After an exhausting week in one of India’s top IT firms, I came back home on the 14th of august this year looking forward to an extended weekend. After throwing the customary “Hi” at my parents, I made myself comfortable in one corner of the living room couch and it was time for the “family TV” ritual (as in any modern, nuclear family the biggest chunk of our ‘quality’ family-time is spent in front of the idiot box). As soon as I switched on the TV, the “serial kisser” of Bollywood, Emraan Hashmi sprang into action and approached Tanushree Dutta for some real action as Shreya Goshal crooned “Aashiq banaya aapney” in the background.
My eyes remained fixed on the TV screen for the first few seconds until my consciousness kicked in and I realized the disgusted stare of my mother hitting me on the face like a sharp pointed arrow. My dad had already avoided the embarrassment by smartly looking down at his phone’s home screen, pretending to read an important email. I fumbled with the remote for a few seconds (I was already nervous and Tanushree’s erotic expressions were NOT helping!) before finally changing the channel. I flipped through the various programs and finally landed on an educational program in which a grumpy old man was giving a discourse on the “Importance of Freedom”, on the eve of independence day.
The freedom of speech and expression is our most basic right as a Citizen of India but the rules of the world’s biggest democracy doesn’t have any effect on the world’s smallest autocracy i.e. the “family”. No matter who you are, a teenager, a bachelor or a husband when you are in a family setup you can never utter the word “sex”.
Whenever an Indian guy leaves home he is advised to stay away from the three evils of society,
“Madhu, Maadhu, Soodhu”
that is, Alcohol, Girls and Gambling. Interaction with the opposite gender is actually included in the list of social evils. One day I gathered the courage to ask a well meaning, innocent yet unintentionally pestering aunt (We all have one. Don’t we?) “Why do you include girls in the list?” Her answer to my question was the quintessential Indian reply to all uncomfortable questions ever asked by the Gen Y.
“That is our Indian culture, kanna”
The Colonial Gift
The abstract term “Indian culture” is one of the most misinterpreted concepts in human history. All Indian civilizations have revered nature throughout history. We have accepted every aspect of our existence as a part of nature. We are a society who had the maturity to accept death as an inevitable part of the cycle and symbolised it with the gory goddess Kali who is to this day worshipped and revered all across the nation.
The British raj that lasted in India for two centuries took a lot of wealth from our nation but the chivalric English gentlemen never take anything for free. They did give us a few things in return for our hospitality:
- The Partition
- The Worship of White-skin
- The Sex Taboo
The first gift has been discussed in great detail by eminent historians of our country and the second gift has been successfully making tons of money for the “fair and lovely” company. The third gift has a unique characteristic. Thanks to some tremendous help from the self-proclaimed messiahs of Indian culture (like our aunts) we have successfully ingested the foreigner’s gift and made it our own.
The Real Indian Tradition
So if the contemporary Indian attitude towards sex is borrowed from the old western world, what is truly the Indian view of the subject?
The God of Destruction from the male trinity of Hinduism- Shiva, is represented by the “Linga” in almost every temple across the nation. The Shiva Linga is one of the world’s oldest phallic symbols.The Shiva Linga essentially represents the union of the male and female sex organs. It is a symbol that establishes the duality inherent to nature.
It also endorses the equality of the two sexes where both the male and the female are like two halves of a sphere, neither is complete without the other.
Though the spiritual meaning of the representation is a vast subject by itself, the fact that the ancient Indians chose to represent a divine being in this form is a standing proof of the level of maturity with which the entire society approached the subject of sex.
The bestselling fiction authors of today such as Chetan Bhagat (assuming you consider him an author) claim that their work is a reflection of society, but unlike today the great Vyasa created the epic that has withstood the test of time only because of its honest conformance to the lifestyle and mindset of the society.
As Indians we all have been exposed to the Mahabharata. Irrespective of our religion caste creed the epic has a way of entering the lives of every Indian. The number of social taboos that have been eloquently handled by the Mahabharata is huge. The tragic part is that, contemporary Indians have developed an attitude to reduce the complexity of the epic so as to avoid the uncomfortable questions that may arise from the audience (especially youngsters). Vyasa on the other hand seems to have quite a different attitude. The original Vyasa baratham or ‘Jaya’ as he preferred to call it makes the contemporary classic “Game of Thrones” look like a fairy tale in terms of complexity and the world renowned “50 shades of Grey” look like a bhojpuri B-grade clip in the genre of erotica.
The greatness of the poet lies in the fact that he puts himself in a questionable position establishing that he is the biological grandfather of both the Panadavas and Kauravas thereby making the Mahabharata the story of his family. Lust, infidelity, promiscuity, extra marital affairs, you name it and the Mahabharata has an exclusive character renowned for that. Wouldn’t it have been a logical choice for Vyasa to simply create a caricatured story of good vs evil? (Like a blockbuster “Bhai” starrer) No, it was not. Indians of the time were ready to accept all these issues as a part of society that everyone needs to face. They had the maturity to understand that running away from these issues or refusing to talk is not going to make them disappear.
Akanuru (அகநானுறு) is a classic Tamizh anthology that handles the subject of love and separation. It contains 400 poems establishing the intimate feelings of love and lust filled in the hearts of separated lovers. The anthology written by as many as 145 poets does not shy away from expressing both the physical and emotional languish of the heroine due to her separation. There are instances where the heroine boldly tells the messenger (A third person/personified object) about her desires and asking him to persuade the hero to return.
அகநானூறு 11, ஔவையார், பாலைத் திணை – தலைவி தோழியிடம் சொன்னது (What the heroine said to her friend)
So, what went wrong?
Queen Victoria’s reign (1837-1901), when the British raj was at its peak in India, established a set of moral restraints which later came to be known as “The Victorian morality”. The Victorian morality enforced a parochial view about sex in the British society. The spread of western education propagated this social stigma to all the British colonies including India. The social reformers of the time encouraged the spread of British education among the masses with the noble intention of eradicating illiteracy but along with the British education system the parochial Victorian morality seeped into India, thereby corroding whatever was leftover of our glorious ancient society.
The history books of high school speak volumes about revolutions that took place in India and around the globe. Owing to the selective amnesia of our historians, Sexual Revolution of the sixties disappears from our textbooks.
The sexual revolution brought about the transformation from the old Victorian stigma to a new age of liberalization that has been become the trademark of the west. The forbidden words that are never to be uttered inside a typical Indian home such as premarital sex, public displays of affection and one night stands became a lifestyle of the west only because of the sexual revolution. This marked the dawn of a sexually liberal society which we see today in the west.
Unlike the west, where sex is still a sinful act in the eyes of religion, Indian culture never considered sex as a ‘dirty’ deed to shy away from. We understood that copulation, which is important for the survival of any race as a whole, is something to be celebrated as one the integral experiences of life. Sexual exclusivity and the sanctity of marriage were encouraged but never enforced and there was certainly no stigma attached to one’s expression of his/her own sexual desires.
So, what is this rant all about?
Every piece of writing should have a purpose. So, what is the purpose of this blog? Is it to endorse casual sex and regrettable one night stands? No, definitely not. It is for each individual to decide what is right on his/her own and others to respect the individual’s choices without any snide judgements. The purpose is to voice the need for a radical change in our outlook and hence form a new open-minded society.
A society where:
A daughter can look boldly into the eyes of the father and ask for help when she is being molested, without being frowned upon.
A wife can demand her rightful sexual gratification from her partner, without being branded a whore.
A mother can ask her son to wear protection during sex just like asking him to wear a helmet while driving.