Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The Pseudo-Brahmin Syndrome

It struck me as a rather sad irony that most of those crying hoarse at the Congress for being pseudo-seculars ("sickulars") I happened to know were no less pseudo themselves...pseudo-Brahmins.
If asserting one's religious identity for its inherent positive "meaning" and a plethora of wonderfully meaningful practices & rituals, without succumbing to divisive tendencies and needless, harmful discrimination...and if using the knowledge imparted by my (ancient, not more recent) forefathers who practised the system to see(k) meaning in life and learn more about the Self is being casteist, then I confess I am a jaadhi-veri pudichavan and a casteist of the first order.
I am not here to claim the superiority of Brahmins (that we are definitely NOT, especially Brahmins of today), neither the superiority of the (non-divisive) practices of Brahminism. I am not here to even try to explain them (ala "Enge Brahmnan"). I don't think I would be misguided/horrendously wrong if I say that a lot of the habits/rituals/customs that Brahmins are supposed to practice, do have a lot of meaning contained in them. I'm talking about habits like - eating, performance of the Sandhyavandanam, meditation and these are, in turn, supposed to lead to a thought process of helping others, intellectual exploration, improving the life & living of the lesser privileged, contributing to nation-building, etc.
However, I am intrigued by those who call themselves Brahmins, today. The Brahmin of today no longer is remotely similar to the Brahmin of yore. However, the ideals that Brahmins strived to attain in the earlier days are very relevant even today, as they will be, eternally, like the tenets of Sanatana Dharma. Again, I don't want to go on and rant about those practices.
And I don't even have the authority to explicitly mention how a Brahmin should be today, and how best he can assimmilate his old habits for contemporary existence. But some traits are so distinctly hypocritical and obvious that they have pseudo-ness written all over them. These are not people who have renounced Brahminism totally. I would really respect such people, but this category sends shivers down my spine. These are the people who claim to be Brahmins but live far away from Brahminism, and try to defend their actions as being "in-synch" with the times. Here are a few of my jobless observations -
  • Ver'oda Pudungifying the Kadavul - These are the kind of people who frequent the Bay Area Livermore, Chicago Aurora and West Mambalam Satyanarayana temples and do big-big puja's like the Sudarshana Homam, Ganapathi Homam, etc. but don't care to do a simple 10-minute Sandhyavandanam everyday.
  • Purappaadu/Ezhala Sevai, etc. - Vakkanaiya veshti kattindu these folks will somandhufy Utsavar on their shoulders and chant the Divya Prabhandam while being part of the Purappaadu. Fast forward 10 hours, and they will also say - "Dei b***u....", "O***i" and other sacred chants.
  • Defending Hindutva - There's a large number of this group - staunch supporters of Hindutva who cry hoarse at the Congis for being pseudo-seculars, but hardly practice the art of sacrifice, helping others and nation-building. They don't know what the origins of the RSS are, yet staunchly support the BJP while bashing the RSS for being "communal".
  • Inter-Caste Marriages - An interesting sub-group this. Note that I am not supporting or opposing inter-caste marriages here. But such folks have been "Brahmins" all their life and supposedly (claim to) like the culture and tradition and what not......and end up marrying some God-forsaken soul totally not on the lines of Brahminism (It's another story that most Brahmins today themselves are on the other side :P).
  • Egg-eatarian - People, please understand. You can live a totally bindass life in the US or India without eating egg or egg-containing products. You have more than your supply of protein in "pure" vegetarian food, if you are willing to take the minute effort that is required. The US has never been more vegetarian-friendly in all its history (though there is some more way to go). The normal intolerable trash is that of not having enough protein intake. Punch those buggers in their face, will you?
