at the Central Institute of English and Foreign Languages (CIEFL), volunteered to imitate me in the classroom where sat students who were all mostly college lecturers deputed to do a course for which nobody who knew about the worth of the course would have paid a penny from his/her pocket. My classmate claimed that he was imitating me and then he walked with a backbone bent backwards. I questioned him later over a drink that I sponsored. “I have a forward stoop like a beaten man; why did you show me as the opposite?” “Ego, you stupid, you have a big ego which I was dramatising.”
The classmate was from Orissa and he had never known me before we met at CIEFL. So I raised a question, “Have I ever offended you with my ego?”
“No, not at all,” he said. I don’t think he was paying me back for the drink I offered him.
“Do you really think I have a big ego?” I persisted.
“Why do you think your principal has deputed you for this course?” he asked me.
It took me quite some time to find out that CIEFL’s course was a way for some principals to keep away at least one of their staff for a year. This friend of mine who enacted my ego (and who was a lecturer in English in a college in Orissa) and attended the English teaching course at CIEFL is today a practising lawyer in his home state. And I am a gypsy schoolteacher in an alien land.
Ten years after my joining the latest gypsy job, my employer wanted my caste certificate. Sorry, my birth certificate. All other certificates must be in order, I think, and they just want to harass me with something or they want to make sure whether I belong to some caste that the Government of India deems to be scheduled.
My parents had taught me that I belonged to the General Category [out of the umpteen categories available in my country] because Christianity did not approve of the caste system. It took me decades to find out that most people outside Kerala thought that all Christians are converts from the shudra caste or from scheduled tribes. In fact, Delhi taught me that. Delhi is quite a funny place for many reasons. That’s why I became suspicious when my employer wanted my birth certificate. For the first time in my life I looked carefully at that birth certificate. Alas, it gives me a caste! I belong to a caste called “RCS.” Will anyone tell me what that caste is?
I studied in a school (where that birth certificate was made when I passed class 10) run by the Catholic Church. My Headmaster was my English teacher, a typical cane-wielding Catholic priest-teacher. [For more about that school and that headmaster, you are welcome to my earlier posts: https://matheikal.wordpress.com/2009/11/22/gospel-according-to-father-veranani/
Why didn’t that English-literate priest know that RCS [Roman Catholic Syrian] was not a caste but one of the many fissiparous denominations of Christianity? At least, he should have read the fine print below that caste entry: “In case of backward classes eligible for fee concession.” No Christian in Kerala ever got any fee concession in the whole history of the state, I know that. No Christian in Kerala has been given the state of any backward caste or tribe. And yet why did my headmaster, a Catholic priest, do this injustice to me? And to thousands of other pupils [later, people] like me?
Do I belong to a high caste? No. I don’t belong to any caste. That’s what I want to state. I don’t belong to any madhouse that Swami Vivekananda saw in Kerala and the madhouse that his followers established in his name later. My employers are free to interpret my certificate anyway they like. I am now living in a madhouse called Delhi.
Delhi likes to place people according to their caste!
Would I like to claim allegiance to the high caste in Kerala? No, in spite of the history of my family as handed down to me. The high caste in Kerala, until the 19th century, insisted on all the low caste women (especially the younger variety) to walk about without covering their breasts. When the lower caste people started converting to Christianity or Islam so that their women could at least protect their breasts from the higher caste ogling men (forget the nocturnal neglect of untouchability by the higher caste men), the kings and their minions in Kerala started persecuting the lower castes. Consequently, there were quite many riots in Kerala – e.g., the Channar riots in the first quarter of 19th century. The caste system eventually disappeared from Kerala.
However, I’m left amused with the caste certificate given to me by my Catholic priest-headmaster who ought to have known the history of Kerala more than English.