Musings of an Octogenarian

Musings of an octogenarian, a Kerala Hindu migrant.

Unni – 3 years old

            Sunrise from our living room is stunningly serene when the settings are precise, as the golden glow of dawn designs a silhouette behind Sri Meenakshi Temple’s majestic tower, and the landscape is reflected in the still waters of our pastoral pond. Brooding over the solar star’s set journey for the day, I am often tempted to equate it with my own eight decades of expedition in life; his early rays offering assurance, changing to an imposing dominance of the youthful noon, as he gets mellowed into a soothing angle in the evening, and finally fading in a tranquil dissolution, aligning very much with the style and substance of my mundane modus of living.  Often I am tempted to contemplate offering gratitude to that Higher Power, the ‘whomever it may concern’, for allowing me the privilege of being here, with the utilization of time, space and resources on this planet. 

             If we follow Sanatana Dharma, a human life is the highest in creation with its Karma- guided discriminatory faculties, rationality, and moral conscience.  We need to be humbled by being its recipients and such awareness must obligate us to maximize our presence in return of that favor.  And the least of that reciprocation is an attempt to live within the edicts of a Dharmic life.

            We, the Hindus of Kerala are a uniquely blessed, endowed group of occupants of this planet, being awarded the exclusivity of an enviable blend of superlative distinctions that are nobler beyond our creative conjectures. The ultimate of His creations, the human life; in the land of virtuosity, the Bharat Bhoomi; born as a Hindu, delegated with its profound principles; in God’s own country, Kerala, the serenely stunning sliver of green paradise. We are inimitable. Failing to savor that reality and not be exalted by its excellence, would be our misfortune.

            Shifting our attention to a rather unsettling scenario, those of us who chose to leave, often carry a ‘burden’, regardless of how we choose to regard it, that we abandoned our pristine home to an entirely different nation, leaving our ‘mother’ and favoring to latch on to someone else’s.  Irrespective of the reasons, and irrelevant to what we gained, we walked away from centuries-old habitat and habits of our ancestors with its traditions, customs and everything pristine that belonged to it. The more I ponder over it, there is remnant guilt still nagging my conscience.  Even the setting Texas sun seems to chide me, as he exits for his next dawn on the other side, the side I abandoned. 

            When I left India half a century ago, I was young, immature, ignorant, and just ambitious.  And, I had a bundle of responsibilities.  There was also a certain arrogance of youthful optimism, with an amalgam of assurance and anxiety offering an erroneous backdrop.  The only target was professional success, motivated by hope and need, along with a willingness to handle and overcome all the oncoming challenges.  The demands of the new home were overwhelming; getting adapted to the new ways of listening, speaking, moving, dressing, eating, behaving and learning every bit to survive.  Before the internet days, the world was vast, distant, its habits diverse, its ways quite unfamiliar.  Life had only room to adjust, not even to appraise.  But we did; not just adapted, but competed, succeeded, slowly excelled and assuredly established.

            It took a while to feel settled, comfortable and in control, before the dire realization dawned on me, as to many of us.  An apprehension beyond the physical, economic and emotional comforts was a vacuum that needed to be responded to and replenished.  The missing element was an intimate part of our identity, that was as imperative as our shadows.   Our religious exclusivity.  It is what had given us the personality, an authority, and the essentially vital correlation between self and everything else that it related to. It bestows on us the spatial, social, functional, and philosophic perspectives setting us apart from the rest and endorsing the uniqueness that is distinctive of our innate self.  And when many of us collectively feel such commonalities, it generates group identity and similarity in belonging; and yes, a shared longing that is aligned with it. 

            With that uniqueness, our obligations as immigrants were felt as two-fold; to follow the precepts of our faith and habits of our heritage, as well as excel in our allocated professions and blend with the social requirements at our new domicile.  Looking back, we excelled on both counts, perhaps just because of our insightful upbringing.  We were reared and nurtured instilling certain distinct values and ethical principles.  It is a comforting thought, a glaring, proud revelation. 

            We, the Pravasi Hindus felt our religious needs from the moment we established our base here.  Hailing from different parts of India, we got connected, discussed, explored, founded and expanded.  Gradually from poojas and prayers done at homes and community gatherings, we organized functional groups, educating our youth, celebrating our fond events, moving on to building temples, supportive establishments, and expanding our manifold activities.  We have connected with similar groups between cities, states and nationally, we have created entities to protect and preserve our essential interests, we have succeeded in establishing Hindu faith as the fourth largest religious group in the USA, and we have been enormously involved in supporting the Hindu causes back in India.  The prodigious and laudable role that KHNA has been undertaking, is common knowledge.  Much more is required on an ongoing basis and hopefully the rising demands are being handled efficiently.

            On a parallel with our achievements in our adopted land, an alarmingly dismal scenario has been gradually, yet steadily engulfing our mother land, in Kerala.  Hinduism in the Communist state, as a practicing faith has been facing assault from every imaginable angle, that it is plummeting towards the fate of Kashmir in the imminent future.  Reports are pouring in as the Hindu count is steadily dipping in the census, our economic, political, cultural, emotional and every existential aspect of clout, fading fast.  We seem to blame others for all our ills, pointing fingers on everything else but missing the real reason, our own abject apathy.  The whole onus falls on us and our lack of pride, of ownership, the fundamental passion required to protect and preserve our profound faith and everything else that are very elemental to our heritage.  Perhaps we have given up hope and are awaiting the impending doom, being evasive, indifferent or even accepting. I am sure KHNA is aware of it.  Let us not brush it aside as just another Aesop’s fables.  Each and every Hindu anywhere in the world has a huge stake in it, and it is imperative that we take all the measures, to reverse our vanishing presence in Kerala.  As much as we have excelled in our own personal way or are thriving as a flourishing community in a faraway land, if our fundamentals are eroded back in our homeland where our ancestors protected our precious faith, we remain a failed group. I am looking forward to some productive discussions about the subject during our conference, that would establish concrete measures to help reverse the debacle and reestablish what our grandparents had proudly bequeathed us.                                  Let me attempt to end with a positive note. Immersed in my reveries, I couldn’t imagine if it’s the same America of the cowboys that I arrived half a century ago, celebrating the Kerala Global Hindu extravaganza with all its nostalgic trimmings of Thalappoli, Chendamelam, Mohiniyattam and the like!  Did Parasurama reappear with his second reclamation, raising our favorite green slice of God’s own country in the American savanna?  Or KHNA really managed to accomplish such a feat by some hypnotic reverse osmosis?                                                             It feels like magic, or even a boon granted due my ardent penance.  But the transformation that has happened here, bridging the gaps between continents and cultures, attitudes and acceptance, is way beyond my wildest dreams when I landed here in the sixties.  And for now, I can relax with a sigh of relief and a smile of reprieve – yes, we have managed to put our acts together.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          

Author: Dr. Venugopal Menon

Was born and raised in a loving family in pre-independent India, became a doctor, served Indian army, got married, then came over to America with wife and a daughter, established as a successful Allergist, raised a family of three children, was involved in many social establishments, retired, and wrote memoirs, 'My Mother Called Me Unni, A Doctor's Tale of Migration'.

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