Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The sacred thread and the pav

I'm on my morning walk. A man in his mid-forties is walking with his son. The son's around eight years old. His head bears testimony to his thread ceremony having been performed a couple of weeks ago. Right now his hair's like a crew around a circular oasis of longer hair.

Most boys these days refuse to have their heads shaved in what we used to call the puri-chamcha cut. (The chamcha was the long tuft hanging out of the circle of hair.) They don't mind the ceremony itself because it makes them heroes for a day, brings them gifts and is denied to their sisters. I'm not sure they know that it is also denied to a whole caste of people called shudras as well. The sacred thread makes my young co-walker my social superior. His thread is a mark of his exclusivity. It makes him dwija, twice born, while I, my sisters and my shudra brothers remain once born. Those who have transgressed against this law have been punished. See what happened to Shambuka in the Ramayan when he dared to recite the vedas. But the British came and spoiled it all. Ignoring the laws of the land, they threw education open to everybody, thread or no thread. And see where it has brought us. As a dalit and a woman, Mayawati is twice once-born; and she is aspiring to be our Prime Minister!

To come back to my young co-walker, here's this boy adorned with marks of exclusivity, and there's his father who's just received a call on his mobile. "What?" he shouts, sounding irritated. "Pav? You want me to pick up pav? How many?"

Oops! Does the man know he is about to do spectacular religious splits in footing it to an Irani's for pav with a son who has just been anointed dwija? In the bad old times of the British, the pav was the Hindu's most feared pollutant. Missionaries were supposed to have garnered their easiest souls back then. All they had to do was fling a pav into the village well and out went the entire village from the Hindu fold. The moment the villagers drank from the well, they became instant Christians. The Marathi verb for such automatic conversions was "batane", which means, "to be polluted, rendered unfit for social intercourse."

How things have changed! By an expedient turn of events, while the thread ceremony is still going strong, the pav has lost its powers of pollution. Today it stands as a proud emblem of the Hindu Hriday Samrat's economic agenda. It is the wrapping that goes around the hallowed Shiv Vada, filling the stomachs and pockets of the Marathi (Hindu) manus. So who's afraid of changing times?

8 comments:

@lankr1ta said...

I did not know the pav was such a polluter! Should have respected it more!

sumedha said...

The thread ceremony is indeed going strong, I know three `pure' Brahmin families who took immense pride in organising the munj. Their invites came in super-glossy laminated envelopes. Being a close relative of one of them, I had to take leave for that ceremony. These are the same people who laugh at Ekta Kapoor and Sooraj Barjatya. They will be the first ones to voice their opinions against Aishwarya Bachchan's `mangal' phobia; they will have a good time ridiculing `Asambhav', they will question Dr Lagoo for having acted in a retrogade film like `Gehrayee.' But after all that they will consult an astrologer for a date for the munj....

shanta said...

Hi Sumedha, here's some more of the same irony. An NRI friend of mine had brought her 9-year-old son to Mumbai for his munj. She was telling me her plans which included a horseback procession--yes she intended going the whole hog. The child listened neutrally. Then said deadpan, "I'm gonna tell the priest I eat beef." The mother pretended to be shocked, then giggled and said, "Oh he won't mind, as long as you're eating American cow."

sumedha said...

Shanta hope you have noted the family in Thane which revisited the long-forgotten Vedic practice of munj on Thursday by putting their eight-year-old daughter through a rite of passage that was once resticted to young males. Oh how modern, how egalitarian, how revolutionary, how .... pseudo

shanta said...

Yes. That's evidence I guess that in Vedic times the upper castes--the twice born--included women. That left a smaller section of the population out of the second birth. Consequently, Shambuka would still have had to be punished for his transgression, no?

Shivangi Misra said...

Aside from the thread ceremony, I think its very wrong to make an example out of Mayawati just because she belongs to a particular caste! She's the worst person to be representing the Dalit community to start with! And whether or not she gets to be the PM, has nothing to do with her caste, but her capability and intent.

parotechnics said...

Love this post!

The Counter View said...

Dear Shanta,
Just came across your blog. What a lovely post, this one! Thoroughly loved the way you juxtaposed the role of the poor 'pav' then and now...
Aside from all the ironies, your writing took me back to my younger days, perhaps 20 years ago, when 'pav' or any kind of bread was not welcome into the so-called Brahmin houses -- no one mentioned its English/Christian power to pollute, they spoke of it being a polluted thing, because it was made in Irani and Muslim bakeries.
Poor pav, indeed. Do we say (ironically) that it took the Hindu Hriday Samrat to recognise its true power?!
Smruti