Greetings from Mount Baten
In 1981, one week after my marriage, I was skimming through the greeting telegrams received for my marriage. It was six years since I had left Madurai and settled at Coimbatore. I was boasting about my wider contacts to my wife, since there were some well known personalities who had sent the greetings telegrams. I was pleasantly surprised to see a telegram addressed to my father, wishing the young couple “happy married life”, from Mount Baten. On scrutiny the telegram had originated from Madurai. I was under the impression that Lord Mount Baten had left India, immediately after independence, and least expected him to send a greetings telegram addressed to my father from Madurai.
Later I found, the person who had sent the telegram was a neighbour and colleague of my father, living in railway colony, working in Southern Railway. He was a second generation Christian- his father converted to Christianity from Hinduism. In Tamil Nadu many were not aware of family surnames and today we have so many Nehrus and Gandhis of Tamil origin and for them these are just names and not surnames. My father’s colleague was christened by his father as Mount Baten on conversion and mercifully left the title Lord. (Our family surname created enough problems in Tamil Nadu, and in the Hospital Card my father’s name became Ganesh Nair)
I learnt from my father, that many persons in the Indian Railways had a dual religion. Official and social. Officially many were enjoying the benefits of Dalits conferred by the constitution and for social recognition they were adhering to Christianity. During early 60’s and 70’s, I presume the phrase Dalit Christians never entered the system as we see now, to fight for reservations.
The Railway colony was cosmopolitan in its composition, comprising of people from different religions & castes, and living brushing their shoulders with each other. Yet in those days one group of people were staying aloof from all others, culturally, socially and academically. Anglo –Indians were the people, who stayed distinctly different with their surnames, which were sounding very English. I had encountered names such as Smith, Sladen, Figrido, Almeida and I was amused by a family name, Lawless.
the Railway colony in Madurai had two distinct Churches, one belonging to Catholics and the other to Protestants. I had seen many films in the Protestant church and also listened to many sermons. One film which I saw as a young boy had haunted me for a long time. The film had depicted a frail white man carrying nothing but a book in his hand, was tortured by people who resembled to people of Chinese origin. The hapless white man was physically abused by the non-believers, evoking sympathy from the viewers and the sympathy slowly turning into anger. Anger, arising out of the helplessness of the viewers to rescue the defenceless person, in the film. The frail white man with a book never left my memory for a very long time.
Until I happened to read the famous quotes of the Nobel laureate Bishop Desmond Tutu. “When the missionaries came to Africa they had the Bible and we had the land. They said "Let us pray." We closed our eyes. When we opened them we had the Bible and they had the land”.
The film which I saw in the Church of the Railway colony 43 years back has never left my memory till date, and I find neither the strategies changed over the years.
Greetings from Mount Baten
- » Published on October 09, 2008
- » Type: Opinion
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