Saturday, December 27, 2008

Tradition ...

Holds a special place in the hearts of our parents and their generation. Perhaps to some extent in mine (mid to late 20s to take the vagueness out of the definition), but is much less incident.

Tradition manifests itself in the form of little habits that despite a genesis that is usually rooted in fairly irrational beliefs, become so deeply entrenched in a way of living that they come to be de rigeur and even expected.

Some traditions acquire a meaning that is bestowed upon them by the person who practices them. (Category 1)
Like when praying before a meal becomes a way of saying thanks vs. a way of randomly stringing together a known set of words. Like when shlokas, whose meaning is understood and hence which serve to communicate thanks, apologies and the like in a repeated standardized form vs. (again) random words in a sing song voice. Like when touching the feet of elders to ask for blessings is faith in the ability of unconditional love to make good things happen to the recipient vs. repetitive back bending to ensure no adult ego in the room is offended.

Others just stay, not cause they're welcome, but cause no one thought to ask them to leave politely. (Category 2)
Like (and this is obviously very personal) not praying when menstruating or not touching freshly laundered clothes for fear of polluting them.
Like having to wear symbols of being married (the mangal sutra, the toe ring, the sindoor) even if it doesn't influence your love or respect (or the lack of thereon) for the man you are married to.
Like fasting for somebody else's well being coz you believe that putting yourself through misery will bring happiness to someone else. Like how all of the above and most others are conveniently limited to women.
(No I'm not feminist, and I promise to slap the next person who stereotypes me as such)
Like believing homosexuality or atheism is sinful and will land you in hell. (See, this one's not about women alone.)

There's others that aren't even justifiable no matter how personal a POV you spin them into. (Category 3)
Like not letting a certain class/ section of society near a place of worship or a source of water for fear of contamination.
Like paying another family in cash or kind (also fondly known as dowry) to have them take your daughter in and bestow the oh-so privileged position of wife (bless their soul, wouldn't I absolutely lack meaning and identity without that label they're willing to give me after I take on their family name, and sometimes give up the first name I was born with?) on her.
Like finding it acceptable to kill someone or shun them from a family they were born into for falling in love with someone outside the community.

The thing is, apart from category 3 traditions, I'm indifferent to the others because they're just so personal in nature. It becomes tough to classify something as right or wrong unless it does physical or emotional harm to a living being. Or unless it constitutes a violation of someone's set of beliefs. And starts to intrude into their lives, pointlessly so.

Which is a battle we're constantly fighting with our parents' generation. I know of friends who've called off healthy happy relationships because of parental disapproval over the issue of a different community/ religion. Of friends who dread going home even to their own parents because it means donning an identity that is now SO far from who they are that it just feels like cheating on oneself.

And who mostly give in, because the parents in question don't leave tradition to choice, but turn it into emotional leverage, putting the child in question through utter anguish.

What's sad is how little education or claimed progressiveness has to do with it. That the same parent who proudly boasts about his child having entered the big league with a masters and a settled life in the US of A hangs his head in shame while hesitantly informing the social circle that the kid is marrying someone outside the community.

With my own parents, I've had the chance to sometimes be pleasantly surprised at how much they've opened their minds to a newer way of looking at things. Yet, there's things I still haven't managed to change their mind about. Like even if they'd not raise a fuss about the religion of the person I'm about to marry, they'd still create a huge fuss about me sitting through my own wedding ceremony if I'm in the middle of my period. Like even if they're in agreement with compressing the 1.5 day ceremonies into 1 hour of the core basics, they'd still be very upset if they found out I don't plan on wearing the Thali (Mangal Sutra) or the ring that signify that I am a married woman.

The thing I've realized through the small victories and the disappointments is this.
More often than not, making the effort to talk parents through a certain rationale to shed adherence to a tradition is worthwhile. While at times the clashes involved might feel like repeatedly banging your head against a wall, there are times when they will surprise you with their ability to understand and embrace a new way of being. While at times you may leave the room with a sense of utter failure wondering how you'll ever end the imposition of nonsensical rules on your life, there will be others when you'll have scored a big big victory for the generation that is to come. And for that, your children will thank you :-)

P.s: Dear you know who, this is inspired by and for you. :-)


Penguin said...

Sorry, but who ya?
PS - I realise you might not want to answer here, but you'll tell me later no? Plisss?

Fork Spoon Knife said...

ok! through all that stuff of hpeful hopelessness, I did get that there is some good news for you.. So Congratulations and wish you a blessed life! :)))

unpredictable said...

Penguin: We spoke

FSK: My mum made it clear when I was 20 that she wouldn't create hassles over caste and community when I found someone. This isn't recent :) Thanks anyway :)

Krishna said...

I concur. But! (Trivia) I thought the symbols of marriage are courteousness towards those poor single-and-desperate/eager/ready-to-mingles

unpredictable said...

Krishna: Ah maybe and perhaps. But then said single people would be given gentle hints if they did try to put chance pe dance on unsingle peoples no... no need for one mangal sutram or metti to prove that. :)

Krishna said...

As a fellow member(of single-and-desperate/eager/ready-to-mingles) for the past few years, I beg to differ. A symbol(especially a ring or lack thereof) would be a lot helpful. I dunno if you have experienced this as a female but those of my gender and generation who are seeing chickens coming home to roost for the stupidity of our earlier generations who constrained the females to homes, which explains the increasing men-to-women-ratio as we go up the academic ladder and into the workforce. Thus I suggest, no no, infact strongly request (pleese, pleeese) those females to wear the symbol, indeed a ring, as it serves the purpose much better, at least today (for the Desi females, whose footwear style has changed).