Wednesday, December 13, 2006


The other day, I attended a post-funeral Gita-paath (scripture reading) prayer meeting of an elderly man. He had been staying with his son and daughter-in-law for many years. In his last days, he had seemed a bit disoriented, with declining hand-eye coordination. He had been in hospital for the last two months of his life. His death seemed to be a merciful release. At the prayer meeting, the daughter-in-law was in a bright pink salwar-kameez outfit, pink lipstick and electric blue eyeliner---that make-up is her normal mode of dress.
My first reaction was, “Couldn’t she have toned it down a bit, at least today?” But close on the heels of this thought came another. Why was I judging her? Why was I thinking like all the other elderly tabbies there? She had never cared for him, and saw no reason to display non-existent somber-ness (is that a word?). Mind you, all of us had worn sober coloured clothing, though not white, like they show in movies and TV. (Random aside: How do all these characters have whites ready to wear for such occasions? I’m sure one couldn’t consciously buy clothes to go mourning in---it would be considered inauspicious, no? Further aside: In the West, mourning is black, for which formals can double up, so the inauspicious bit doesn’t come in.)
So are we hypocrites, or just a bit too conscious of the sensibilities of others? An ad for a scooter shows a girl on the pillion clinging to her boyfriend riding the scooter. Then they near an elderly man, and she withdraws her hand from the boyfriend’s waist. Is that hypocrisy? Or just a wish to not offend?
A generation has grown up watching movies in which, the enraged father goes, “Sharam nahin aati, baap ke saamne sharaab pi kar aate huey?” Which is worse, drinking per se, or drinking in the presence of your elders and (presumably) betters? The same scenario was repeated for smoking. The turning point in this field, as far as I know, came with the movie “Kabhi Kabhie”, in which the father Shashi Kapoor pours a drink for himself, and asks his son, Rishi Kapoor, “What will you have?” in his characteristic flamboyant way. The mother Rakhi makes a few disapproving noises, but it is clear that she’s doing so indulgently, and reveling in the father-son bonding. That scene came as a refreshing change. In my memory, that is a very warm scene. Until then, even if a father-son duo were shown drinking together, they were usually the villains, and the drinking took place while they were plotting against the hero!
Here in Delhi, I’ve noticed younger people touching the feet of their elders---only, it is not the feet they touch but the knees. Is it because the latter have shoes on? Or because the former can't really bend all the way down? A year or so ago, a teenaged boy suddenly lunged for my knees as I was sitting talking to his mother--- it looked like the beginnings of a football tackle----I was too startled to say “Bless you" or “Jeete raho”! After that came a certain indignation---had I joined the ranks of the elderly already? In South India, as far as I know, they actually touch the feet properly, or not at all. Some feet-touchers of course only make as if to touch the feet, bending just halfway and the feet-touchee promptly straightens them up with a "No, no, it is all right, bless you,” etc. etc. In the movie “American Desi” the hero’s American friend discovers that each time he touches the feet of an elder Indian, he gets a currency note as blessing---he cleans up a small fortune this way! While all the time, the Indian-American hero disdains the practice and never touches anyone’s feet!
Are we hardwired to automatically hide certain actions from others? Is that being discreet? To paraphrase an Indian saying,"Eat what you are comfortable with, wear what others are comfortable with."
So what is this “typical Indian Hypocrisy” that we all talk of so sneeringly, yet with a certain amount of ownership, like we do about Indian Standard Time?
Random Thought: Hypo-critical or Hyper-critical?


Blogger Shyam said...

Hmmm... a point to ponder, allright. Hypocrisy or consideration for others? Can be argued both ways and i see the merits and demerits of both arguments!

15/12/06 2:29 PM  
Anonymous WA said...

Lakshmi, Hi hope you are well. Can't see an email address around so leaving a msg here instead. Would you please send me an email to when you get a min. Thanks - Uma

2/2/07 8:49 AM  
Blogger Ambica R said...

Very interesting! I still cant believe someone wore pink though..!! :) i agree with being what you are... but RANI PINK.. thats just wrong in general.. heheh!! That was fun to read papu akka. I am waiting for your Book to come out. :)

26/2/07 11:24 PM  

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