My family is as traditional as any I know. We come from Bhojpur, an area of North India that is at present divided between Bihar and Uttar Pradesh state. We identify as Bihari, and speak Bhojpuri, a language earthier and sweeter than Hindi, India’s official language.
My grandfather was an only child. He and his second wife had eight (surviving) sons and daughters. A man of discipline, he created wealth by working hard and living frugally. Yet he spared no expense when it came to the children’s health or education. He sent three of his sons to England for advanced study, and the grandchildren went to the best schools around.
Dadaji was also a man of his times. He didn’t approve of women baring their skin (I’m talking forearms!), and certainly didn’t want the girls in the house to dance. Sometimes I wonder what he thinks of the grandchildren and how they turned out.
For one, they’ve gone and married outside the caste. We are Kayasthas (think Amitabh Bachchan) who have had to welcome a Pathan in the house, an Anglo-Canadian, an Anglo-American, and even a gay Sindhi. So much for caste purity.
I look around at the extended family and see that we are not alone. There is the Bengali aunt, the Punjabi brother-in-law, the Agrawal brother-in-law, the Telugu sister-in-law. Yes, there are “pure” Bihari couples too, but I doubt Dadaji anticipated so much diversity so soon.
What he believed in was the power of a good education. He believed that the best inheritance one could give children and grandchildren was a healthy body and an educated mind. It is not a coincidence that educated minds also tend to be open minds.
Had he been around, he might have encouraged us to consider a good Kayastha boy or girl. But he was also a pragmatic person who could look beyond the trivial and focus on the truly important things in life. Looking at his grandchildren today, he would be proud: of the entrepreneur, the computer scientist, the academic, the neurologist, the accountant, the cardiologist, the information systems specialist, the doctor, the psychologist, the gender specialist, … each one of them a special human being. His vision and his values live on—in each one of us.