This is not a spiritual rags–to–riches story. I am blessed to be alive to write it, and that is by God’s grace alone. In every other way, I am still as raw and perplexed as ever.
I was born in a small, forgettable sector of –––––––––––––. My father is a dyed–in–the–wool Hindu Brahman, and my mother a Protestant Christian. When conscious memory began for me, my father was abroad. He was struggling to set up his business, and visited us only sporadically in the eight years of my childhood in ––––––. My mother worked a day job at an air filter company to keep the family provided for.
From the start, it was understood that we would ultimately move to India. I remember looking forward to a life full of fakirs and freely roaming tigers and elephants, because my life was far from happy in ––––––. Apart from the fact that I was plagued by a variety of chronic medical disorders like asthma and eczema, I knew deep within my guts – even at the age of four or five – that my brother and I were aliens. Throughout my childhood years in ––––––, the feeling of being tolerated rather than accepted never left me.
I cannot say if my rather unusual family circumstances laid the groundwork for what was to follow for me later in life. My brother, after all, grew up in the same circumstances and certainly displayed none of the aberrations that I eventually did. But I do want to mention that we lived a life of low–grade trauma, and that the concept of living abroad is a highly overrated one in this country. The specter of racial discrimination was always evident, even though I did not understand it then. It became worse when we moved from Hamburg to Berlin, where the neighborhood’s children displayed an attitude of callous snobbishness that I will never, ever forget. To this day, I react very adversely when I become aware of somebody’s airs of superiority…
In ––––––––––––––, we finally flew from ––––––––––– to India. I have never gone back. I have no intention of ever doing so. My brother has visited there a few times, and tells me that things have changed to a certain extent. Maybe they have. I’m scared to find out that he’s wrong…that there still is a corner on this globe where people are, even now, prejudged on the basis of skin color and odd–sounding names.
New Roots in India
If I thought that the process of being transplanted and displaced was finally over for me, I was wrong. For one, I was suddenly exposed to my Hindu heritage in a very real manner. My father had often related bedtime stories from the Ramayana and Mahabharata to my brother and me, but that was all they were till that point… stories. We were suddenly thrown from a non–practicing pseudo–Christian environment into a fanatically Hindu one. My father is an RSS adherent, and a member of a splinter group of Brahmans that assumes it is on the top of the heap – as does every other sect and subdivision of this religion. He takes these ill–defined memberships very seriously, and we never heard the end of Hindu doctrines and his own pet theories.
In our new hometown of ––––––, my mother apparently took to the new hardline religious environment like a fish to water. Within no time at all, our house was filled with idols of elephant gods and other good–time stuff. My brother and I just went along with the flow, accurately judging even at that tender age that passivity is the greatest virtue and the safest approach in Hinduism. However, this left us with very little to believe in. We were taught that appearance is everything, and we became adept at putting up a good front – we attended every major ‘Pooja’, did all the obligatory pilgrimages and deferred to all the right people. I can’t speak for my brother, but all this left me with a gnawing sense of incompleteness.
In all fairness, I must say at this point that it was not all despair and despondency. There were good times – times of caring, loving and emotional support. Times of family togetherness and harmony, and quite a bit of joy. But those were the earlier years, before every single move my brother and I made was dictated either by religion, paternal discipline or academic strictures.
Further down the line came a seemingly endless line of educational institutes. As my father put it, he had his reputation as one of the town’s leading industrialists to protect – his sons had to be in the best schools and amongst the best in academics. That meant, at least for me, a series of schools and tuition classes. Excellence in studies was the Holy Grail, and we were expected to attain it. My psychotic educational ‘Yatra’ finally ended in the institute that would bring the infection brewing within me to a head – Military School.
The concept of rebellion had been an alien for me till then. One of my defining characteristics had been cooperation – the all–round ‘ good boy’. You could say that I had my own reputation to protect. But that illusion came to a screeching halt after my first year of Spartan discipline, one–centimeter haircuts and punishment for the slightest misdemeanor. I was fifteen then, and increasingly aware of an individuality that existed apart from good marks, meaningless Hindu chants and a relatively upper–crust lifestyle. I had no idea of how to give expression to it, though.