Sunday, September 09, 2007

Parents, Power and Violence

Shashank and I have decided to move this discussion to our emails. I would, however, like to post a few thoughts from those emails that I think would be of interest to junta at large. I would not do a point by point analysis as I did last time because that was rude of me and this isn't really a personal vendetta towards Shashank. I will merely quote him where I think it is necessary to put things in to context. And this post has a lot of spelling mistakes, please bear with me.

Shashank said:

Hmm. I'll simply repeat what I have asked multiple times - what about the emotional pain you might cause to your so called orthodox parents and family members who may not have the same views about sex as yourself? Its their problem right?

I reply.

The first thing to understand is, that you personally have a strong attachment to your parents. This does not mean that everyone would have that. If may be important for you personally not to inflict psychological pain on them. This may not be true for everyone. Second, you assume that someone's parents are static, unchanging people. That they have static views that cannot change over time. This is far from true. I will give you and example which, fortunately is related to sex and hence does not get diluted in intensity.

My friend Atul and his mother were watching news on TV where some RSS guys had beaten up some homosexuals. The two of them started talking (and we are talking about a typical conservative UPite family here) from the point where Auntie felt that homosexuality is abhorrent to the point of maybe it is not right but at least beating people up is wrong.

What the exact subject of discussion was is immaterial. The point is - everyone is a thinking, changing individual. Hence, the assumption that a particular action may necessarily inflict violence on a person is not very correct. Even the nature and extent of this violence changes with time and place and the way it is inflicted.

Third, there are always trade offs. What if someone feels, as has been pointed out that sexual compatibility is necessary for a good marriage. Would if hurt the parent more if the persons did not have sex before marriage and ended up having a bad marriage with constant fight in the house or that the person had sex before marriage and hence had a good happy marriage.

Once again, do not argue about the precise example that I have given. That is not the point. The point is, you are looking at sex as an isolated act which it is not. It is much more complicated, even if you look at merely the participating individuals and the corresponding psychological issues.

Let me give you another example, which is more personal. One of the reason that I did not apply for higher studies last year was because my mother did not want me to go abroad. And I myself was very worried about me settling down abroad and the consequent life of my mother. I was concerned about her to the extend of not even having talked to her till that point. However, when we did talk (and it was too late to apply then) we realized that a lot of our fears were unfounded. These days it is very much possible to come back multiple times. It is easier to keep in touch. More importantly both me and my mother realized that I may sacrifice a career in research today for her. But 10 years or 15 years down the line, I may blame her for that shitty alternate life that I may choose. And at that age and time it would be much more difficult for her.

Again, keeping the specific example apart, the point is that the violence inflicted upon anyone isn't a static quantity. It is negotiable and changeable and you have to put in in broader perspective.

I also wish to say a few things about why broad mindedness is called broad and narrow mindedness is called narrow. Broad mindedness is defined as any point of view that increases the number of choices that a person can have. Narrow mindedness is a point of view that limits the number of choices. If you allow pre-marital sex then a person can both have and not have sex before marriage, i.e. two choices. If you don't then a person can only not have sex before marriage, i.e. one choice.

Now why is it desirable to have more choices. Because it makes self determination possible. The larger the number of choices the more I can determine where my life goes by myself, the more I can take responsibility for myself and the less I have to live according to the wishes of others. That is why a larger number of choices are desirable.

This, of course, is a matter of ideology. One can very well say that self determination is not what you want and you want someone else (society, parents, government) to lay out the rules for you. This invariably leads to an unequal power structure. A gets to control B. And B may not always like that control. His not liking this control can be seen as violence inflicted in B by A. Thus by increasing the number of choices we are trying to undermine power structures and hence minimizing the overall amount of violence in the society.

Thus we see, the act of pre-marital sex is not violence inflicted by us on our parents rather the act of prohibiting it is the act of violence by the parents upon us. This is because it is the parents who hold power over us and not the other way round. Our rebellious act is merely a resistance to this violence.

A few final words about logical reasoning etc. The way it functions is that everything is basically defined by us humans. First of all you start with a desirable. You try to clearly define this desirable. Like I have defined an increase in the number of choices as desirable. You also try to understand why that desirable is desirable. Then you start defining terms and processes and try to argue your point. Logic starts only at that point. The definitions are essentially emotional and ideological. We all understand that and not one is 'logically' trying to defend their position. We are only trying to show why our desirable is desirable and what benefits we may reap out of it.

"I don't know but can one night stands be true, good and fulfilling? Wont it be difficult to have such kind of sex with someone whom you dont care bout much?"

Why not? Are you not looking at it only from your point of view? What precludes the possibility that these things are possible for some people?

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Society, Culture and Being Human

Shashank made a comment on this post. I wrote a reply to the first part of his comment here.

We move now to his second point.

