Ramblings about Indian Culture

I attended a cousins wedding a couple of weeks back. I was expecting to get bored but ended up having some interesting discussions.

A game that turned philosophical:
An uncle was playing a game with a young cousin who had to answer several questions of the “What is your favorite …?” form. I did not see either the questions or the answers but my uncle declared that my cousin had failed because she ansered some (all?) questions with multiple answers instead of just one. That started a discussion on what it means to like or love something/someone and what these emotions are based on. To which an aunt said: A mother loves both her sons equally. One loves all one’s relatives. That does not mean that one likes them equally or even likes them much. Liking (Aavad in Marathi) is based on judgement. Love (Prem in Marathi) is unconditional (I am sort of putting words her mouth here, but that was clearly the intent). I think this particular sentiment is pretty much the general understanding of these concepts in Indian culture but I was quite surprised to hear my aunt – whom I had never regarded as an intellectual – frame the issue so clearly. It is rare to hear people outside of Ayn Rand novels say anything so clearly. I wonder how many individuals – particularly women – who are quite capable of thinking with clarity, have been turned into confirmists by our culture (More on the particularly women comment later).

A conversation that I dreaded but which turned out quite well:
I am now approaching the official, tradition-optimized age for marriage. As such, every relative – close or distant – is interested. Close relatives actually want to help me find a match. Distant ones are usually content with exhorting me to marry. Usually, I fend off the latter with a smile, but dealing with the former is a more serious affair and I knew I could not put it off indefinitely. It turned out that my uncle – mentioned previously – despite little meaningful interaction with me, had a fairly good idea of what sort of a person I am. When he – inevitably – raised the subject, he started with his own idea of what sort of person would be a good match. The matter of belief in God came up and when I said that I wanted an atheist like myself, he tried to get me to be “less rigid” by pointing out that as compared to men, very, very few women are rationalists (I don’t particularly like the term but it will do. I will use it here to merely describe anyone who does not accept the orthodox conception of God). He went on to explain that children get most (if not all) of their beliefs from their parents and their upbringing and it is only after they are grown (if at all) that they start evaluating and developing their own beliefs. So it does not make much sense to insist on specific beliefs in a potential partner. These could change after marriage too. There was nothing particularly new (to me) in what my uncle said but it was refreshing to have a rational discussion on a topic I hoped to evade.

I also got a new insight from the discussion – there must be a significant difference between the way girls and boys are brought up. In the households I have been in – urban, well-off, stable, salaried folk – I haven’t noticed any significant difference in the upbringing of girls and boys. Girls are educated as well as boys are and are allowed to pursue careers. And yet, it is certainly true that most (an overwhelming majority) girls from these households are orthodox and tradition-bound, while there are a significant number of boys who are much less orthodox. This could be a result of a difference in upbringing. Or it could be that girls tend to submit to authority more easily. I strongly suspect the former and will now be looking out for such a difference more actively. I did get an indication of the difference when an aunt asked me to marry a girl who would be willing to work part-time and take care of my mother. Paradoxically, my aunt’s daughter works a full-time demanding job and seems all set for a good career. I definitely need to understand how these things work.

A formula for life from the bridegroom:
Marry at 28. Have two children by 32. By the time you retire at 60 both your children will be married. Well, the math is certainly immaculate. But I cannot conceive living my life by such formulae. What I find staggerring is the number of people who do live like this. There is a whole thriving marriage industry to enable such formulae. No boy meets girl here. Rather it is family (with boy) meets family (with girl). They negotiate a few times. And if things work out, boy marries girl. Paradoxically, for a culture that looks upon any business activity as lowly and materialistic, the mechanics of a traditional marriage are indistinguishable from those of a business transaction.

Mind-body dichotomy

Just happened to hear this old song that talks of “pure love” and it struck me as a perfect expression of the mind body dichotomy.

Hum ne dekhi hai un aankhon ki mehakti khushboo
Haath se chhoo ke ise rishton ka ilzaam na do
Sirf ehsaas hai yeh, rooh se mehsoos karo
Pyar ko pyar hi rehne do, koi naam na do

Film: Khamoshi (1969)
Singer: Lata Mangeshkar
Lyricist: Gulzar
Music Director: Hemant Kumar

Translation:

I have seen the fragrance of those eyes
Dont accuse my looks of any ties by a touch
This is just a feeling, experience it with your soul
Let love remain love, don’t give it a name.

Old Hindi movie songs were brilliant in terms of lyrics, melody and music. Over the last two decades, with a very few exceptions, they have lost all of that. Over the same time, misplaced idealism has been replaced by dogmatic pragmatism (yes, there is such a thing). Cause and effect?

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