India's community identities
Aunt Rhoda is awesome. Once a week she takes 5 girls from underprivileged backgrounds through their math homework - today I listened in on a lesson about the quadratic equation. These girls were taken in by nuns because they either don't have families who can provide for them or they don't have families at all. They gathered around my Mac to see pictures of themselves, pills full of giggles. Over the years, four of Aunt Rhoda's students from this lot have gone on to college, something she is justifiably proud of.
It is the way one wears her sari, anemia the fabric her sari is made of, store the way one greets a friend, the way one cooks chicken, or whether one eats chicken at all. “We are this way” is a common expression pronounced with the Indian equivalent of a Talmudic shrug. “We” refers to the mirco-identity of a small group, categorized and defined by a complex intersection of race, religion, geography, occupation, social standing, family ties. It’s like looking under a microscope at what would be a monolith to the naked eye. At my Aunt’s home the other day, four guests were saying goodbye. I just nodded and smiled at the Manglorian Hindu couple, but kissed the Manglorian Christian woman on both cheeks and shook the hand of the Manglorian Christian man – everyone participated in the goodbye rituals intuitively and seamlessly and to have done anything differently would have crossed a subtle line in social conduct.