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June 3, 2008

Kamasutra, Krishna and cultural crisis

Most Indian gods have multiple arms and many have multiple heads too; yet we are the first to get uncomfortable if someone with physical disabilities is around and poor Hrithik Roshan was made fun of for being polydactyl. We made pornography into an art form through the Kamasutra and exported it to the world and yet we’re the first to have fainting fits at the mention of sex. While the 21st century Indians apparently “don’t do dirty things in bed” and mere cheerleaders have political undies in knots, the Kamasutra-age Indians read graphically descriptive chapters on lesbian sex, fellatio, cunnilingus AND men-making-out-with-men.

Single mothers and premarital sex is deemed a “Western influence” and you’d have a mob uprising if you were to hint at Indians girls having and raising a baby without marriage; yet the first record in history/ mythology/ however-you-take-it is that of the Pandavas mother (refer Mahabharata), Kunti who “prayed” to the Sun god and was “blessed” with Karna. Strange isn’t it that the Immaculate Conception in Christianity leads to Jesus being revered as God’s son, but Karna is put in a basket and left to the care of nature. Why wasn’t he worshipped?

So Shakti, Durga, Jagdamba are all forms of the Supreme Goddess, the seat of all Power. She rides a lion in some versions (Durga, Jagdamba) and a tiger in others and yet the lion and particularly the tiger are both on the brink of being wiped out from Indian forests. And we raise hell when a cow is killed? YET we leave the cows out on the roads to chew on plastic and die of swollen intestines? While we shy from killing the Holy Cow, we have no compunctions killing unborn daughters, burning daughter-in-laws for dowry and had the Sati system not been abolished, widows were also supposed to burn atop the pyres of their husbands. Burnt alive that too. On a lighter note, while the goddess of wealth Lakshmi rides an owl, ‘ullu ka pattha’ (son of an owl, not literal) is an abuse?

The rant is because I’ve heard “India is so rich in culture and all that,” just a little too many times from too many people who don’t have any clue of what they’re talking about; Indians included, me included. Is the Indian culture the arranged marriage where two people confuse college degrees for degrees of compatibility? Is it the system where girls pretend to listen to their parents till 42-years-of-age and yet have no problems lying and getting out of their houses in salwar-kameez only to change into a backless or something to celebrate their own birthday? It’s not any aspersion on any of my friends or me – who’ve done something similar – it’s trying to understand how we acquiesce and rebel in the same breath, how open secrets has become a way of life and why this confused culture of ours still doesn’t make sense to me.

And somewhere wondering about all that and myriad other Indian things, I met the Mishra Family comprising the 50-something father, Mr Mishra (or ‘Mishraji’ as we Indians would respectfully call a senior person), his wife Mrs Mishra and their two children, Pinki, 19 and Tinku, 22. The Mishra family is a typical Indian, middle class Hindu family that is trying to preserve the roots of an ancient culture while trying to imbibe the new culture of the Internet and 24/7 news channel.

Through the mishaps that occur within the Mishra Family (sometimes unfortunately involving yours truly), this is an attempt to understand what goes on in the mind of the Indian middle class families as they grapple with more money in their pockets, new ideas beamed into their houses and as the old and the new generation try to come to terms with the changes and with each other… Not necessarily always in agreement with each other.

While those who might have read ‘What Goes My Father’ on ibnlive.com will be familiar with Mishraji and Co., some of you will meet them for the first time. As I put out the past experiences with Mishraji (not daily yet) here to get everyone on the same page, those who know him, please bear with me. Soon enough, I will give you the latest juice on Mishraji’s Musings. Here we go…

Indian Culture Rule 1: Before you fall in love, always ask your parents.
Indian Culture Rule 2: If at all you fall in love, keep it withiin your religion.

Mishrajis Musings, Chapter 1
But I love Sam, Papaji!
The wedding season has been good for one. It has kept Mishraji quiet busy and the patriarch has not found much time for our regular let's-bash-the-media (that would be me) sessions. But then, everything that has a beginning, has an end...The knock was a soft one and given that it was 11.30 pm, one was duly alarmed. A furtive, behind-the-curtains peep further upped the alarm levels. Miss Mishraji (aka Pinkiji) was standing at the front door, in her nightclothes. She had a pillow in one hand and a stuffed duffel bag in the other. Even as one opened the door and before one could say a word, Pinkiji blurted, "I have run away from home. I can't live there anymore. Please help me."

Under normal circumstances, one would have gladly helped a damsel in distress. However, the idea of dealing with Mishraji - especially when his daughter had run away (even though it was next door) - was not a normal circumstance under any circumstance. As various visions of Mishraji brandishing his rolled newspapers flashed before one's eyes, Pinkiji's eyes dangerously brimmed over. If that weren't enough, the final straw was when Pinkiji said, "They won't understand, please help DIDI." (Didi = older sister) Those who live alone and away from their families will understand that the use of such relationship-building terms DO something to you. Pinkiji was duly invited inside and two cups of ginger-tea and a hot bowl of instant noodles later, one asked if she wanted to talk about it. Pinkiji was only too willing.

