September 25, 2009

Pushing the envelop, Indian Style — Ever so gingerly

Let’s not talk about boring stuff such as Ahmadinejad denying the Holocaust or Netanyahu scoffing such talk or India discovering water on the Moon!

Instead, let’s talk about more interesting stuff — let’s talk about Indian women’s attitude towards sexuality.

Just looking at things rather randomly, as you move across India, you find people’s (or women’s) attitudes varying somewhat. Women have developed different comfort levels with their sexuality. In North India, you find a typically ‘Punjabi’ attitude with females wearing ‘tight’ — body hugging — clothing that reveals the various ‘curves’ of their bodies. I am, of course, at a loss to understand the logic behind this. I mean, in the broadest sense. When females try to ‘show off’ their bodies — and what this means of course varies extravagantly when considered on a global scale — what does that mean, basically? I think she’s trying to say: look at me, admire me, look at how great my body is, how sexy I’m! Anyway, that’s not the point I am trying to address in this piece.

So, females in North India have gotten somewhat comfortable with displaying their physical attractiveness in a rather explicit manner. This is very much in contrast to other regions of India. In Eastern India, say, moms would definitely have fits if their ‘young’, college-going daughters wore body-hugging textiles.

But, though this might suggest that there’s a major difference between females in different parts of India, I think the difference isn’t that much. I think females across the board still have a rather 19th century — Jane Austen — kind of attitude when it comes to topics like sex. It’s still considered a rather taboo subject and attitudes are in general as ‘rooted’ in culture and tradition as ever.

I somehow think that Indians have an attitude towards sex that it’s a ‘big’ deal. In fact, I think, for Indians, it’s the biggest deal.

This unfortunate obsession or lack of proportion stems from lives lived within very narrow confines. I mean, when you consider the life story of the average Indian, it’s spent in one or two villages. They spend their lives surrounded by family mostly. And they are ‘busy’ mostly with celebrating their endless (stupid?) rituals, etc. So, they are basically doing everything but thinking or questioning existing value systems.

Indians mostly don’t go through life-changing experiences or wrenching change. And they don’t go out seeking such cliffs. Indians don’t believe in stretching the envelope called life experience. They are mostly just content to do things mechanically, to just repeat existing stuff: have babies, keep busy with the babies, do gossiping, get the babies married off when they are grown up, etc.

I can’t imagine Indians crossing the Atlantic, for example, to settle a new continent, as the Spanish did or the French did or the English did and others as well. That’s the undoing of Indians and that’s what keeps us back and will keep us back. The history of the world is the history of those people who are willing to venture into uncharted waters and those who are curious when they look at the endless ocean stretching till the horizon about what lies beyond the horizon. We live on this tiny planet, this tiny island in the vast ocean of space, this tiny, fragile, vulnerable blue marble. We can’t hope to last long if we are just content with worrying about our daily bread … or, the daily roti or naan or butter chicken, as the case may be.
We have to go beyond worrying about our kith and kin and how wealthy others have grown or how much weight we have acquired.

I feel what has made people out in the West rather restless is their traumatic experiences in the two world wars. So, that’s sort of a beneficial heritage of those brutal experiences. When a nation has been through those wrenching experiences, they have really understood the truth about life being like a soap bubble: not as a well-worn metaphor, but as a personally experienced ‘fact.’ It must be quite something to see someone young in the family die in the war, must be quite an experience for a 19-year-old or 20-year-old young man to be pulled from his daily routines and be asked to go off to a foreign country to fight a meaningless war. I am sure all wars must appear meaningless to the average 19 or 20-year-old.

It simply boggles the mind to realize that millions upon millions of people have gone through these experiences — and these experiences have got to be absolutely life-changing. But the positive aspect of these brutal experiences is that you learn to put things in perspective. So, I sometimes wish India and Indians had been through some such experience.

I mean, I can’t make Indians understand anything when that touches upon any of their ‘holy cows.’ It’s astonishing, for example, to see how blindly Indians cling on to their particular religious beliefs. A person might be born in a particular state, say Orissa, and may have grown with some particular ‘flavor’ of Hinduism. And for that person, that flavor is somehow the ‘revealed truth’ version of everything. No mater how hard you try, you can’t hope to change that person’s thinking or perspective.

I try to persuade people to put themselves in someone else’s shoes: just for a moment, to assume that you were not born in Orissa, but in some other state. And that would be a ‘gamer changer’ as they say. The problem with religions tends to be that those religions are followed only in a particular state or a part of a particular state. So, why can’t folks just for once try to cast a skeptical eye on their inheritances? Just once, try to imagine that you were not born where you were and instead were born in Germany or Liberia or Uganda or wherever. And try to look at your religion from the perspective of someone from one of these countries!

I believe that would put things in perspective.

Oh, that was quite a meandering tale!

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