Cheers To Those Who Cocked A Snook

Ezra Azra


© Copyright 2024 by Ezra Azra
Trojan horse before the gates of Troy.
A Hindu deity. Gouache. courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
It happened in the middle of the nineteenth century, in the small utterly nondescript village of Kottarakkara, in the State of Kerala, India.

By then India had been a part of the British Empire for nearly a century.

Both of our protagonists were in their early teens. He was a penniless Christian; She was a wealthy Hindu of the Brahmin Caste; the highest Caste in India.

Nobody knows how many Castes there were in India in the nineteenth century. The lowest number suggested was five; the highest number was thousands. Everybody agreed the highest Caste was Brahmin. Those born Brahmin were believed to be genetically inclined to being intellectually superior to others.

The gods punished anyone who did not obey Caste rules.

Christianity had come to India eighteen centuries earlier. From the beginning, Christianity and all other non-Hindu religions, were regarded as lower than the lowest Hindu Caste.

Our Brahmin female protagonist had been born with a defect that forbade anyone from marrying her.

In Hinduism in those days, to be unmarried, in any Caste, female or male, was the worst curse from all the hundreds of Hindu gods. A primary righteous obligation the gods expected of a person was that they should be kind to other righteous persons. Persons were exempt from this obligation in their treatment of unmarried individuals. Multiple spouses was a Hindu remedy that rescued unmarried family members. In order to protect the family from the shame, already married members, female and male, were allowed to marry family members who were not married.

Hindu females unmarried in their late teens, and without marriage offers from male family members, were encouraged to commit quiet dignified holy suicide by drinking one of many homemade poison brews. The elaborate ceremony by which this process was celebrated was among the holiest of Hindu poojahs, attended by many gods. It was a sacrifice holier than sati, which was a widow’s sacred immolation by leaping into her dead husband’s cremation flames.

An unmarried female who graciously accepted such holy self destruction would be highly honored by all gods in the life hereafter. Many, many of the minor immortal Hindu gods would be honoured to worship her in the life hereafter.

Occasionally, there were rumours of a Hindu converting to another religion in order to escape the Hindu brew offer of nirvana. For obvious reasons, such unspeakable individuals would be vociferously and loudly publicly disowned by their Hindu families.
It was normal for rich high-Caste people to employ poor low-Caste people to do domestic work. In those days, the belief among Hindus was that the gods favored high-Caste persons who were brave enough to risk unholy contamination by allowing low-Caste persons to do menial work around and, even, inside the home.

Our female protagonist had four siblings. Her two elder brothers were married and had their own homes. When they visited with their families, She was expected to confine Herself to Her room. Because of Her, their visits always lasted only minutes.

Her two sisters were younger than She. Both were already betrothed.

The time was fast approaching when She would be offered a choice of those Hindu spice-tasty homemade holy poojah brews.

It had been months our male protagonist had been hired to attend the family’s acres of garden around the home. His remuneration was generous amounts of food, so much food that He was encouraged to take most home to share with His poor Christian family.

The astounding mystery was why that Brahmin family had hired Him, in the first place. They knew He was Christian, and that because He was Christian no Hindu god would look kindly on them for hiring Him.

A likely reason was that whereas there were no rules from the earliest times that specifically declared Hindu gods were offended by the suggestion that there were gods of other religions, there being no other religions in those earliest times. And so, there was no definite contamination suffered by a Hindu who, even accidentally, touched a non-Hindu.

Another likely reason was that since Brahmin payment in money to a non-Brahmin servant was unthinkable at all times, the payment in left-over Brahmin food to any pukka Hindu of a lower Caste was downright blasphemous.

The most likely reason was that in a small utterly nondescript village such as Kottarakkara, supremely pure highest Caste Hindus could commit minor sacrilegious deeds, and suffer no holy repercussions.

And so, all the times He worked in the garden, that Hindu-cursed Brahmin female was allowed to take food to Him and to place the containers on the ground out of sight away from Him. He was never aware of whom it was who brought Him the food. He was never curious because He had assumed it was a high-Caste person who would not care to be seen by Him. And if He saw that high-Caste bringer of his food, He would be considered insolent; and so He would not be allowed to work there, ever again.

Hence, when one cloudy day He saw Her waiting where He went to eat His food where it had been placed, He was so shocked that His body, virtually, turned to stone; refused to obey His panicked thoughts to turn and run away for his miserable life.

Of course, He could never have known She was Hindu-cursed. Perhaps, just perhaps, had He known, there might not have been so much terror in his reaction at seeing Her so close to Him.

While He stood as still as a stone, She came up to Him and placed Her hand on His shoulder. In sheer terror, with perspiration dripping copiously from the top of his head down his forehead and blinding his eyes, and down the back of his neck, He fully expected to die instantly.

