Friday, January 17, 2014

Wondering Times ....

Sometimes , I wonder.

How someone, with a paneer obsession for almost a quarter of a century, can suddenly now, actually turn her nose up and away, when faced with a paneer choice ?

How someone, who almost always gravitated to the T-shirts and jackets section in shops, suddenly cannot pull herself from the kurtas and salwars section overnight ?

How a bracelet-and-charms aficionado,  seriously looks up and says "You are supposed to wear 12 green glass bangles in one arm, and 13 in the other...." and looks troubled when someone else disagrees ?

How someone who swore by heels and despised flats, suddenly turns away in shoe shops, when confronted when heels guaranteed to topple you as you run for 6:56 am fast suburban train service.... ?

How a confirmed midnight chocolate snacker (with a yet unbroken record of imbibing 1 kilogram of assorted Hershey's chocolates  over a 2 day weekend), seriously looks up and says "you know you are supposed to fast before the pujas and rituals...." and proceeds to berate you for offering something to eat.

Well ?     It happens.

When certain life stage changes are imminent.  

Virtual lenses modify the eyes,  ear drums percuss louder when  inputs are special,  and wings appear in the mind.

One tries to research the origins of customs  that are so convincing to some.  And finds out that the original custom was a brand ambassador of commonsense;  in an effort, over the years, at mindlessly following things, we have managed to mess up the real priorities .

Some one's troubled face when confronted with the absence of a full fledged celebrated "haldi" ceremony in the planning of a wedding, led to a few discussions with someone who is a a scholarly officiating wedding priest  who explained.

Turns out, that in Maharashtra, earlier in the last century, the ideal marriageable age for girls was 8 years. (Never mind the boy's age. You thanked your stars if he was 20, and practiced looking stoic if he was 32. )  This was an age when kids played outdoors in mud, climbed trees, enjoyed swimming in local rivers, since there was no Internet, cell phones, malls with multiplexes, television, movies, and so on. When faced with an imminent marriage,  the religious rules demanded some elements of cleanliness  and purity , and the kids were subjected to a decent scrubbing with haldi and besan before bathing. Haldi (turmeric) was a well know antiseptic (among many other properties) , and it made sense to land up at the wedding rituals as clean and pure as you could be , in the days before L'oreal, Fair and Lovely, and Ponds.   

It was also useful to check out about the fasting.   There is much to be said about not encouraging the currently prevalent system of following strict fasts to be concluded by eating a selection of heavy celebratory rich foods, all in the name of "customs".

Sometimes, those  who cannot bear to be away from food, do so if God is involved. 

And then , there is also the ancient classification of food into Taamsi food and Satwick food.

Folks today, tend to over imbibe taamsi stuff, and look askance at a vegetarian you,  if you object to  them mixing up serving spoons in the vegetarian and non vegetarian stuff.  You are derisively called a  ghass-phoos type if you get your kicks from spinach and cabbage, and many aspire to eating things that have  hearts and eyes , in an effort to keep up with the times and Joneses.  Asking someone to fast before a religious ritual ,  avoids taking sides in the satwick and taamsi debate,  and gives the body a decent break , so it can rest and rejuvenate fresh and clean inside ,  before approaching God.

(The gentleman I spoke to, was all for those with problems like old age, diabetes, acidity and other stuff, partaking a light meal , milk etc before attending and performing a ritual. He also mentioned the need to wear new and or freshly washed clean  comfortable clothes at the ritual , instead of the  specially, touch-me-not silk dhoties often required ...  )   .

While this may perturb those whose idea of honoring the Almighty is to sit at the ritual studded with gold, diamonds and heavily adorned silk,  it is clear, that the various other customs really arose out of the social interaction systems prevalent in the old days.

Mehndi was never about  designs, but about plans.

Young girls , at 8 and 10 ,  apprehensive after a childhood with societal restrictions closing in as you grew up,  were clearly stressed going into their marriage. They probably saw the husband for the first time at the wedding ceremony.  Mehndi applied to the extremities of the limbs, strengthened  and cooled the nerves . The artistry took their mind away from anxieties about an unknown future.  And the girls enjoyed the mehndi fellowship with other girls in a life where there were not too many social occasions for them to enjoy outside the house.  There was also a custom of hiding the husband's name/initials somewhere in the design on the palms, and various theories were propagated about dominance depending on whether the husband was able to find his initials in the design on the wife's palm after a search.

