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Some fast, others too furious

Fasting is a time-honoured tradition in our country. Millions of Indians fast at least once a week, writes Khushwant Singh.

india Updated: Jan 13, 2007 00:05 IST
Khushwant Singh | With malice towards one and all...
Khushwant Singh | With malice towards one and all...

Fasting is a time-honoured tradition in our country. Millions of Indians fast at least once a week. Though it has become a religious ritual, it is also good for one’s health. Jains have sanctified fasting-to-death as a noble way of ending one’s worldly existence. Acharya Vinoba Bhave resorted to it when he felt it was time for him to go. Jains continue to do so without bothering about the law against attempted suicide.

Bapu Gandhi discovered other reasons for fasting. Some times he abstained from food to atone for some wrong he had done. At other times his fast was directed at someone who he felt was in error. He made fasting into a moral, social and political statement. He also prescribed clear cut rules for it. It was never meant to be used for arm-twisting or blackmail. The party against which it was aimed at had to be informed ahead of time and every avenue of compromise explored before it was undertaken. Bapu’s fasts never failed to achieve their objectives because he was always in the right. Most fasts undertaken, thereafter, failed to achieve anything besides publicity for the one undertaking it.

Mamata Banerjee’s recent fast proved the point I am trying to make. I admit I have a soft spot in my heart for her and even when she explodes in anger, I look upon her as my daughter in a petulant mood. Had she tried to enter into a dialogue with Ratan Tata, he might have convinced her that farmers whose lands were to be acquired for his car project would be handsomely compensated as well as provided with jobs in his factory. This is what Gandhi would have done before undertaking a fast. She did not and went headlong into confrontation with the state government . She chose to sit under a tent pitched in the maidan so that everyone could have her darshan. Thousands lined up to see this spectacle. Hawkers set up stalls selling chana and popcorn. It became a tamasha. Gandhi never fasted in market places nor did he make  an exhibition of himself. His message went home, Mamata’s did not.

Medha Patkar is also prone to making her  fast into a public demonstration. Weighing the pros and cons of the height of the Sardar Sarovar Dam on the Narmada, one has to concede that it has brought more good to neighbouring states. Families whose lands have been submerged are not losers; they will be rehabilitated.

It should be evident to everyone that every project, be it making a modern highway, laying another rail line, digging another canal, enlarging an airport — or whatever — will inevitably cause dislocation of some families from their homes. They must be fully compensated and rehabilitated, but development must go on apace. We cannot afford to be left behind.

Kama Sutra

Much the silliest book on sex that I have read, and I have read a great many, is Vatsayan’s Kama Sutra. There is nothing scientific about it. Its categorisation of men and women according to sizes of their sexual organs and appetites is entirely arbitrary. Its listing of varieties of kisses, pecks and bites during sexual intercourse are laughably childish. Its description of postures that can be adopted during the act of coition reads like a mixture of yoga asanas and feats of professional contortionists. However, I have quite a collection of expensive illustrated copies of Kama Sutra in my library. The paintings are explicit depictions of raw sex of couples with expressionless dead-pan faces showing no sign of joy or passion engaged as if performing some domestic chore like grinding corn on a stone chakki — singularly un-beautiful.

I don’t mind reading good pornography but Kama Sutra is not even good pornography. The one thing that can be said in its favour is that possessing a copy is not likely to land one in jail. Kama Sutra passes for ancient semi-sacred literature. It is a glaring example of our double standards in judging what is and what is not obscene.While upholders of morality like Shiv Sainiks and Bajrang Dalis wreck shops which sell Valentine Day cards which our juveniles send to each other and  vandalise Hussain’s paintings, they turn a blind eye to sculptures in Khajuraho and Konark statues depicting Shiva-Parvati in sexual embrace and the Kama Sutra. If this is not humbug, I don’t know what the word means.

Indian humbug is much in demand in the United States. Besides swamis and yogis, we have teachers of yoga as well as practitioners of alternative medicine, Ayurveda. Among the top exponents of mystic India to muddle-headed yanks is Dr Deepak Chopra. He has half-a-dozen books under his belt, a hefty bank balance, private aircraft and a reputation of profound learning. Among his many achievements is having written an article for the girlie magazine Playboy. It is banned by the Indian government for obscenity, but available at double the price if you know where to get it. Dr Chopra lends his mighty pen to write on Kama Sutra, camouflaging it as a spiritual guide to achieve the ultimate in the mystical enjoyment of the union of bodies. You can be guaranteed a bestseller.

So we have Kama Sutra including the Seven Spiritual Laws of Love by Deepak Chopra (Jaico), “bringing together India’s greatest living writer and most cherished text”. One does not need to bother with the text. The illustrations are better than in any of the previous Kama Sutras because they are not static reproductions of old style Rajput and Kangra miniatures, but modern paintings which bring out the sensuous and the erotic in young female bodies.

Sex is an elemental life-force. Every normal male and female feels its upsurge with the onset of adolescence. They do not get it from books but from the experience of how bodies respond to each other. It is the richest sensation in our lives. Most people also discover that illicit sex is more enjoyable than the licit: marriage makes sex monotonous. Erotic pictures provoke. Text takes the fun out of them.

Moon versus Tharoor
UN aspirant Ban ki-Moon
Wasn’t even heard of until June;
But all those draws
Of the allegoric straws
Hit Shashi Tharoor like a typhoon.

(Contributed by Prabhaat Vaidya, Mumbai)

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