Category Archives: Indian culture

The Great Indian Tradition of Hypocrisy

An Ad posted by Dastkar, a Non-governmental organisation, promoting ethnic weaves. The caption that appeared with the original picture says, 'Wish more young girls would learn to wear this beautiful and becoming garment'
An Ad posted by Dastkar, a Non-governmental Organisation, promoting ethnic weaves. The caption that appeared with the original picture says, ‘Wish more young girls would learn to wear this beautiful and becoming garment’

Don’t you just love these little posies posing in some gorgeous Andhra saris? Look at them giggling and leaning on one another, truly happy and enjoying the moment! Except that it’s just not right. Not right at all. 

If you will, look at the first one on the right in a blue sari, the one holding the ‘pallu’. The pallu is the free end of this beautiful drapey drapey garment that is the most showy, most versatile too. Feeling cold? put it over your shoulder and use it to cover your torso. Rain or sun? use it to cover your head. Use it to cover your head anyway as a mark of respect if you happen to meet either orthodox elders or if you end up going to a temple or even a religious ceremony. Use it to wipe your face, your child’s face, or anything at all. Finally, as our B’wood movies make it amply clear, use the pallu to cover your lover’s face and play peekaboo, or when nervous, take a corner and twist and untwist it to make your state of mind appear pretty. For a ‘come hither’ look, just let the whole thing drop… but take your time to sing a song while you’re at it. And, the rainier it is, the better. Of course, you will need it in times of emergency as the hero gets hurt and the situation will demand that you rip off a shred of your pallu and use it as a tourniquet. Then, when he has stolen your heart by saving you from the lecherous villain, he will pull you close to him with the help of? Pallu, yes, exactly.

We can’t see the pallu of any of these little girls but one. And that one has already caught on to one of the most common techniques of keeping it in place. You either pin it up right behind your shoulder after pleating it into a fan and end up looking like a school teacher or an air-hostess, none of which are bad I must say. But then, there is a dressier version. You could run it across the shoulder over your back and KEEP one of your hands forever occupied in holding the corner right above your crotch. Always. Believe me. Yes, you could let go of it once in a while and let the pallu cascade down your shoulder but of course, if you are doing anything other than sashaying across through a garden party where you are not the host, this is not practical, you’ll see. 

But, of course, in the name of Indian-ness and what have you, since even Hollywood finds the sari so interesting, even Maria Sharapova wore one (she, of course, wouldn’t wear one to court though, I mean tennis) and since Rohit Bal and the likes of him find it so graceful and sensuous, it’s only natural to catch our young women really young and use gooey images such as above to lure them in. I for one, can’t imagine wearing a sari in the hot hot hot Indian climate, on crowded as hell Indian streets. I am personally biased against a sari since I can neither lift my weights in it nor walk my dog nor can I cook in it. Sitting pretty is a whole another matter. 

But why pull little girls in? This is my big question for Dastkar. It’s hypocrisy and you know it why. If the same girls had been dressed in adult clothes from the Western culture across the seven seas, we would scream ‘sexualization of little children’ or westernization of young girls. Even if at least some of those clothes let the girls be girls: be boisterous, be bodily free, not wanting to keep adjusting a piece of fabric hanging over their crotch. I know my language is stark, I know our mothers and grandmothers all wore saris at all times (well, not my mother but my gran definitely did and my aunt still does, even when she goes to bed) but I did never see them walking, running, breaking into a jig, climbing over a fence, skipping over a piece of furniture. Of course, some in my hometown have chosen to combine tradition with modernity by wearing sneakers over a sari (pallu in the front: Gujarati or Bihari style), but I would not say it’s a great idea. You still can’t go hiking in a sari. 

I know what you’ll say: that you can’t go hiking in a pencil skirt either. And this is where I come to the real point. Sari is great at times when you would rather go with Indian formals. Salwar Kameez is great when you are already late for that 9am Borivli to Churchgate local, pencil skirts are great when you are meeting up with those French delegates your boss wants you to host, trousers are great when you mean business and are going to be frantically busy. But, these are adult roles, aren’t they? 

Little girls should be running around, playing, hopping, skipping, and doing all the things their adult selves would have to painstakingly find time for. They should be carefree, not bothered about those pleats at the front and whether then can climb a flight of stairs without tugging at their crotch or whether that pallu will fall off showing some errant strap or another (To note here that the girls are not wearing a blouse, or at least that’s the impression I get – not cute. Not done either). And to wish for such a mad proposition to catch on is madness itself! 

You know, if you so badly want to promote wearing a dress that is 5.5 yards long, that requires you wear a blouse and a petticoat underneath, that requires constant care and attention by the wearer, why don’t you go ahead and make it compulsory in schools. 

Another question, how about you encourage young boys to take to wearing dhotis or mundus or whatever it is that adults wear? 

Stop, just stop treating women and girls and children like objects of pleasure, will you? And don’t lean on tradition to justify doing so. 

Bahu as Beti? – no thank you!

