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An ignorance of epic proportions

india Updated: Aug 18, 2008 22:59 IST
Kushalrani Gulab
Kushalrani Gulab
Hindustan Times
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Light the firecrackers, pop the champagne, pump up the music and bring on the dancing girl (i.e., me). Because there's a party tonight and everyone's invited. Why? Because, finally, after much soul searching and so much heartburn that I have to go on a chaat-free diet, I've decided what to do when I quit journalism. I'm going to join the government. I haven't made this decision lightly. In the past, I’ve considered several career options. First I thought I'd open a bookshop, but then I realised that my tendency to break a bottle over the head of anyone who even looks at my books may not be good for sales. Next I figured I'd open a bar in Goa, but it struck me that to sell beer I'd have to simultaneously not drink it, which is a bad idea. And finally, I considered calling myself Ma Kushalrani and opening an ashram for wealthy, spiritually-inclined foreigners. But though that will bring in the cash, it's, well, not exactly fun.

And fun, I realised as I scanned the newspapers, happens if you're a government-type person. Because once you're in the government, you can indulge any whim your little mind comes up with, and get away with it. For instance, as has just happened in Bangalore, you can ensure that when law-abiding, decision-making, grown-up people meet at a public place for a drink, not only must they be homeward bound by 11.30 pm, but they can't dance or even sing because only bad girls and bad boys drink, dance and sing in public places. Or, if you have no imagination, you can dig into the laws made by our former colonial masters and really party (without drink, dance and song). So, in Kolkata, you can make sure that law-abiding, decision-making, grown-up women unaccompanied by men can't have a drink at a pub because only bad girls drink when they're not escorted by bad boys. And in India as a whole, you can use Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code —which came into effect in 1860, only 148 years ago — to make sure that law-abiding, decision-making, grown-up people are beaten up and jailed because they happen to not believe in that old adage, opposites attract, and prefer same-sex relationships instead.

All this, we're told, is against our ancient culture, though oddly, I see no evidence of that when I read Kamala Subramaniam's translation of the 2,000-year-old epic, the Mahabharata and Ramesh Menon's The Mahabharata: A Modern Rendering. Both versions focus on the complex relationships between the main characters, but there's also a fascinating sense of life as it was lived then, and that included public gatherings with drink, dance and song — for men and women — and a remarkable open-mindedness about sex and gender issues that we have lost today. "Whatever is found here is found everywhere in the world," it says in the Mahabharata.

Maybe government-type people should read the book.