"You know how Papaji is," she asked and stated at the same time. One firmly bit one's tongue. Experience has taught that criticizing a woman's boyfriend/ father always backfires: Women will agree with the criticism for the moment and hate you for a lifetime. Since Pinkiji was waiting for an answer, one safely ventured that Mishraji was a good father.

"Yes, yes, I know that; but Papaji has his rigid ideas about caste..." She suddenly clutched one's arm and said, "Didi, I love a boy and Papaji won't approve." After confirming whether the guy had a job, was not part of any mafia and was not the son of one of the many neighbours Mishraji detested, one pointed out the positives of positive thinking.

"Oh, I know Papaji," she said, eyes brimming again, "But didi, I really love him... But he is a Catholic and Mummyji just found out and she read my diary and she didn't even ask me anything and said we would discuss it in the morning and that she was sure Papaji won't be pleased." One knew the Mishra family was seeking a groom for Pinkiji – a Hindu groom – and given those circumstances, her falling in love, without consulting her parents and that too with a boy from another religion, would not be taken kindly. Yet one could not help but empathise with young love. Since there wasn’t much to be done that night, one suggested a good night’s sleep…
Even before one's alarm could go off the next morning there was Mrs Mishraji ringing one’s doorbell insistently.

"Tell Pinki she should come home before her father wakes up. He won't like it," was all Mrs Mishraji said. A night's sleep seemed to have cooled down some of Pinkiji's ardour as she meekly followed her mother outside. One followed too, courtesy demanded one see off guests. Two steps outside the door and one wished one wasn't as courteous: Mishraji was, arms akimbo and scowling. The newspaper was late and so was his morning chai (tea). He didn't react when he saw his wife walk out my gate, but when he saw his daughter walk out in her night suit, his eyebrows nearly left his forehead when he saw his daughter follow in her night suit.

"Why are you up so early? Don't you have college today?" he asked, while looking pointedly at yours truly.
Pinkiji stammered, "I... I came to consult Didi on something." There was that word again and from the look upon Mishraji’s face, it was clear he didn’t want one to be any relation of his…
"What ideas are you putting into my daughter's head?" he demanded of one vehemently even as one silently, vigorously denied all charges.
"Let's go inside..." suggested Mrs Mishraji meekly, uncertainly.
"What prompted you to go to HER and not ask your parents instead?" Mishraji asked Pinkiji, relentlessly, still glaring at yours truly.
"I... I..." stuttered Pinkiji, eyes-brimmingly.
"What are you hiding?" Mishraji asked, softly, "Out with it," he added, sinisterly.

As one cursed one's good Samaritan-ness that had lead to one getting involved in someone else’s family drama, Pinkiji blurted, "I love someone Papaji..."
Mrs Mishraji breathed in sharply. Mishraji noticed. Finally looking at his daughter he asked, "What's his name?"
"Sam," Pinkiji muttered. Mishraji took a long, deep breath.
"I have always supported you in whatever you have wanted to do," he told his daughter, "I just want to clear one thing... I didn't get his name right. What was it again?" He was smiling.
"Sam," Pinkiji answered somewhat louder, bolstered by her father's smile perhaps. She had not noticed his cold eyes.
"Sam or Shyam? Is it Sam or Shyam?" asked Mishraji hopefully.
And one knew that this story had just begun...
(To be continued…)

20 comments:

Maxine said...

Was it him who gave that one pack of cigarette the other day!Welcome back Misraji.Long time.

Steve said...

Now that's called double standards; by what standards did the father judge himself to be a moral authority? By what standard does he have the right to interfere in love due to xenophobia? The same goes for those condemning cheerleaders and the various other examples.

My point is that expose these people for who and what they are; shouldn't the media play a more proactive role in this? Rather they stroke the fire, what happened to journalistic integrity? I mean, look at the patriotic chest thumping everywhere around you. We remain oblivious to the fact that men with clubs have killed more people than Hitler's gas chambers in Darfur, but we pray for some child who fell into a well due to negligence. You can't escape reality for long, can you?

I just hope that this society evolves a sense of rationality and responsibility before it's too late.

Vibhash Prakash Awasthi said...

"Most Indian gods have multiple arms and many have multiple heads too; "...will u please enlighten me about how many of thm apart from lord brahma had multiple heads?

Never Mind!! said...

