I steeled myself for her angry post-Assembly outburst against all"your" stupid Jesus songs. She said "your" because I am Catholic--but not astraightforward unapologetic Catholic with a name like Patty Egan or AnnaRodriguez.
Instead, I am something more complex: My father is Hindu, a BengaliBrahmin. My mother is a South Indian Catholic. My first name, Rupali, isvery Indian, very Bengali, just like my surname, Ghosh. But sandwichedbetween all this traditional Hinduism was the hateful baptismal name I went by--Rachel--which sounded absurd to my Hindu friends. I was raisedCatholic, 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 economicallydisadvantaged and generically lower caste. Catholics, especially ofmixed parentage, remain pretty much on the outer rim of society. I grew upin 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 tothe Arya Samaj temple and perform the suddhi"--referring to a ritual thatreinitiates people into Hinduism. At a cocktail party thrown by one of myfather's more ostentatious and boorish friends, a gentleman well tanked withimported Scotch told my dad: "If you had to marry a Catholic, you shouldhave at least married a foreigner."
Being branded "Rachel" made me a mixed outsider in the elite circleof my upper middle class Hindu friends. Choir practice, catechism classes,church during school hours every Friday in Lent--all these hatefulactivities separated me from my Hindu friends, who were exempt from them.
There would be little barbs. "My dadu (grandfather) once said thatall Catholics in India are lower-caste people who were converted by theBritish," announced one of my classmates one day. I ignored it then, but foryears, 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. Iwas 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 greatbelief 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 thatthe enraged Irish nun in charge of us labeled me "the devil's agent." Thatthrilled me no end and earned me several valuable brownie points with myHindu friends. Suddenly, I graduated from being just another stupid,brainwashed, converted Catholic girl.
Once I reached college, I dropped the name Rachel. I refused to useit on any ID. I joined a co-educational college run by Jesuit priests(Christians have a near-total monopoly on India's best educationalinstitutions) but kept my Catholic half a closely guarded secret. I wouldnot attend the mandatory ethics class for Catholics and stayed away from theCatholic students' union.
My first year in college was also the year I stopped attending theCorpus Christi procession, an annual event in Calcutta, where Catholics fromall over the city congregate for the huge procession. It is one of thecommunity's most public appearances. "I am not going for that monkey dancewith all those tribal Catholics," I told my sisters, referring derogatively to the large numbers of Catholics who came in from the suburbs and rural villages for the festival. I would often make disparaging remarks about tribal Catholics in public (they were the low-caste converts, Iwasn't).
When I began my first job as a journalist in Calcutta, I droppedevery trace of my Catholic identity. I made it a point to become MotherTeresa's most vocal critic (this despite the fact that some strange impulseled me, for a couple of months, to become a volunteer at her home for thedying), just in case anyone thought I had Catholic affiliations. Around thattime, I got involved with a Hindu colleague, and all my Sunday churchmorality came unstuck. Suddenly, French kissing didn't mean having to goguilt-ridden to confession on Saturday evening, get down on my knees andsay, "Bless me, Father, for I have sinned..."
I have been working for five years now. For three of those years, Idid not see the inside of a church. Then several things happened: Theguilt-free relationship disintegrated, and my 5-year-old cousin died,suddenly, inexplicably, of some kind of infection. I also lost my Hindugrandmother, a close and trusted friend, despite her feelings about myCatholic upbringing. I started to feel the urgent need for an anchor.
A few months ago, I hesitantly re-entered my parish church to testthe waters. A Hindu friend, on hearing of my visit, wryly commented, "It's acase of old habits dying hard." Maybe. Or it could simply be a case ofgrowing up, feeling more conviction about who I am and what my roots are.Even if that means accepting low-caste ancestors who were converted by theBritish.
I am still confused, or maybe a bit rebellious. I haven't yet been able togo back to the once-a-week church routine. But I do go every three or fourweeks, and it gives me a feeling of security and balance. I sense my ownambivalence--my Catholic name still doesn't appear on my passport--but theremay be a time when I'll find I want it there.