She whispered to Him, “Will you marry me? Please?”

Instantly involuntarily He nodded slightly, fitfully; not because he understood her question. Not because it was always safer to agree nonverbally with any question from a person of a higher Caste.

He nodded, only to get Her to leave Him alone. His nod was mostly a shiver of abject terror She quite misinterpreted.

She whispered, “Say it. Please!” It was hoarse and barely audible when He replied, “Yes.” She left.

He fainted. He felt Himself collapse to the ground, in slow motion. Within brief minutes he recovered. He hastily mopped away the perspiration with a perfumed large exquisitely embroidered purest-cotton handkerchief he was clutching in a hand. It did not occur to Him to question the presence of the handkerchief, even though He had never in his life owned or used one, perfumed or other.

In the days that followed the fear that triggered his traumatic temporary loss of consciousness, gradually, fitfully, gave way to joy. He was far too young to know just how impossible their marrying was at that time in Caste-infested India, and in Caste-infested Hinduism anywhere else in the world; just how violently fatal Caste and her family would have made it for both of them.

In the days that followed, He caught glimpses of Her placing His food on the ground, glimpses that happened because She contrived them to happen. He was fearfully puzzled why She had become so suicidally defiant of Her religion; of Her gods; of Her highest-Caste family.

Unexpectedly, He found out why, in a few days.

Her mother, unknown to Him, had been seriously ill for days, and died. That thoroughly Hindu highest-Caste home was plunged into near-chaos.

There was a constant stream of Hindu persons coming and going, most of them being distant family. Others were associates and strangers eager to be seen paying their respects to the numerous wealthy living, as eagerly as to the dead mother of five.

What He would never know about was that deeper drive that gave that Brahmin Hindu girl the outrageous courage to propose to Him, who, on account of His being Christian, was lower than the lowest Hindu Caste. It was Her dying mother’s words spoken especially and only to Her.

While Her mother lay in bed dying, Her family forbade Her from being at Her mother’s side. They opined She had already been enough of a curse all Her life to them and to Her mother for being unmarriageable. She had cunningly contrived to attend Her dying mother for a few seconds. Her mother had clasped Her hand, whispered words to Her, and kissed Her hand. It was those words that ignited an utterly and wholly unHindu daring courage in Her. With some of those words Her mother gave Her directions to a pillowcase filled with pure gold jewelry, many times more than enough to pay a king’s ransom.

In addition to the quite fortuitous family turmoil brought about by the mother’s death, there was the national unrest India was being subjected to by the politicians’ incitement of the people to march for independence from the conquering Christian British Empire.

That conquest had never seen peace all over the country at any time.

Our protagonists, He and She, saw an opportunity.

They joined one of the many peoples’ rowdy anti-British marches. For the first time, our protagonists held hands. For the first time, because He saw the twin in Her hand, He knew where that handkerchief had come from, with which He had mopped away from His face, scalding perspiration of fear.

For the first time, they dared to hold hands. Nobody noticed. Everybody marching, and chanting anti-British slogans could not care less.

Our protagonists marched for India’s independence from the British Empire long before the great Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi marched; long before the indomitable Jawaharlal Nehru.

They passed a building with a notice about times and nearby places to enlist to join British Government transportation to other parts of the Empire, as laborers. They signed up, as husband and wife. They were ecstatic to be leaving India forever the very next day aboard a ship, “SS Karanja Pride,” British built and British driven.

There were hundreds of emigrants like them on that “SS Karanja” steamship, headed for British Empire harbours on the East coast of Africa. Our protagonists kept up their appearance of being penniless and lowest Caste. In actual fact, much to His infinite joy and greatest admiration, when She had fled Her home to Him after Her mother’s death, She had remembered to flee wearing all Her dying mother’s gift to Her of that pillowcase of gold jewelry.

Decades in the future, our protagonists died in peace in old age in Durban, South Africa. He on 5th June, 1949. She on 1st August, 1973.

She had never divulged to Him the dying words of Her mother; only because She never trusted She could have adequately interpreted Her mother’s poetic words from Her Indian language into English. She trusted one of their grandchildren who became a school teacher of, among other subjects, verbal poetry. That grandchild translated their grandmother’s dying mother’s words into perfectly rhymed English iamb: “In death is victory for all eternity against the countless evils in command in this reality.”

The words were carved in the granite tombstones of both grandparents.

Our protagonists had five children; all daughters; all adopted from fellow India emigrants in Durban. He and She lived to enjoy the company of their thirteen grandchildren, all without Caste; all without gods.

He and She not caring to get married throughout their happy lives together, could have been interpreted as their, verily, cocking a snook at the hundreds of gods in India, Hindu and Christian, all of whom, brazenly and openly, forever and forever, could not care less. 

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