That smalltime imp

Gopalkrishna Gandhi

Married or not, a couple's most valued asset is companionship

What, in human evolution, came earlier - consensual intercourse or marriage? The answer is obvious. One could say that the institution of marriage is Time's embroidered garment placed over Nature's plain truth. To what was spontaneous, instinctive and un-guarded, it introduces three new harnesses. Exclusivity is introduced to intimacy, constancy is brought to immediacy and the free-falling dice of animal procreation is replaced by selective processes of legacy-creation. The institution of marriage reflects society's seeking of order, method and system in human relationships as against the anarchy of unruly 'jungle' contact.

It cannot but be thanked, with relief, for the reining-in of an instinct that may have had the merit of spontaneity but had, too, the demerit of potential anarchy.

But body, mind and heart all being co-extensively active, the 'ordering' has not been without slippages. Nothing that is made 'out of bounds' can be without trespasses! Even as the institution of marriage has sought to regulate instinct, instinct has found ways to bypass the regulator. And so, marriage and adultery have remained inextricably intertwined, as light and shade.

Being subconsciously aware of this reality, I read with admiration the highly sensitive and percipient observations of the Supreme Court's bench while hearing a petition on the section in the Indian Penal Code that criminalizes adultery - Section 497.

Whatever be the final judgment in the case, which has been reserved, these observations have occasioned in me a chain of thoughts which constitute this column. Imprisoning a person for five years for adultery does not make common sense, said the Chief Justice of India, Dipak Misra, heading the five-member Constitution bench. Adultery does not even qualify as a criminal offence, he said, and pointed to the civil remedy available - divorce. If a relationship has the consent of the woman, how, he asked, is it an offence?

The bench's observations went beyond the question of adultery to the quiddity or 'thingness' of marriage itself. The judge, D.Y. Chandrachud, asked why it was always the woman's burden to maintain the "sanctity" of marriage. "You exact fidelity from the wife, but not from the husband," he said. And interpreting the antecedents of the penal provision, the judge, R.H. Nariman, said: "In the 1860's married women were considered the chattel of their husbands."

The transactions reminded me of great marriages as well as great man-woman companionships outside of marriage which contain in them everything that marriage should have, and often does, but so often does not.

And where did those extramarital companionships come from? Basically, from the custom of marriage itself - I am talking of India, of course - and the character of those marriages.

Thoughtless haste characterizes most marriages in India which, in the greater part, are 'arranged'. Parental haste in the bringing together of the couple makes one or the other of the couple break protocol. Arranged marriages are an essentially non-consultative procedure that is given the status of a covenant which maybe broken only on pain of the couple's social reputation and the wife's security getting severely compromised. It is not as if in our arranged marriages there is zero consultation. The bride-to-be is spoken to, her opinion sought. But most often she is prevailed upon to go by 'family wisdom', the 'long-term foresight of elders' and, in the case of the vast majority of us, namely, the middle and lower classes, by financial and 'real-life' desiderata. These are clinching. The girl is made to feel that a prolongation of un-married-ness will be expensive for the family, apart from being a 'risk'. What kind of risk? In this world of wolf-men prowling around, how and for how long are ageing parents, busy brothers and younger siblings going to 'protect' the girl who is 'shooting up like a tree'? So, persuasion ending in acquiescence places a tick mark on the 'consultation box' and before one can say 'vivaha' the girl has become a bride, the bride a wife and the wife a mother-to-be. Horoscopes may have been 'matched' but nothing like serious thought has been given to the couple's compatibility, psychological or emotional. Entered non-consultatively, the marriage is endured non-consensually. Instead of marriage fulfilling the woman, the woman fulfils the marriage. Instead of marriage making her home, the home makes her marriage.

What follows? Non-companionship, non-mutuality and that 'gift' of failed marriages - inconstancy.

In the realities of India today, the married man who 'strays' is debunked in whispers even if silently envied. The woman who does so is taken to have crossed the pale even as she too gets to be secretly admired for 'guts'. Abandoned wives are an Indian reality. Some have been left, as Maithilisharan Gupt's great work, Yashodhara, tells us, in the dark of the night by one seeking a higher, timeless purpose. By others, in fact, by most, for lower aims.

In this situation, examples of companionship outside marriage can appear to be brave, audacious, modern. And less of a 'show'.

