Family Associations

I spent some time this afternoon looking at the address book released by the association of descendants of my maternal grandfather’s maternal grandfather (yes, I’m serious; there does exist one such association). Since I didn’t have much else to do, I did go through much of the book in detail. The makers seem to have put hajaar fight in order to prepare it – calling up thousands of descandants and asking them for addresses and phone numbers. It also took quite long to make I suppose – my address and phone number that is put there are from last August.

The first thing I noticed about our family is that there is no such thing as a “family tree”. Us being Kannada Types and the customary incest being there, there are lots of cycles in the “family tree”. I noticed at least two cases of first cousins being married to each other. The book has handled this rather inelegantly – putting the same pair of names and addresses in two¬† places. However, I don’t know how they could’ve handled it more elegantly without embarrassing the incestuous couples – since the concept has become taboo only recently.

It was also interesting to look at the geographical distribution of the family. As expected, the maximum number of addresses are from Bangalore. Interestingly, Mysore also seems to have a lot of people from the family, with not too many people inhabiting other parts of India. There is an incredibly large number of people from the family in America, and they seem to be distributed in almost all parts – though with a bias to California (not just the Bay Area – I saw a number of southern California addresses.

Interestingly, other countries have little representation. There is one family in Australia and a couple of families in the Gelf. Interestingly, there is no one in England (the book lists two families with England addresses, but both of them have since returned to India (one of them is scheduled to move to the US soon) ). There also seems to be a high proportion of ABCDs – a large number of people seem to have emigrated in the 60s and 70s.

It seems like a large number of ABCD cousins and aunts and uncles have ended up marrying people of non-Indian origins, but it is hard to say where their spouses are. In true Kannadiga tradition, everyone has been listed by given name only (with a few initials thrown in here and there) which makes it hard to determine who is from where (talking about in-laws of the family).

Another interesting phenomenon is the strange names that have been given to people who seem to have been born in the last 10 years or so (I’m only talking of people with two Indian parents). Some people still continued to get named after Gods and other popular Indian names, but quite a few names of this generation seem to be the types that won’t be found in any Sanskrit dictionary.

I had a few other pertinent observations as I was going through the book, but I seem to have forgotten the rest. I’ll add them here if I remember any of those.

On Religion

Last Thursday there¬† was a function at home, of the religious type. An aunt and an uncle had come home and sang a large number of hymns. I was told that the hymns were part of a series, called the narayaneeyam, and all in praise of Lord Krishna. There were a few activities also planned along with the chanting of hymns, and occasionally people in the audience (a few other relatives) were asked to do a “namaskaara” to the deity. I mostly put ‘well left’ to these additional stuff, and watched the proceedings dispassionately, sunk into my bean bag with my laptop on my lap.

One of the guests at that function was a two-year old cousin, and he seemed to be full of enthu. He is of the religious sorts – his mom is hyper-religious, I’m told. And he did all the namaskaaras and other activities with full enthu. Later on, my mother was to admonish me saying how even the two year old would respect religion, while I just looked on. She complained about how I’ve been spoilt, and fallen under the wrong influences. I muttered something about the cousin being too innocent to know what was going on around him because of which he sincerely obeyed.

When I read Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion about six months back, I didn’t feel anything special. I’m told that the book has a lasting impact on its readers – one way or another – and that a lot of people consider it to be life-changing. I felt nothing of the sort. I just read it from start to finish, agreeing with most of its contents, and using some of its sub-plots to enhance the Studs and Fighters Theory. The only ‘impact’ it had on me was about not being a quiet atheist, and to get into arguments about existence of god, etc.

I have an interesting background in these matters. My mother and her immediate family are all ultra-religious, and I happened to grow up mostly in my maternal grandfather’s place (since both parents worked). My late father, on the other hand, was a rationalist, though he stopped short of calling himself an atheist and would passively approve of my mom’s various religious indulgences. He would quietly drive my mother and my family to the Sai Baba ashram in Whitefield, and then wait patiently outside while the rest of the people went in for their “darshan”. I would usually go in and make noises about exposing the Baba.

I don’t know how, but till recently (when I read Dawkins’s book), I would never realize when people were talking about religious stuff. For example, whenever my mom said “it’s due to god’s grace that you escaped the accident unhurt”, I’d just think that she was being rhetorical. At least, that (and swearing) are the only cases in which I take god’s name. It’s only recently, and after reading Dawkins’s book, that I realize that my mother wasn’t being rhetorical after all, and that she actually believes that it was the strength of her daily prayers that ensured I escaped those accidents unhurt.

It is also intersting to note the selection bias. My mother, and her ultra-religious sisters, and their ultra-religious relatives, selectively pick on favourable events and attribute them to god’s grace. Earlier, before reading Dawkins’s book, I would shut up, but now I’m a bit more vocal about these things, and ask them why their prayers didn’t prevent the unfavourable events from occurring. Then, they start looking for the silver lining in the cloud and attribute that to their prayers. Never mind the cloud.

So what about my religion? Some people find it contradictory that my political views are right-leaning (socially) even though I don’t believe in God. I say that I’m ‘culturally hindu’, and that Hinduism/Hindutva is not a religion but a way of life. And if you scrap away all the rituals and other beliefs, what remains in hinduism is the religion that I follow. I like to describe myself as “athiest but culturally hindu”.

I believe that poojas are just an excuse to throw feasts. I believe in rituals such as marriage ceremonies as no-questions-asked-processes which “have to be done” but I don’t believe that they are a necessary condition for any benefit, or against something bad.

Two years back, when my father died, I found the post-death ceremonies quite depressing and decided I’m not going to do them. So an uncle came up to me and asked me why I didn’t want to do the rituals. I told him I didn’t believe in them. He replied saying there was no question of belief but it was my duty to do the rituals. I told him that I didn’t believe that it was my duty to do them.

Problem with defeating elders in logical arguments is that they tend to take it personally, and then decide to attack you rather than attacking your argument. I finally ended up doing all those rituals. But I happened to fight with the shastris during each and every ceremony.

In hindsight, I realized that my fighting with the shastris, though ugly, had managed to send a “don’t mess with me” message to my relatives.