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Dilemma and Discovery written by monica louis

Monica is 19. Her mother is Bengali and practices Hinduism, whereas her father is Tamilian but born in Kolkata and he practices Christianity. She is passionate about music and is a Western vocalist. She is fascinated by philosophical and intellectual discussions and is a lover of literature and the arts.

My mother still writes Chatterjee after her first name. She is Bengali by culture and Hindu by religion. My name is Monica Louis. My surname is that of my dad, who is a Tamilian, fluent in Bengali and three other languages. His family and I are practicing Christians. Our home has pictures of Christ, the Holy Family as well as the Hindu gods and goddesses. Our altar is divided, on one side is placed pictures of the Hindu gods and goddesses and beside that is a picture of Jesus, His mother and a tiny crucifix.

I am relatively more close and familiar with my maternal family relatives. These include my two maternal aunts, my cousin sister (a year younger than me) and my maternal grandparents who brought up me up as both my parents had full time jobs. My mother lived in a joint family. My paternal family too identify themselves as a joint family but unlike the case of my maternal family, I am in touch with and know a few of them who include my aunts and uncles, their spouses and my first cousins. As you may have guessed, my parents had a love marriage, very much against the will of both families then, particularly that of my mother's side.

I have benefited from being brought up by parents who practice different religions despite being in a dilemma at times. Occasionally, I have felt guilty practicing one’s faith and this has hurt sentiments of the parent who practices the other. Eventually, I did make a choice through belief in the fact that there cannot be any philosophy or practice above that of humanity and goodwill. This was an evident commonality in the way both my parents practice their chosen religions.

This way of practice is not smooth but has its rifts which are almost negligible. I have come to realize that the adjustments both my parents made evens out the path and bridges the gaps. Also, I have noticed that my dad and mom are not ‘really intellectually curious’ people when it comes to each other’s religion. They do not know much about each other's faiths where the scriptures, the prayers and customs are concerned but the acceptance, and reverence of and to both is commendable. The apparent simplicity with which they both consider each other's religions is fascinating.

With time, members of my extended family on both sides have accepted my parent’s union, though not all of them. It is observable that the distant relatives, particularly those of my paternal family do not appreciate this. Patriarchy comes in here. A woman not changing her religion and surname, is unacceptable to them. I really admire my mother. She pays no heed to all of this. I wouldn't say my dad is very supportive (men after all) but it's a well-balanced equation.

As for me and my culture, I am only fluent with my mother-tongue. I have grown up under the care of my maternal family and culturally identify myself as 'Bangali'. I do not regret seeing myself this way. It is my choice and I feel that I relate to this more than my paternal influence. The intellectualism, art, fashion, customs and of course the food of Bangalis fascinates me more than that of Tamilians. Yes, I am knowingly comparing both cultures, one like me feels compelled to do it. However, it is not that I consciously did not learn Tamil, it’s just that I was spoken to in Bangla and English in school, so I learnt these two languages along with Hindi based on the programmes I watched on T.V. I have often been distanced by my ‘distant’ paternal relatives who suggest that I am not being well brought up, that I appear to be losing out on a lot by not knowing/speaking my Dad's language, and that I should be ashamed of this 'inability'. I have also been made to feel that the Hindu influence on me is not right. Eventually, I realized that these are people those who are not well read; hence they only associate Hinduism with superstition and black magic.

Along with the realizations I have mentioned above, I would like to add that there will always be people with a narrow vision, who are unable to see the wide-angle view of a cross-cultural perspective. I am provoked to feel that these are those who are not well informed, who do not respect other people's choices, who do not know how to segregate what is important from what is not and most importantly, are definitely not truly humane.

Despite these limitations, I strongly hold the opinion that growing up in a cross-cultural family has really enhanced and broadened my perspective about life. It has served as a living example to my philosophical quests. I would also add that growing up in such an environment of cross cultural/inter-religious parentage is subjective and entirely depends on the people; their mindset and will to respect. It has worked very well for me because of the people around me and my abilities of reasoning which too is a blessing, definitely.

Such upbringing really helps in giving multiple chances to a child, to grow up appreciating differences and seeking the common virtues among them and therefore understand what is most important. Yet again, it all depends on the families (‘near’ and ‘extended’)and the child/young person who is to straddle them.

Monica is presently pursuing English Literature from Loreto College.

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