My grandmother slit her wrists today.
To assure the inquisitive, prying world it had nothing to do with the inner politics of the family, I was asked to stick to the discussed story that she found out she had an incurable injury. The truth is she couldn’t handle the apparent shame my actions in the past two months had brought our prestigious family name.
Everyone in India barks about tradition. They say our country stands tall on an intellectual platform because we’ve been following a social structure that’s been untouched for centuries. One of the core ideas behind this structure is absolute obedience towards elders. The logic is easy enough to understand. They have more experience. The possibility of them making the right decision in a dilemma is higher. Tradition, I have been told is the platform for a good family life.
Except that I flouted this rule.
I fell in love and married a girl whose ancestors had a different idea of a creator than mine. They followed a set of beliefs called Islam. As it unfortunately stands, everyone in my family believes that Islam is an absolute abomination. They don’t believe this out of a sense of logical progression or reasoning. They just believe it.
I had lost any sort of a connection with my family the day I married Shazia. Yet, if you’ve drawn the conclusion that my grandmother lost her will to live because of my choice of life partner, you’re mistaken. My grandmother killed herself because she realised that it was Shazia who saved her life.
Granny had had a small accident on her daily route to the marketplace. She needed blood during the surgery to save her life. It took me a massive amount of courage to tell her that due to the fact that no donors had been available during the emergency, Shazia was forced to donate blood to keep her alive. At first, granny – who for me has always been a symbol of calm my entire life heard the news like I thought she would. She nodded and kept nodding, mostly to herself. After a minute she burst into a hysterical rage, cursing at mortals and her Gods, begging to know how elaborately she had sinned to deserve a fate so bad.
I had been prepared for a certain amount of chaos, but granny’s outburst shook me to the core. Is it that bad, following another religion? After living on this planet for eight decades, do you not understand that life is way more precious than a doctrine that’s been created to help us live well. What kind of tradition objectifies blood! Is it not the same source of life that flows inside you and me?
I went home deeply disturbed about her behaviour. I had informed someone that my wife had been instrumental in keeping her alive. Gratitude goes a long way off, but acceptance is the least I had expected. Flashes of my childhood came back, where my family would be praying in Sanskrit. No one understood a single word of what was being said. We were all singing in a language that had been used for centuries to appease our Gods.
We’re Brahmins. It means, a couple of thousand years back – people paid us buckets of money to act as a connect between them and the Gods. For some reason, it was only us who God listened to. It was because of this unique talent that we asserted our right to be educated. It was almost like a feeling of sexual triumph, the way my father would drunkenly tell anyone who listened that our blood has been pure for the past 16 generations. I would ask him why he still prayed in Sanskrit, when he himself didn’t understand what was being said! It was elitist. A language only we were entitled to understand.
Father died when I was young, and I travelled. I read. I reasoned. I realised with time that I was following a set of beliefs that I had never questioned. I slowly divided myself from the lot. It was hard, but I willed myself to be away from a system that does not make me feel happy.
I stopped laughing at jokes I found hurtful to other religious ideologies. We had been watching a cricket match, where my cousins made a crude joke at the circumcised penis of the opening batsman of the opposing team. I walked away. I was sent a joke about Jesus not being able to sexually arouse himself while on the cross. I asked the sender if he would have tolerated a joke of a similar nature about one of our Gods who legend swears, carries a snake on his neck. I was met with silence.
I distanced myself from my family as I could no longer be happy in their culture. I am sure the problems I see are problems that are faced by reasoning individuals of any religious background. I was asked by a kid who God is. I told him the truth. “We don’t know”. I told him no one knows. But if he finds peace or salvation believing any theory that gives him happiness, he shouldn’t bother with the opinions of anyone else, provided he doesn’t harm them or maim them in an effort to convince them about the validity of his beliefs.
Being agnostic was the best thing that happened to me, till I met Shazia.
Shazia and I fell in love. She had lost her parents early, and her guardians were atheist. My family told me that expecting any sort of support in mixing bloodlines was a futile effort. I couldn’t care less. We wed in a quiet ceremony where people who love us and not our expectations were called. We joked that the devil would be quite dumbfounded about our fate, as he’d have creators of two opposing faiths hurling instructions about our fate. We were together, that’s all that mattered.
My grandmother had begged me to consider breaking the wedding. She followed a well written script that targeted the listener using an elaborate combination of emotional blackmail, threats and monetary rewards. I smiled at the end of it and asked Shazia to make us tea and coolly answered with a negative. She had been living with me at my apartment. Granny spat and left. I didn’t blame her. She was guided by dogma.
If there are two communities my family would not tolerate, it is the blacks and the Muslims. This bewilders me. Most Hindus, including myself have a skin tone that’s darker than the night. Islam, I have warned, has rituals that ‘make no sense’. If I start to make a list of customs which we follow without any idea, it would take me a painstakingly long time. Worshiping a phallus and feeding milk to snakes are glazed cherries on the top
But why am I writing all this? This is a confession. I want to make it clear that I would have asked Shazia to donate her blood only for the most selfless reasons, to save a life. I hoped that for one moment, my family would gain how futile quarreling over imagination is. Like Sagan said, the world is so exquisite, with so much love and moral depth that there is no reason to deceive ourselves with pretty stories for which there is little good evidence. It’s far better to look death in the eye, for the brief but utterly magnificent journey life provides us.
For what I wanted to really tell granny was that, the blood that spilled out of her veins when she slit her wrists, in an effort to cleanse herself, was never really Shazia’s. It was mine.
The one time when it mattered most, I had lied.
And I was happy…
Artwork: Gavin Aung Than’s Zen Pencils, arguably the best inspirational blog on the internet I know of.
This story is a work of fiction.