Confessions of a Hindu-Catholic Schoolgirl
In an India where Christians were considered lower-caste, being Catholic was my dirty little secret.
BY: Rachel Ghosh
Growing up in Calcutta, I went to a good convent school--arguably one of the best in the city--where morning Assembly was held at 7:45 sharp. While rows of us girls sang "Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me," I would start to squirm as I caught the eye of a Hindu classmate, one of my closest friends.
I steeled myself for her angry post-Assembly outburst against all "your" stupid Jesus songs. She said "your" because I am Catholic--but not a straightforward unapologetic Catholic with a name like Patty Egan or Anna Rodriguez.
Instead, I am something more complex: My father is Hindu, a Bengali Brahmin. My mother is a South Indian Catholic. My first name, Rupali, is very Indian, very Bengali, just like my surname, Ghosh. But sandwiched between all this traditional Hinduism was the hateful baptismal name I went by--Rachel--which sounded absurd to my Hindu friends. I was raised Catholic, and my name told everyone I was different.
Among India's Hindu urban upper middle classes, there is a huge amount of contempt for Indian Catholics, who are stereotyped as being economically disadvantaged and generically lower caste. Catholics, especially of mixed parentage, remain pretty much on the outer rim of society. I grew up in an environment and a society where the bias seeped into our life at home. My Hindu grandmother would often tell me, "When you become 18, you must go to the Arya Samaj temple and perform thesuddhi
"--referring to a ritual that reinitiates people into Hinduism. At a cocktail party thrown by one of my father's more ostentatious and boorish friends, a gentleman well tanked with imported Scotch told my dad: "If you had to marry a Catholic, you should have at least married a foreigner."
Being branded "Rachel" made me a mixed outsider in the elite circle of my upper middle class Hindu friends. Choir practice, catechism classes, church during school hours every Friday in Lent--all these hateful activities separated me from my Hindu friends, who were exempt from them.
There would be little barbs. "My dadu (grandfather) once said that all Catholics in India are lower-caste people who were converted by the British," announced one of my classmates one day. I ignored it then, but for years, that statement would always make me feel that little-bit-less-than-equal to "thoroughbred" Hindus.
To mask my insecurity, I started being aggressively anti-Catholic. I was still too young to rebel against my family, so Sunday Mass continued. But I began rebelling in smaller ways at school. I'd openly declare my great belief in Darwin's theory of evolution. (Though the Vatican never officially denounced evolution, my school's nuns stuck with the Adam and Eve story.) Once I debated the subject so hotly during catechism class that the enraged Irish nun in charge of us labeled me "the devil's agent." That thrilled me no end and earned me several valuable brownie points with my Hindu friends. Suddenly, I graduated from being just another stupid, brainwashed, converted Catholic girl.