Vibhash Prakash Awasthi: Sorry for hijacking your question addressed to JBo. A lot of hindu gods are portrayed with multiple heads when we want to potray the multiple aspects of their characteristics. Like Lord Shiva for example is often depicted with three heads. Pancha Mukha Ganesha (Ganesha with five heads) is very popular in South India.

JBo: I agree there is double standards involved in every aspect. But I fail to agree that this is just in the Indian society. Every society has its own biases, itsown prejudices and consequently its own hypocrisies and double standards!

maxine said...

Yup,agree there with never mind.Another that comes straight up my head is Agni and is shown as two headed with 7 hands.

Can google and find more.Lets see.

Vibhash Prakash Awasthi said...

@nevermind - u are forgiven for the hijacking...and i agree, every society has its dark and bright shades...just that sometimes we look at the darker side of our coin with more prominence, blog about it and name it "rant"

Eve* aka JB said...

Nevermind --> Nowhere does the post mention that this is an affliction restricted to the Indian culture/society alone, please don't presume. The problem being while we are only too ready to agree to what ails us -- and are only too willing to point out that "everybody else is too" -- what are we doing about? Our culture as said by many is quite multifaceted, tries to encompass much and delves into almost most concepts conceivable, YET some negatives become the prevalent norm while the positives are lost or forgotten. Why so and who is doing it? If popular practice of certain norms makes them the rule, how come we don't practice the positive things more?

Vibhash --> other than making immaterial, poor attempts at sarcasm, do you have anything substantial to say?

Vibhash Prakash Awasthi said...

i have...not no enthu to write...
btw if u were so much offended by the comments, why dnt u put a restrictions on the comments which will allow only those to appear which u like?

Eve* aka JB said...

Vibhash --> Not offended, much thicker skin that that, but it's a waste of time reading comments that don't add to the discussion or bring in another point of view or reasons for agreeing to those presented.

Vibhash Prakash Awasthi said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Vibhash Prakash Awasthi said...

1. i cnt see any sarcasm as alleged in my comments, first was just a mere question and second was what i thought about the negativity.
2. look at your tone in your comments and than see the thicker skin
3. a lot of times u get comments like "great post" and you politely reply "thanx". I wonder how much value these "great post" add to discussions?
4. chill

Eve* aka JB said...

Vibhash, wrt "chil" reminds me of Coldarin ad, "Haan bhai haan." over and out. Also 'great post' would indicate agreement with points made, no?

P S G said...

... Waiting for eps 2.
Will Mishraji accept 'Sam'?
Will Pinki be burnt to death?
Will Mrs Mishra and her friends beat you with chappals and throw you out of the neighbourhood? ( while a local TV films it live)
a thousand questions come to my mind

:)

Eve* aka JB said...

Welcome here PSG...and thanks for the add on indiblogger.

Vibhash Prakash Awasthi said...

yeah...they indicate agreement but not give "reasons for agreeing to those presented." as you said.anyways...keep going, over and out!!!

Never Mind!! said...

JBo: I made the presumption only based on the fact that entire discussion was in the Indian context.

No everyone else also doing it does not make it better. But again in all the questions you raise, you are as much a part of the "we" that you refer as I am. And about practicing some norms and leaving out the other, isnt it just a matter of convenience?

As depicted by your fictional characters, isnt change coming? More people I know of my generation are open to inter cultural marriages, pre-marital sex etc than from my parents generation. I would not call this westernization, I think its just accepting ourselves as we are.

And my biggest worry is about those young minds that are influenced by the extremist right wing that time and again bring back the double standards into the society.Just when they finished agitating over the cheerleaders' attire and successfully covered them up, we see our own starlets dancing in umm...how do you say it, provocative clothes?!

Sorry if I dint make too much sense but my point is that change is coming in the way we look at a lot of things and it needs its own time!

Eve* aka JB said...

Dear Nevermind, firstly please do not apologise!!! I did sound as if I were scolding you and I apologise, since I didn't mean to! We are having a discussion and us disagreeing or sticking to our respective point only helps us sort our thoughts.

“India is so rich in culture and all that,” just a little too many times from too many people who don’t have any clue of what they’re talking about; Indians included, me included."
To say am aware that am part of the same clutter.

You made sense and as for "change is coming", I hope it does and that it's not smothered. For if change is coming so are the ones who are opposed to it... Do I sound too cynical?

Never Mind!! said...

NO you dont sound cynical. Thats what I meant when I was talking about young minds shaping under right wing extremists. I went to college in Hyderabad where the I saw student leaders worship Modi and Togadia as gods. I have seen the beating up of couples and all and thats what worries me. I hope the change comes faster than what the right wing can cope with. And in all my above comments, I never mean to say that only the right wing has double standards.

Never Mind!! said...

No worries, its all in the game. Dont apologise. :)

garam beni said...

This is fun! I like the use of 'one' :D

This 'one' wonders if Mishraji has a moustache?