Digging Up Roots

Life as a second generation Australian was never going to be easy. I guess everyone during their adolescence questions their identity. However, the answer to these when posed by a cultural hybrid is much more complex than otherwise. The task of balancing our roots with our surroundings has always been a delicate art which can have pervasive repercussions if not perfected.

I was born in Canberra. In fact, I have lived here my entire life in a fairly normal neighbourhood with the same opportunities as many of my Anglo-Celtic peers. Throughout my adolescence, I imagined myself as the proud son of Indian-born parents who expressed his traditional culture while maintaining a common Australian way of life. Fairly straightforward, right?

My identity crisis took a drastic turn over the summer when I was visiting an indigenous tribe in Vanuatu. I was conversing with one of the members of the tribe who lamented to me of his fear regarding the loss of his tradition, culture, language, and way of life. He spoke of even his grandparents’ inability to remember all of their rituals and practices. I assured him that such events were merely the way in which the world developed and progressed and that he should treasure whatever he was able to and pass on whatever he could to his children. He agreed that it was undeniable that his culture would slowly dilute but expressed his anxiety that his children will one day become ashamed of their rich background due to their modernised need for logic and reasoning. This struck a chord with me.

Many ancient cultures are based on superstition, fantastical tales, and mythology, however such literature is of no relevance to the youth who pursues scientific rationality over all else. I do not, in any way, condemn science. But what I do not appreciate is the loss of centuries of colourful tradition and culture which narrate to us the story of our forefathers and mothers. I want to be able to tell my children and grandchildren the same tales my grandmothers told me, and which so entranced me as a child. I want to be able to express our family history to them and for them to do the same with their heads held high.

What I do not want is for my descendants to get caught up in a whirlpool of homogeneity and let our familial and cultural roots disintegrate in time.

I trace my origins to South Indian Brahmin families. For those who are not conversant with the term, Brahmins are, and were the caste of priests, scholars, teachers, and spiritual leaders in ancient and medieval India. My father’s roots lay in a family of priests and scholars while my mother’s ancestors were advisors to the feudal kings. Both of these communities are fairly niche parts of the wider Brahmin sect.

The Brahmins also happened to be at the peak of a highly controversial caste system. I do not deny that the caste system wronged many individuals in the past, but I cannot let my cultural origins disappear simply on account of shame. There is far too much knowledge and wisdom that has come from my people that is constantly overshadowed by notions of fraud and corruption. These Brahmins were the ones who studied and educated subordinates in some of the most advanced mathematics, sciences, and arts of their epochs.

Yes, I accept that the job of some Brahmins was to chant verses in order to bring about arguably arbitrary ends for which they took money as repayment; but, that was simply the way of society in those days. There are still many, many people who feel that Brahmins are the links between themselves and the Almighty. So long as this practice is not manipulated and taken advantage of, is it so wrong? Yes, superstitions are proven to be whimsical, but if they provide a person with peace of mind, are they so redundant?

I wholeheartedly accept that many Brahmin practices are outdated and irrational, but I strongly believe that this is no foundation upon which I should disregard my heritage.

Being brought up in Canberra, I have been taught to think for myself, to have an opinion and to question that which is proposed to me. It follows that, at some point, I am forced to question the bases for my culture and tradition. The answers I find are not exactly on par with my principles and morals. Does this mean I wash my hands of my ancestors? Or does this mean I look beyond those norms and look at the contribution made by my people to their society?

Yes, I may worship mere idols and believe in the supernatural but I also believe in the preservation of my heritage, and ultimately, my identity.