Companionship, wholly mutual and entirely equal, has marked well-known figures from India's political life - Left, Right and centre. We in India are yet not so frank as to discuss names for fear of offending 'those concerned'. These are not the companion-couples so much as their kin and their associates. So, I will mention only the really well-known 'cases' -the great Bharatnatyam diva, Balasaraswati, and India's first finance minister, R. K. Shanmukham Chetty, were a pair. As were Roma Mitra and the intrepid socialist, Ram Manohar Lohia. Accepted by political foe and friend alike, as also by the people of Tamil Nadu, is the more recent example of Rajathi Ammal and M. Karunanidhi. The Tamil Nadu statesman described his partner, when pushed in the assembly to do so, simply and straightforwardly, as 'my daughter's mother'. Matrimony rhymes automatically with harmony in acoustics, not in life.

Outside of the political screen, equally distinguished examples of twinned man-woman names come to us from worlds as varied as science, the arts, literature and of course, cinema. Here too mention may only be made, without the risk of causing offence, of the transparent cases - the academic, Kamla Chowdhry, and India's ace space scientist, Vikram Sarabhai; the writer, Amrita Pritam, and Imroz (picture). The Tamil writer, Krithika (wife of S. Bhoothalingam, ICS), and a marine engineer-turned scholar, Chitti, exchanged letters, published some seven years ago that showed a staggering range of intimacy and empathy.

There are, of course, examples of companionships outside marriage that can go the way of unhappy marriages, as in the celebrated case of Nargis and Raj Kapoor. But, broadly speaking, the examples of celebrity extramarital equations are happy examples. Non-celebrity equations outside marriage are not less successful for being less known. Gujarat, as the scholar, Tridip Suhrud, informs me, has innovated maitri karar (friendship pact) which can be practised by a Hindu man and a woman when one of them is married and the spouse is alive. Not legally enforceable (Wiki tells us), the 'pact' is executed on a Rs 10 stamp-paper before a sub-registrar. I do not know how widespread the maitri karar's use has been but the fact of it is important, sociologically and jurisprudentially.

So, am I valorizing extra-marital relations? Certainly not. Extra-marital companionships can and do cause hurt. Adulterous ragas rise on very sharp svaras. A bitter gourd lies at the end of the pretty vine. And there are few things on earth more beautiful than a married couple in love through Time's trials. And I must also clarify that out-of-marriage companionships are not to be confused with that absurdity called 'free-sex'. That is jungle-raj, plain and simple, without the innocence of the wild.

I want to say just this: companionship within or beyond marriage is elusive. If missing, it leads to pain. If found, it leads to happiness. And adultery is but a small-time imp, dragged to own up its street-corner guilt in the open court of human relationships.

courtesy : "The Telegraph", Aug 19, 2018


Category :- English Bazaar Patrika / Features

Hope versus fear


The BJP will revive the Hindutva plank for the next election


In a book published in 2007, I wrote that "the world over, the rhetoric of modern democratic politics has been marked by two rather opposed rhetorical styles. The first appeals to hope, to popular aspirations for economic prosperity and social peace. The second appeals to fear, to sectional worries about being worsted or swamped by one's historic enemies."

The Congress under Jawaharlal Nehru generally campaigned on a platform of hope. Nehru and his party promised voters economic growth, social peace and a higher standing for India in the world. He fought three general elections by these means. To be sure, he or his party did not achieve all these goals in office. However, to his credit, to win an election Nehru never opposed India to Pakistan, or Hindus to Muslims, or low castes to high castes, or the Hindi heartland to the rest of India.

On the other hand, the Shiv Sena under Bal Thackeray always campaigned on a platform of fear. The party was founded in 1966; for the first 20 years of its existence, its main focus was on asserting that Mumbai was a city for Marathi-speakers alone. Shiv Sainiks first targeted South Indians who had come to the city to live and work; later, their focus was on keeping people from the North and East out of the metropolis. However, as the Shiv Sena sought to expand elsewhere in the state it acquired a new set of scapegoats. Now it painted Muslims as the main enemy of Mumbai, Maharashtra, and India.

Whether you stoke fear or promote hope is generally a question of character and belief. It was impossible for Nehru to ever demonize Muslims, and inconceivable that Thackeray would ever see Muslims as full and equal citizens of the republic.

Most politicians use hope or fear consistently through the course of their career. Narendra Modi is an exception. He has alternated between these two modes of campaigning. In his first few years as chief minister of Gujarat, Modi campaigned, and ruled, largely on a platform of fear. He spoke of the threats posed to his state and country by a certain "Mian Musharraf", of Sonia Gandhi's foreign origins, of the Congress's alleged pandering to Muslims and of the Muslims' own alleged campaign of demographic conquest (" Hum paanch, hamare pachees", as he put it). Modi stoked the Indian fear of foreigners, the Gujarati fear of outsiders, and the Hindu fear of Muslims - all at once. He presented himself as a bulwark against the malevolent forces which threatened Gujarat in general and Gujarati Hindus in particular, insisting that he, and only he, could save the state from going under.