  • Eating outside - *US alert* There aren't enough vegetarian restaurants yet, agreed. But even a little imagination and thinking should be enough to show how much the vegetarian food that we eat outside is, actually vegetarian. It might be my personal opinion, but eating a piece of bread coated with beef/bacon/sausage is the same as eating proper non-vegetarian food. It's like the difference between spitting at Manmohan Singh and bashing him up with a club and a cricket bat. Ok...bad analogy, but get the point? Again, I am not saying you should not eat at Subway. But after eating there knowing how high the chance of mixing knives/spoons with non-vegetarian food is...don't call yourself a pure vegetarian. Especially when you go on that once-in-two-years trip to India, meet your onnu-vitta-periyamma and tell her, "Cha...naan US'ukku poiyum adhe chamathu payyana dhan irukken...non-veg pakkame poga maatten.\n"
  • Thanni - It helps us mingle better machan...just social drinking. Puke in their glasses.
  • Smoking - Cinema'la kaatra maadhiri Vaayila Deepavali Atom Bomb vechudanum.
  • Vaadhiyaar Mama's - These guys are to Brahmins what Paper Masala Rava Dosai is to Dosai. They are supposed to mean the shlokas they chant and educate us (the lesser Brahmins), and they don't even know the meaning. Yes, this is the kind that blows the 'oodhubathi' with his mouth to turn off the fire. This is the mama who will commit the Sanskrit equivalent of singing "Jalasita ranga" for "Jaladhi taranga" (in case you don't know, in the Jana Gana Mana that is the Indian national anthem). Not to forget their amazing financial abilities.
For some reason, I feel how much ever the world changes and our practices change, wrt Brahminism, these things (at least) must not change -
  • Eating
  • Smoking/Drinking
  • Practising the Sandhyavandanam/Chanting the Gayatri Japam
  • Marrying within non-pseudo-Brahmins
Oh yes, I agree these are totally superficial features and a lot more is important, wrt exploring the self and trying to realize the Supreme. I may be missing the bigger picture by concentrating on the smaller parts. Fair...valid. But how many people do you see - who eat non veg and/or smoke/drink and/or don't chant any of the sacred mantras with sincerity and/or don't do their "Nitya Karma" and/or marry inter-caste/religion - who are actually even partially enlightened souls, actually? (In case you didn't know, Yes, there are a lot of fakes masquerading out there as having outgrown Brahminism and on the fast-track to self-realization. They kind of give you the impression that they are beyond all this, something like Advaita).
Will practising any/all of these habits then help then on the path of righteousness and goodness? Or self-realization or realization of the Supreme. Again, sadly, I cannot reply in the affirmative. But trust me, it goes a long way in improving your mental make-up and thought process. Really.
Sadly, I don't really know many of the duties that female Brahmins are supposed to perform, otherwise I would have happily bashed them too, as much as I did, my brethren. :(
So then, since I have talked like an uruppadi m****u myself, am I this proper Brahmin? No. In fact, I have no idea how a proper Brahmin of today should be. But I know enough to know when someone is nowhere close to being even a partial Brahmin. And that is what prompted me to write this post.
I know I'm going to be fried by you folks anyway -
  • I claim not to be a pseudo, then I am this egoistic, self-opinionated, arrogant, pompous prat who thinks what he says (and follows) is true.
  • I am a filthy bloody hypocrite.
Thankfully, I can partially escape both. How - I think I can safely call myself a quasi-Brahmin, as opposed to a pseudo-Brahmin. I will not elaborate it here, just now. Mail me for details. :P
However, I just hope the characteristics of a Brahmin don't change much more. Like, say, for eg., egg-eaters will slowly come to be accepted as the norm for Brahmins. As mentioned earlier, I hope at least these practices remain strictly (thus, indirectly hoping for the more important identity to remain). Else, I really hope Brahminism is totally wiped out from the earth. No pseudo, no quasi, no proper. Nobody should know that anything called Brahminism existed. Apparently, this won't happen too, I am told. One pseudo-Brahmin once told me that when the world is about to end, i.e., just before the Maha-Pralayam, there will be exactly one Sad-Brahmanan (Sad as in Sanskrit, meaning Good) in the World who will do something, I don't know what.
Thankfully, I am not Him. I cannot imagine being Him. I just wont be able to bear it. I am also a Sad-Brahmanan, albeit of the English kind.

Update: A detailed comment on this topic is posted here.