I was visiting somewhere and I would meet up at a friend's place every morning to pick her up in my car and leave from there. Since it was really early, she would toast bread and make warm coffee for the both of us for the few days that we were touring around. Every morning, she would warm the milk, and then put a full tablespoon full of instant coffee into it, stir it and then hand it over to me. On the toasted hot bread, she would put a dollop of butter and serve it on my plate as the butter was melting. This  was very different from the way my mother would serve it at home. Coffee would be served by mixing a small quantity of instant coffee with a cup full of milk. Butter would be spread on toasted bread with a knife, and then put on my plate at home. The first day my friend served breakfast this way, I thought it was because we were in a hurry. Then I realized, after this repeated for the next few days, that it was probably what she knew from her mother... it was what she considered normal. This was what had been passed to her as legacy.

At that time, I felt it was improper of me to say the classical "but this is not the way my mother makes it"! This was something that is passed on to every generation from the last one. It merges so many different cultures, so many different beliefs. In a household, this is what begins so many saas-bahu dramas. The bride comes into the house and learns that things are done differently from home, that the potato is cut in a different manner, the water is added a little later than the way they do it at home. And she adjusts. Or perhaps she just keeps mum to avoid any troubles. On the other hand, if its just the new couple living alone, they adjust and form their own rules. The guy finds a new custom of using mouthwash after a meal, maybe. Or simply enjoys a new customary dessert of chopped fruit and milk every other night. To their kids, this will be what is 'normal', to have the fruit-and-milk dessert at night. And when they marry, they will find that the other family does not have the delicious dessert at night, and will tell their spouse one day, "You know, we should have some fruit-and-milk dessert at night". The custom, the legacy thus lives on.

It is interesting, isn't it, how we decide what is 'normal' based on our own experience? Actually, we don't even decide or even believe the customs to be normal; we just "know" that they are normal -- this is how it should be. A lot of our prejudices, a lot of our conflicts are rooted in just this -- our belief of what is "normal". It is always the "others", their pagan beliefs, their weird ab-normal customs and their un-cultured ways. We tend to define progress and civilization as sending a man to the moon (this should remind you of the movie Agantuk by Satyajit Ray). We tend to define how men and women should walk and talk normally. And we try to define everything we do as "normal". And when we meet the other culture, its always the white-man's-burden, the rush to "teach" them civilization. For the longest known history, I think this is what has motivated a lot of people and justified wars to them. Not to the rulers and kings, mind you -- but to the foot soldiers. Save the ignorant natives by killing them, and by thus showing them the great wonders of how developed we are. Ours is the only true God, ours is the only true civilization. We never take a moment to understand what the others are doing, how they have progressed through centuries of civilization. We never take time to re-define civilization as we know it. We believe ours is the only true legacy.

I'll close with this quote from Swami Vivekananda, at the close of the Parliament of Religions in Chicago, 1893: "In spite of this evidence, if anybody dreams the exclusive survival of his own religion and the destruction of the others, I pity him from the bottom of my heart and point out to him that upon the banner of every religion will soon be written, in spite of resistance, "Help and not Fight", "Assimilation and not Destruction", "Harmony and Peace and not Dissension"". Tolerance, isn't that the greatest legacy?


  1. Love the quote by Swami Vivekananda. Wonderful post Sudipta!

  2. Mala, thanks :) His speeches and letters are always a mesmerizing read.

    Manasa, aare kabhi kabhaar kisi ka bhala bhi soch liya kar!

  3. Normal .. My idea of whats normal has been shattered ever since I went to Singapore and Indonesia. And as I travel more of South east Asia, i am certainly redefining a lot of things I always thought were right. Thanks for the post.

  4. Arre, kab tab kuware rahoge :P boudi aayegi tho khoob khilayegi :P:P ;)

  5. Wonderful thought put in very crisp way.

  6. Utsav, first of all, welcome onboard! And yes, the more you travel, the more you tend to learn and adapt. Would love to hear stories on your own blog.

    Manasa, kyun re, teri boudi se mai sirf khaana khane ko shaadi karunga?

    Mampi, :) thank you!

  7. I am here after a long time(almost 2 years:-).. nice to see you around..

  8. Mommyof2, yeah long time no see! Glad to have you back.


Post a Comment

Popular Posts