Of convenient customs
Have I told you about my cousin who is an NRI in the US? In their house they have two fridges and two microwaves. Why two, you ask. Is it because they are very rich? No, it’s because they are very pure. You must know that the upper castes have many fears, one of which is an abiding fear of being polluted. They can be polluted by the sight of a widowed woman, the shadow of a lower caste man, by wrong food, water, touch…
So my cousin has two fridges and two microwaves — one for pure foods and the other for polluting foods. Yesterday’s curry, for example, is impure and goes into the second fridge. A packet of milk would go into the first. Cooked foods turn ‘impure’ immediately after the meal, so pure people like mothers-in-law can’t eat them later. But foods like curd or ghee are designated inherently ‘pure’. Convenient, because imagine throwing away ghee after each meal.
In the US, of course, you do your own housework; but in India, in my cousin’s parental home, I remember how the washed dishes were piled up by the maid in the backyard and someone had to rinse them or sprinkle water on them before bringing them in – because of course they had been polluted even when they had been cleaned because they had been cleaned by polluting lower-caste hands.
However, again rather conveniently, polluting lower-caste hands could sweep floors and wash clothes and clean baby’s butt without anyone having to purify everything all over again. Thank god.
This matter of “convenient” customs came up as a senior colleague and I discussed Koveru Kazhudhaigal, Imayam’s classic Tamil novel that celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. The book, considered a benchmark in Dalit storytelling, centres around Arokkyam, the washerwoman. My colleague told me how, in the olden days in villages, grains and lentils would be stored in launderer households. The community was untouchable, but because they worked with water they were granted certain exemptions, one of them being that their homes weren’t considered “polluting”. Convenient, because you needed storage space, of course.
This complex, expedient, hypocritical, self-serving way is how most Indians live. Some pious nonsense, several fibs, and innumerable cruelties later, lots of money goes into a temple hundi, along with a serving of hair, and Vaikuntha Loka, here we come.
So pardon me if I find it hard to take Amit Shukla’s angst seriously. He claims he can’t eat food delivered by a Muslim via the Zomato app because it’s the month of Shravan, a pure month. In other words, the food container will be “polluted” by Muslim or “impure” hands.
Does he know who cooked the food and who packed it? In this pure month, does he check who delivers his milk packets? Do “pure” hands wash the kurta he wears to the temple? Who handles the ice-cream cone he buys from stalls?
And what if delivery personnel simply change their names to Amit and Vijay? Will he happily eat the food? If he has to fly to Dubai on work, I am guessing he will eat what any airhostess serves because he can’t “send it back” when he’s suspended 30,000 feet above the earth.
Meanwhile, another horror looms on the horizon for our pure Shukla and Iyengar and Tripathi uncles. Food delivery app Swiggy announced last year that it planned to take on board at least 2000 women delivery personnel. Can you imagine? All these pure people will have to agonise about whether or not the women are on their menstrual period while doing deliveries. My advice? Get rid of apps; cook your own food.
“Food doesn’t have religion,” Zomato bravely and wisely tweeted. Yes, nor does it have caste. Nor do cars, clothes or books. Or homes.
I am looking for a flat to rent and home-owners instantly have two questions: Am I Muslim? Am I non-vegetarian? The latter being the code for ‘lower caste’. Many saintly people jump up to tell me this isn’t communal or casteist, merely a distaste for the smell of meat. Then I have to ask: why should NRIs settled in Seattle worry about the smells of cooking in a flat they own in Chennai?
Courtesy : The Hindu