Clearly, this was not about party games.  In an age, devoid of online matrimonial portals, Cafe Coffee Day, Starbucks, cell phones, whatsapp, and discos, this was a kind of game-cum-smart-effort, to get the couple to feel at ease with each other, as the husband held the wife's hand, and searched for his name in the design on the palm.

It boggles the mind to think about how all this degenerated into  the currently fashionable so called "customary"  events where folks in fancy clothes, gyrate to specially choreographed  filmy songs, with suggestive lyrics.

Yes, cultures across the country are different.  There are womens' traditional dances like the garba and certain maharashtrian game-like events, where the girl's friends do traditional graceful dances,  to songs with lyrics that talk about the various   in-laws  in a humorous yet respectful  way. A kind of "Introduction-to-inlaws 101" course.....

Many things, originally of great utilitarian and comfort value, have now been thoughtlessly parodied, and the original meaning has been lost. Vested commercial interests  market occasions in a way that makes folks feel insecure unless they do them .

So the old idea of families travelling by bullock kart and on foot for days together to the bride's place for the wedding  ceremony, leading to the custom of offering warm water to wash feet, has been parodied into a custom where the groom's feet on arrival,  are washed by people double his age, although the groom arrives from somewhere by an air conditioned car, and sometimes the  last few metres on a horse taller than the car. A not so subtle suggestion of some one's deemed high status.

So many , customs and events, earlier existing for reasons of hospitality and convenience have now become situations where importance is given to all the wrong aspects.

We are experts at doing this.  Disobeying the original intention and parodying things.

Long time ago, the registration of a marriage was not compulsory.  If you so wished, you went to  the registrars office, filled up forms, showed proofs, and your marriage was registered after suitable safeguards were in place,  like public announcements and a waiting period.  People in that office looked on with great interest at the couple in question, and even fantasized about whether they had run away to get married, whether there was some interesting opposition or simply just rule obsessed folks with lots of time on their hands.

The minute the government made the registration mandatory, the erstwhile quiet office, is now teeming with all kinds of staff, officers, lawyers, touts, and people out to make a quick buck. There is a price for everything.  A parody of something that was introduced with good intentions.

We so excel at flouting rules, sidestepping things and finding loopholes.   

I often think about how things will be, say twenty  years hence. What will be the customs then . What stuff we will parody .   What stuff we will market as an unavoidable requirement.

And whether someone will actually look back in history, and write a post like this.

And whether I will be around to read it :-)

Like I said, sometimes,  I wonder.  


  1. beautifully written post!!!! I so especially agree with "We are experts at ....disobeying the original intention and parodying things"

  2. Very well written and I enjoyed the thoughts. I also often wonder at this age of mine(59) as to what the future holds wrt relationships, customs, rituals, conversations and so on and so forth. Looking forward to such things also keep me going and wondering.

  3. Again
    Written So Well.
    Much thinking on your sharing..
    I wonder much about the future of my children and grandchildren
    my world seems to be changing so rapidly
    along with my thoughts
    and much I try not to think of
    with not much success....

  4. Thoughtful post, Suranga. Who can foretell what changes will come? We can only make guesses.

    And about the changes you've mentioned at the beginning of this post- well, I suppose they're inevitable. :)

  5. BTW- lovely, lovely header!

  6. Very pertinent and perfectly penned post as always. We really are good at making a parody of the best customs and traditions and then deride the religion for making us go through the rituals which are 'meaningless.' The first part of the post brought a wide smile to my lips :)

  7. Loved your post, there's seldom chance that I don't.

    You said about finding loopholes and sidestepping.

    Vegetarianism, sigh! I am called a 'bigger loser' among friends because my family & religion 'permits' me (sheesh) to eat meat and I wilfully gave it up.

    A few even try to 'convert' or lure me back. I have no clue why!!!!

    So true about the registrations and ways to make some easy money. I believe you have done a post on that previously too.

    I like it when you wonder and put it on your blog! :D :D