Friday, February 20, 2015

Cheap Gods


“Are gods so cheap?” asked Kelu when the Ghar Vapsi thugs offered him Rs10,000. 

“If you demand more you won’t get even this,” said one of the thugs flexing his muscles.  Kelu saw another one twirling his moustache.

Kelu could not blame them.  It was he who informed them about his desire to convert back into Hinduism.  The only condition he posited was: “Get me and all other members of the family scheduled caste certificates.”

Kelu’s ancestors belonged to a caste of “untouchable” people.  They worked for the higher caste people who possessed everything from the lands to the gods.  Kelu’s people were never allowed to earn enough money to buy even the tiniest piece of land.  They were not allowed to read the scriptures.  If by chance they heard the scriptures being recited, molten lead would be poured into their ears.  Their women had to be bare-breasted especially when the men of the higher castes passed by. 

Kelu’s parents worked in the oil mills in those days of untouchability.  The oil they extracted from the coconuts could not be used for any religious purposes unless touched by a Christian.  The touch of a Christian purified the oil produced by the low caste people.  Strange rules.  But such is religion: a bundle of absurd rules.  In those days of absurd rules, Kelu’s people would be punished brutally if they tried to learn Sanskrit, the language of the gods.  Now Sanskrit was being forced on Kelu’s children in the school though they didn’t want to study what they thought was a dead language.   Such is religion.  It drives you out of Edens or pushes you into ghar vapsi according to its whims and fancies.

When Kelu’s parents converted into Christianity, the oil produced by them ceased to be impure.  But they stopped producing oil and went to the city where they got peons’ jobs in some Christian school.  Kelu’s uncles and aunts had not converted and so turned out to be lucky because they got better jobs in the name of reservations for scheduled castes. 

“Ghar vapsi is an easy way to improve our lot,” Kelu said to his wife.  “What does it matter any way?  One god is as good as another.”

“O, we’ll have not just one but thousands of gods now,” said Neeli, Kelu’s wife, jubilantly. 

“And we’ll get some money too.”

“Thank the gods, they have finally become useful really.”

“A bit cheap, though,” realised Kelu when he saw the amount being offered for selling his god.


12 comments:

  1. "In those days of absurd rules, Kelu’s people would be punished brutally if they tried to learn Sanskrit, the language of the gods. Now Sanskrit was being forced on Kelu’s children in the school though they didn’t want to study what they thought was a dead language." Haha

    Couldnt stop myself from laughing out loud reading this one...

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    1. Religion is the most hilarious subject if you can put aside the revulsion it will create every now and then.

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  2. Being an 'Untouchable' improves the success rate of getting a seat in school/college or a job, so why not improve their chances? Kelu's wife looks smart for the time being.

    On similar grounds, Kelu's parents (or grand parents) had converted long time ago, now there is a similar opportunity in front of Kelu.

    If we keep away emotions, we can see it is not Gods but the values that are cheap. When man was hunting in jungles for his livelihood thousands of years ago, there was no religion, caste, language or nationality he could identify with.

    I think all this system was created to keep poor in working class infinitely. Earlier it was different kingdoms and now it is politics who manipulate the poor (who are always a majority at all times) and take them under their control to benefit from them.

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    1. I wouldn't disagree with you on most of the points, Anand. It is really not religion or gods that matter but the economic welfare of the people. People change their religious affiliations for very mundane reasons like better prospects.

      The only point on which I would disagree with you is the worth of gods. That's because god(s) abandoned me long ago :)

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  3. Such absurdity... Such belief....
    and the lines “O, we’ll have not just one but thousands of gods now,” said Neeli, Kelu’s wife, jubilantly.

    “And we’ll get some money too.”

    “Thank the gods, they have finally become useful really.”

    “A bit cheap, though,” realised Kelu when he saw the amount being offered for selling his god."
    were really funny.... Imagine selling gods for an amount... and people buying em too!!

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    1. India has become fertile ground for satire, Lancelot.

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  4. This article is not just a fiction.
    This is real history which we saw just some half a century ago.

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    1. You're right. It's all history but reformulated here in the form of fiction. Yet every line is something that really happened in the past or is happening now.

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  5. Sir suggest me a book which gives a true and honest account of what you mentioned in 4th paragraph. I had read one book "Joothan" http://www.flipkart.com/joothan-dalit-s-life-english/p/itmdyuxpndjrtcbj It was hard hitting but the impact was flagged because the author would now and then start preaching rather than just stating the facts.

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    1. By the way joothan means"leftover food". I once as a child had gone to a party and I saw a few poor people mostly children sitting with baskets in front of them. I saw that people who were picking up the leftovers in the plate were putting them in the baskets. It was a surreal experience for me. I was greatly disturbed. I looked at my mother. She too had noticed it and was moved by the scene. She asked the host of the function about it. He said that it was normal. It is a surprise that a 30 year old woman did not know something which had been happening for centuries. We are encouraged to not see the truth and not to think about it even if we see it. When the author of the book mentions how he used to go with his mother to collect the leftovers I felt that he is my counterpart. He is that child who had become numb of his miseries and whose coldness of eyes terrified me and haunted me for days.

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    2. This story is set in Kerala, Amitabh, as you must have understood from the names of the characters and the coconut oil. I have read all histories of Kerala only in Malayalam. The Kerala history books I have are all in that language. There are books available in English at Flipkart and Amazon; you can check them out.

      The situation in Kerala is quite different compared to that in other states vis-a-vis Christians. It is the higher castes that were converted to Christianity earlier. So they became kind of intermediaries between the caste Hindus and the untouchables. E.g. if a Christian touched what a Dalit had made impure, then the impurity would be removed! Swami Vivekananda called Kerala a lunatic asylum because of the ridiculous practices in the state with respect to religion.

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    3. It is the same in all the other states sir. It is just done in a different way. The pandits would always come up with a way how to take out work from the untouchables and still exploit them. They would work in the fields but they would not be allowed to touch the crop after it was fully processed. They could touch the dirty vessels but not the clean ones.They would dig the wells but not drink from it(My naani,when she was young, had seen a person die in front of a well begging for water) They were untouchables but their young daughters were not so untouchable in the night. It might be more in Kerala than in other states but it was just the same.

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