Saturday, December 6, 2008

#3. Me Marathi Maanus Naai

Me Marathi Maus Naai?

During these days of linguistic fanatism in Mumbai, I am passing through a strange personal dilemma. But to understand why, you have to be patient and hear a long story about who I am.

It was probably during the Third Battle of Panipat that a large number of Maharashtrian Brahmans came to north India. Maratha warrior chiefs liked to travel with their paraphernalia, family, purohit et al apart from the battle things. It seems that after the Maratha were defeated, these Brahmans dispersed in north India, and a large chunk came to Banaras (now Varanasi). My great-great grandfather shifted to Ghazipur, a small place on the bank of Ganga about 45 miles to the east, and my forefathers lived there ever since. My great grandfather was a renowned ayurvedic vaidya in that part of the country, and he reportedly amassed a fortune. Unfortunately my grandfather died of cholera when my father was only 10 years old, and the property disappeared in a generation.

This group of Brahmans was different from the ones who went with the Maraharashtrian Brahman Shankaracharya who was sent by the Adi Shankar to Jyotishpith in Uttarakhand. This happened much earlier, and you still find Maharashtrian surnames like Joshi, Bhatt, Pant etc. in Uttarakhand. Our venerable Govind Vallabh Pant belonged to the same stock.

If our history is not clear, one may rightly ask why we call ourselves Marathi. The proof is Marathi, the spoken language, though what was used by my later forefathers was much diluted by the influence of north India. The other evidence is the religious rites and customs.

Come to poor me. My father married a girl from Bihar. And I grew up as a typical upper middle class Hindi speaking person whose family was never fully assimilated with the North Indians.

Many from our closed group migrated to Calcutta where a number of them got employment in banks, and some to parts of Bihar. Several religious rites were observed which were more prevalent among other linguistic groups than a typical Deshastha Brahman family. My father’s sister observed a Lakshmi Puja which was basically a Gujerati rite, and people expressed surprise. She was insistent that it brought her good luck, and she would not give it up.

Some of my cousins and other relatives went back to various places in Maharashtra, Nagpur, Pune, Nasik. They quickly adopted the accent of the region, language was of course the same. But one of my cousins who shifted to Nagpur, and married a local girl, casually confided to me that he would probably have been happier in Calcutta where he spent his young days. He said that whenever he talked to local people, and his son was also with him they replied to him in Hindi and to his son in Marathi. (He is above 70, and has been Nagpur for more than half a century).

Coming back to myself, I also married a north Indian girl and most of my life worked in Madhya Pradesh, and for some years in Delhi. My last stint was in Mumbai for about 7 years, but there I found that the people considered me more of a north Indian and never tried to speak to me in Marathi. In those seven years, even the domestic help spoke to me and my wife in Hindi.

That my daughter has married a north Indian, and settled in Mumbai where he has a job, and my son who is working abroad is also thinking of marrying a Delhi girl is understandable,

This time when my daughter came to us in Gwalior for her annual visit, she casually mentioned that very soon her position would be that of Muslims in Mumbai. I had no readymade reply for her.

Can my and my children’s claim of being only Indians and not Marathi Manus be acceptable in the largest metro of the country ?

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