The Colour of Love, The Caste of Blood© Dr. Rajas Deshpande
“Now I will call you Mahatma Gandhi” Tabitha said, her big blue eyes had genuine affection for me. My Indian and Canadian colleagues sharing the table with us laughed with her, albeit I sensed some jealous eyes exchanging surprise, as if saying “How come this lucky B****** gets her affection?”.
She was originally British, now a Spanish national. A tall, sweet and brilliant blonde. She carried her stethoscope just like her own self, with more oomph and aplomb than anyone else in the hospital. Men with brains melted within seconds of talking to her, men with only muscles gently stayed away, unable to bear the aesthetico- intellectual pressures. I first met her as she joined the resident’s coffee break, and while introducing ourselves, when she learnt that I was from India, her reaction was just like that of most westerners: “Oh, so you are from the great nation of Mahatma Gandhi!”. When she learnt that I was a vegetarian, she started calling me “MG”.
We became best friends, working in the same department, where she was an observer, just after completing her medical school. I was a post-doctoral fellow, but that difference hardly mattered. We enjoyed working together, teasing each other and were almost inseparable. This invited some jealous comments, from teachers as well as colleagues. But we had no barriers.
“Too bad we met late. If you were not married, I would have abducted you and always kept you in my pocket” she’d say to a palpitating me.
“So what caste are you? Upper or lower in India?” she once asked me.
“I don’t believe in caste system. Most educated Indians don’t.” I replied, proud that my parents brought me up so.
“But we hear so many people are killed in India because of caste quarrels. Why don’t they educate people that all blood is same?” she asked.
“There is a different blood in some who want the castes to fight. It’s Shameful.” I said.
Once in the cafeteria I mentioned to her how some colleagues were being unnecessarily bitter and sarcastic to me recently. “Oh I have sensed that Rajas. But what I like about you most is that you don’t care what people think. Then again, that’s the only way they can express that they want to be in your place, isn’t it?” and she laughed like the morning Sun. Then she whispered: “I will compensate. Don’t say anything, Okay?”.
Not understanding what she just said, I stared at her.
The cafeteria was crowded, many corners of eyes were silently covering us. Tabitha held my hands across the table, and loudly, seriously said “I will do anything you want. Anytime.” There was a sudden drop in the public noise around us, some faces turned and returned, losing track of their conversations. Then Tabitha told me, again in a whisper: “Learn to enjoy them. You deserve many more jealous monkeys around you. It’s an indication of how good you are!”
I learnt this from her: Jealousy is more to be enjoyed than fought against. In my career after that, I met many types of jealous friends and colleagues. The courageous ones were directly sarcastic or bitter, the cowards always aimed from over different shoulders. From work, female friends to my Facebook posts, there have been critics of every single insignificant thing I have done. I wonder where these people keep their tongues stuck when I do the few good things (sometimes).
I remember Kahlil Gibran when I meet such rude and bitter jealous people:
“Those who give you a serpent when you ask for a fish, may have nothing but serpents to give. It is then generosity on their part.”
In a few months, Tabitha finished her observership, and was offered a fellowship in my department. When She got her appointment letter , she became very sad. I waited for two days then asked her: why wasn’t she speaking much?
“We will speak tonight outside hospital” she said.
We went to the huge arena meant for students, and found ourselves an isolated corner. She showed me the appointment letter. Her stipend-salary was double that of mine!
Many thoughts raced my mind. My boss and the University knew that I had two kids and Mom with me. Tabitha was single. Besides that, she was a fresh graduate, I was a trained post graduate, post doctoral fellow, with six years of additional training. Why would they pay her double?
It was wrong, but then Tabitha was dearer to me than my stipend.
“Congratulations” I forced a smile.
“Rajas I know this is wrong. From the day I joined I received many pointers as to why I was mingling with a foreigner. They think you are below them. A white student gets double the stipend than non-white students, and many other hidden facilities. Even I don’t like that, but I need this fellowship desperately”. I reassured her that I was very happy for her. “You can question them: you can say that you have seen my appointment letter” she said.
I had gone there for research and study. Money was not important. But this injustice squeezed my pride. I went and enquired, to be bluntly told: “There are no policies for foreign students, everything is decided on case to case basis”. Upon written complaints, the University held a meeting and decided to make new rules. I did face a lot of unpleasant wrath few days after that.
In that phase, I felt extremely ashamed of the many times my own relatives, some friends in India had spoken ill about other castes than ours. I felt how a downtrodden student coming from a discriminated-against caste in our country must feel in his/ her own motherland. We have so many discriminations: communities, states, directions and even languages! The so called Over and Under privileged communities speak and beahve with each other like enemies within one country! Some people do not even recognise our brothers and sisters from eastern states as our own!
In that one month of being discriminated against for being an Indian, the thoughts of a shameful discrimination rampant in my own country tortured me with a scorching knife!
I remembered a verse from bible hub: “Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame” (Philippians 3:19).
Within a month after my complaint, the University declared new charter for foreign students. Tabitha came home and told my mother what a big victory this was. I walked her that night to her apartment. A full moon was melodiously humming all the way. “I wish I spent all my life fighting injustice with you” she said.
On the day that I left, we both got emotional. Some people just become a part of you, and then to tear away from them is a searing agony. We hugged for a long time, and then she gave me an envelope. “Open it in India” she said.
I gave her the gifts I had bought for her that day from the Chapters in London ON: a white Waterman Hemisphere fountain pen, and “The Story of My Experiments With Truth” by the real MG . She had me ‘autograph’ it, saying “My family will be so happy that an Indian gifted me this book”.
Eager upon reaching Mumbai, I opened her envelope. It had two thousand dollars, a framed picture of me with her with a caption “With MG” and a note:
“Rajas, this money is from my first income. Please spend this for the education of a girl from some underprivileged community in India. I love you, and will always do till I die”.
© Dr. Rajas Deshpande