Not a Brahmin
Writing about an incident that happened in my native place Vijayawada when I was only around five or six years old. This was much before I got interested in roses and gardening. Both my parents hail from there and we used to visit relatives on both sides during the summer holidays.
However, I used to spend most of my time at my maternal grandfather’s place because my mother preferred to stay there, and the cousins on my maternal side were all around my age, whereas since my father was the youngest son, all the cousins on father’s side were much older than me and couldn’t qualify as playmates. My father used to very rarely visit my mother’s house, in fact, I remember him coming only once when I was around.
One day, he had come around noon and sat in a wooden chair in the verandah in front of the house and chatted with my grandfather and some other relatives. However, he didn’t seem very comfortable and wanted to leave soon. Then my grandmother requested him to have lunch and leave, to which he agreed. She then brought out a banana leaf and served him on the verandah itself, instead of asking him to have lunch in the dining room adjacent to the kitchen where we all normally sat on the floor and ate.
I was also surprised to see that she was serving onto a banana leaf and not a steel or silver plate, like she normally did. Had noticed this happen once earlier when another couple had visited recently. They had also been served on leaves in the verandah. So I asked my aunt who was standing next to me why she was serving him on a leaf. My aunt replied that it was because he was “not a Brahmin”. I was quite stunned by her answer and it was something new to comprehend.
Trying to resolve this new dilemma, I asked her why my grandparents had not got my mother married to a Brahmin, but to my father who was not one. And since they had got her married to a non-Brahmin, they should be treating him on par with everyone else in the family. However my aunt replied that my grandparents had nothing to do with the marriage and that my mother had got married by herself, and that my parents had had a “love marriage”.
So that explained everything! Why my father was a non-vegetarian, while my mother wasn’t. And why we were told not to mention at grandpa’s place that we had non-veg back home in Bangalore and so many other such issues. While I was happy to hear about my parents “love marriage” and see them in a more romantic light, I was also filled with doubts about myself. What was I? Was I a Brahmin, or not a Brahmin? If I wasn’t a Brahmin, why was I accepted and allowed to eat on a plate in the dining room? But these were tough and embarrassing questions, and I didn’t feel like asking my aunt or anyone else and kept them to myself.
So, from quite a young age, I realized that I was somewhat “different” from others and it sometimes bothered me a lot, though I couldn’t put it into words. Not only because of caste but also because of the fact that unlike most of my friends’ and neighbours’ families, my family wasn’t a “happy family”.
PS: Photo by my cousin Srinivas Sistla.