Guest Post – Defilements

My friend Anil went down memory lane to come up with this post about his childhood and the problems of semi rural/rural India of the forties and early fifties. While in some parts of India, some of the older people still follow some of these beliefs, these have mostly disappeared.

Anil personally, grew out of this background, became an Artillery officer and fought wars beside getting wounded in action too. The first time I met Anil and his lovely wife Nina was when I was on a hospital bed recovering from my first surgery for a hip replacement. In earlier days, a visit to the hospital itself would have been considered a defilement!

Without much ado, I take you to the post to give you an idea of India of a long distant past.

“My childhood was completely governed by severe and conservative middle class Brahminical customs and rules. These were meant to be followed at every single breath and the simplest act of crossing a street meant violating at least a few of them.

In a society riddled with many castes, life was made even more difficult by innumerable sub-castes who had their rules too. It might never be possible to list them since they seemed to have been designed only to ensure the Brahmins maintained their superiority.

Broadly, these customs covered External and Internal defilement of your body. Therefore, on your way to school or office you were advised to stay away from strangers since it was presumed every person on the street was defiled in more than one way.

Naturally therefore, every defilement had a specified cleansing process that had to be followed outside the house lest you contaminate others in the family or worse, the house itself.

External defilements broadly consisted of seeing a corpse, letting a sweeper crossing your path or even touching a menstruating lady in the family. In fact these ladies made sure they banished themselves to one of the back rooms dedicated for the purpose and stayed there until they cleansed themselves. Use of leather articles like shoes and purses was forbidden as was touching anything with the left hand. My younger brother, who was left-handed, and otherwise an asset as a sportsman, had the most torrid time at home. Our grandmother’s only job was to correct him. He couldn’t touch any food with his left or write or even touch her.

Internal defilements were principally around food and beverages. Milk was hawked by people who couldn’t be touched but the milk they sold was acceptable! I suspect liquor was a “NO” anytime but in retrospect, I wonder why men spent a week-end out of town every month!

Defilements, external or internal, were a matter of principles which were purely a matter of convenience depending upon work, time and place.

And so while we grew up, one day on return of my father from one of his trips my brother, then seven, challenged these customs and flung his food and anything he could get hold of around the house. My father, a soft spoken timid man, joined him and soon we were all flinging things around. Finally, a shocked grandmother tearfully decided only she would follow her customs and rules and we could do as we pleased. We’ve never looked back since.”

And Anil, thank God for that!

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