“Tum hamari beti jaisi ho!”

is a line in-laws often use to console and reassure a daughter-in-law. You are just like a daughter to us. All those married women who have found a healthy replacement for their own parents in their in-laws, read no further. Please continue on your search for unicorns instead! I, on the other hand, am more interested in exploring the myriad hues of the great Indian culture which seems to have trouble respecting people without overstating a relationship and/or without forging a relationship where none is required.

Don’t believe me? Have you seen how we Indians make uncles and aunties out of everyone older than us even if this is the first time we’ve ever met them – it don’t matter that uncle’s vehicle scratched yours; don’t matter either that you only needed to “excuse” yourself as aunty was blocking the entry to your flat with her veggie basket in tow. What to say, we are a respectful lot!

India is a land where we make bhaiya (brothers) out of cab drivers, milk vendors, vegetable vendors, even shopkeepers. But, what’s interesting to note is that no salesman in a mall is called bhaiya. There, bhaiya morphs into ‘excuse me!’. Our politicians are didi (Mamata-di), behenji (Mayawati), Amma (Jayalalitha)… but Soniaji is Madam. Got it? Bhaiya versus Excuse me. Didi versus Madam. Same difference, you see!

It’s normal for us to be bhaiya and bhabhi to our drivers; as it is for our maids to call us bhabhi or didi while our husbands become ‘sir’. As people, we are always guaging our distance from others in all walks of life and these addresses present a key to the whole web of our relationships.

So, coming back to the question of bahu as beti, is that promotion or demotion? Well, let’s be sure – the way Indian daughters are treated, yes, even in progressive families, this is not consolation. Modern Indian families may not neglect the girl child, may not discourage her from her pursuit of studies but I haven’t met many whose parents have granted both their sons and daughters equal inheritance. In fact, I haven’t known even once such case here except where parents had only girl children. Girls may study, they may be seriously encouraged to perform well academically, but they are also reminded how important it is for them to be able to perform household tasks well. Again, I haven’t met many boys who are told to do so. Agreed, these issues are not the same as what we have seen in the gruesome past; but, society also works to rob our girls of many advantages that modern Indian families provide their girls. As a daughter you may dress up any way you want within the limits of your home but stepping out, especially using public transport independently, is always a challenge. Always. I cannot stress this more.

So, I seriously doubt that being a beti rather than a bahu is a sweet deal. Another major problem this implies is that of distance. Indian parents suffer from the So-what-if-I-am-60-and-you-are-30-I-see-only-my-little-son-in-you-still syndrome and what’s more, pride themselves on it. It’s probably a major reason why most Indian men have a lot of growing up to do. Why do I isolate men here, you say? Well, because it’s boys who are treated as babies even well into their 40s. Girls, as young as 16, are advised to grow up, behave in a mature manner, take responsibility, learn how to manage a home… So, back to meddlesome. I am afraid that this tendency of meddling in their children’s affairs be it their income, financial management, family planning or even the clothes they wear would exponentially increase if a bahu becomes beti. They draw you closer with the result you’ll suffocate sooner as a beti than you would have as a bahu.

It goes without mentioning that since they’ve elevated your status to beti from bahu, your JD involves more “seva” than before. That reminds me eerily of the time when I won a promotion without any actual increment to my salary bracket. Only the title changed. Well, at least the title changed, I thought then. I could at least join competition. Here, you don’t even have that edge. You only compete with the bar you have set. So, you thought you wanted to be the best bahu? Well, you are a beti now, take that. And you get to do that by upping the seva quotient! I don’t what’s with Indian in-laws that they (especially men) can’t have a glass of water without the bahu serving them. Sorry if they feel thirsty 16 times a day. You must be there with a glass on a tray. Enjoy!

Don’t even get me started on the family planning lectures. The best and the most preposterous charade is when they actually talk as if they are not talking about sex at all! Your sex life that you share with their very own son. I wonder how many in-laws will actually go through their lectures were they to be reminded of their endeavours in such crude but real terms. We just want a beta! (shrug!) Of course you do, don’t you… Let’s go tell your “jigar ka tukda” to lay off the condoms for a bit… Of course there are times when many of your friends and near & dear ones will hint at the prospect… some even in good humour, some to make you blush… it happens in every culture, I get it! The intensity I am talking about w.r.t Indian parents is a whole other thing. They will sit you down, ask what “exactly” your problems are, will threaten you with the fear of a lonely future, questions from the society, will remind you of your duty to the society, will emotionally blackmail you saying “we’ll die without seeing the face of our grandchildren?”, and may even humiliate you by hinting at the poor quality of your relationship. They may have never had “the talk” with their own son about bees and birds at any point of time in their lives but when it comes to “this talk” with their bahu-turned-beti, they take to it like a duck takes to water.

I’d much rather be a bahu, if it constantly serves to remind them that I am a woman, an adult, married to their son. I have a husband, I have a family of my own, and he is the one I share the closest relationship with. If I am related to them, it is through him. It means that there are boundaries they must respect, even if they are not dying out of love and respect for me, per se. I don’t want to be a daughter to them. I am already a daughter to someone. I have a set of parents already. I am in their lives as their daughter-in-law and that’s perfectly fine for me. There is something iffy somewhere if they have to make me “like their daughter” in order to be able to respect me as someone their son has committed to.