Halfway into his second full term as chief minister, Modi began re-presenting himself as a Vikash Purush, a Man of Development, who would bring growth and prosperity to the people of his state. He held Vibrant Gujarat summits at which industrialists promised thousands of crores; and he began to boast about his state's achievements in energy, infrastructure and agriculture. The investments were mostly unrealized; and the achievements were somewhat exaggerated. Nonetheless, it was clear that from about 2010 onwards Modi began moving away from the rhetoric of fear toward the rhetoric of hope. The move was not complete; he still remained somewhat suspicious of Muslims (as when he refused to wear a skull cap offered to him in 2011). Nonetheless, it seemed that some sort of brand makeover was underway to make the man appeal to more than the core constituency of Hindutva.

In his campaign for the 2014 general elections, Modi further underplayed communal issues in favour of economic ones. He promised 'Achchhe Din' for everyone and for young voters in particular, saying he would create crores of jobs for them. He also spoke of standing for 'Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas', implying that religious minorities would also benefit from the economic growth his regime claimed it would bring.

After Modi won the elections and became prime minister, some commentators thought that he had finally shed his hard-line image. They hoped that he would now reconcile conflicting groups, rationalize archaic laws holding back our society and economy, and enhance India's standing in the world. They were further swayed by his grand slogans of 'Start Up India, Stand Up India', 'Make in India', 'Made in India'.

Indians under Modi were indeed starting new enterprises; but of lynching innocent men, not of manufacturing objects for export. Those commentators who had cheered him to victory now urged him to 'rein in the fringe elements'. He was unwilling to do so; meanwhile, his party president was happy to let the polarization proceed apace. A rash of hateful statements against Muslims were made by MPs - chiefly from UP - who had been hand-picked to contest elections by Amit Shah.

Then, in March 2017, one of those chosen MPs was made chief minister of his state. He had a track record as a baiter of minorities; and he was no promoter of development either. Despite five terms as an MP, his constituency was an economic, social, educational and medical disaster. In office, he continued to make incendiary statements aimed at the minorities. Yet, not only does he remain in office; he is sent by the Bharatiya Janata Party to other states to spread his message of hate and division.

Suspicion of those who are not Hindus is intrinsic to the institutional and ideological structure of the sangh parivar. Modi himself imbibed this early; witness the adulatory essays he wrote in praise of M.S. Golwalkar. For his own instrumental purposes, however, Modi shifted from demonizing Muslims during his 2014 campaign. Now, however, since Achchhe Din have manifestly not arrived, the party seems set to revive the Hindutva plank for the next election.

Consider in this regard the debate around the National Register of Citizens in Assam. When the first draft was released, the home minister, Rajnath Singh, said this was a preliminary list, and all those excluded would have a chance to apply again and appeal further if even then they didn't figure. This was both sober and sensible; for the Indian bureaucracy has a legendary reputation for incompetence. Soon, many cases of legitimate citizens being excluded came to light, including many respected Assamese professionals, the family of a former president of the republic, and even a BJP MLA.

The BJP president, however, immediately declared that all those not named in the first draft were infiltrators and needed to be deported. His remarks were picked up and amplified by his acolytes in other states. Leaders of the BJP in Rajasthan, Bihar, Bengal, Mumbai and Delhi have all asked for the identification and deportation of 'foreigners' in their state or city. Lest they be dismissed as the 'fringe', let me note that in Jharkhand, a Harvard-educated and McKinsey-primed Union minister has called for such deportation too.

'Foreigners' in this context is, of course, a code word for 'Muslims'. With farmers in distress, Dalits angry, millions of young men still looking in vain for dignified employment, the BJP appears to have decided to fight the next general election on a platform of generating fear. Voters in different districts and states will be warned of the Assam example, and told that even the jobs they have are at risk because people of that other and foreign faith are against them.

It is likely that in his own speeches the prime minister will not emphasize communal language, or at least not excessively. Rather, he will stoke fears of another kind; that if he is not given a second term, a khichdi coalition led by some self-seeking or corrupt regional satrap will blow away all the promises he has made to the nation, perhaps blow away the nation itself. So, while the cadre will tell voters to fear those who are not Hindu, the leader will tell voters to fear other leaders. Having, in 2014, falsely promised Achchhe Din, Modi will now tell voters that his rivals are capable only of bringing Burre Din.

e.mail : ramachandraguha@yahoo.in

courtesy : “The Telegraph”, 18 August 2018


Category :- English Bazaar Patrika / Features