It is general tendency in the subcontinent people to deviate from your own culture. I again dont know whether its right or wrong but personally i have always felt that a person should have some respect for his traditions and culture. Now , today as my culture, my traditions, the philosophy my society pursues, tells me that sex is a taboo. Then I guess i am being clinical and not conservative if i carry the same notions. Afterall, no one is prohibiting you from having sex. All the society demands is : with the right person and at the right time. Even science supports the fact that early sex may be harmful to the body. And as our society stands today, you can easily marry a girl of your own choice. Yes, they do ask for some restraint from your side and you may ask why, as what you are doing has nothing to do with others. But then i believe thats why we humans stand different from animals. Coz sometimes we go beyond reason. Sometimes we do things only because the society says so. The society may b wrong but oit may be right too. And we will do no harm to ourselves if we compromise a bit.

He asks us to have some “respect” for out traditions and culture. What does he mean by this “respect”? I think what he means is that we should not try to change anything but accept it as it is. For example, premarital-sex is a taboo in Indian society. Do not change that! Why should you? After all, you can always marry and have sex.
A few pointers here. First of all. Sex without marriage and sex after marriage aren’t really the same thing. Marriage has certain social implications. There are legal issues involved. While there is no such thing about pre-marital sex. (Or do we have laws against pre-marital sex? I don’t know.)

Second, how do you think you could have got to the stage of “you can easily marry a girl of your own choice” if people hadn’t decided to change the existing marry-in-the-same-cast system? There are problems with not trying to change the system. The system that is already in place may not be perfect. Or the desirables of the society will change and it will no longer be possible for the established system to fulfill those desires.

And the very culture that you swear to respect wasn’t formed by respecting it. And we sitting in India have no better example than ourselves? Do you think that the sari is an Indian dress? The Greeks introduced it in India. And the British brought the blouse, the bra and the petticoat. Our women used to go barebreasted before that. My own grand-grand mother never wore a blouse in her lifetime. And today dressing that way would be a scandal. One has to realize that the culture and traditions that we are talking about have changed and are changing every instant of history. And the way they change is by questioning the existing norms not following them blindly and “respecting” them.

In the end he has an interesting definition of human. A human is that who does what the society says. There are no problems with that, I guess. It is a matter of ideology. If you are perfectly happy with a non-changing, non-evolving society that forces you to sublimate your desires and give up your freedoms for no real reason at all then fine. Live that way. However, some of us have a different ideology wherein we demand a greater freedom than what we already had and we do it in a peaceful manner.

And finally he says that society may be wrong and it may be right too. The thing to understand here is that there is nothing like absolute right and absolute wrong. Right and wrong are defined by the society. It may define it in any which way it likes and it is these definitions of right and wrong that we are arguing about. There are too many things that I want to say about this comment but I'll just stop here.

Lastly, where did you read that sex in early age is harmful? Can you cite some references as to that?

Sex is a Pandora's Box

I have opened a Pandora’s Box by writing about sex. It is after a really long time that I have had so many comments on a post. I really loved the one by Shashank. I like the way he gives me really juicy stuff to sink my teeth into. Let’s take a look at the various points that he makes.

He begins:

Although Vinod hasn't suggested this in any form, still in most cases i get a feeling that people confuse between modernisation and westernisation.

I agree with that. Modernization need not coincide with Westernization. In the way that he uses the term through his comment I think what he means by modern is anything that is recent and contemporary. I reason I think he means this is this statement:

… but I do not see any modern thing in being a libertarian. Such people were always there (even in our country) and so this is just another way of thinking.

Anything that was always there isn’t modern. So anything which came just a few days back is modern. However, what he means by modernization then I have no idea. Modernization is a process. If merely being recent is being modern then there is no process. Or perhaps the process is merely the passage of time and modernization means merely progressing through time.

Next he says:

Why is being a libertarian seen as being modern?

The answer to that is simple. Libertarianism is a very modern philosophy. Wikipedia defines libertarianism thus:

Libertarianism is a political philosophy maintaining that all persons are the absolute owners of their own lives, and should be free to do whatever they wish with their persons or property, provided they allow others the same liberty.

This notion of liberty, that a person should be free to do as he chooses, as long as he does not hamper anyone else’ liberty is very much a modern concept, even by Shashank’s definition of modern. In fact, the same Wikipedia article that I picked the definition from states that the first usage of that term was as late as 1857. And certainly, never in the history of mankind have we been free to do as we please. Even today, libertarianism remains largely a coffee shop philosophical idea. It is not surprising then that being libertarian is seen as being modern. It is a modern concept. And the claim that libertarians have always existed is probably a wrong claim. Perhaps they existed in philosophical circles but it never was the dominant socio-political system. It even isn’t today. I’m weak at history; please correct me if any libertarian societies have existed in the past.

And when he says:

Coz i dont think that if I am a person who doesnt believe in sex with multiple partners, that makes me any less modern.

I cannot agree more. According to his definition of modern you don’t have to believe in anything at all. You just have to keep moving in time. And wait a minute, why was he talking about Westernization in the first place? Wonder, wonder.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Love, Romance and Sex

The best thing about having people like Aneesh for friends is how easily they are able to drive you into serious discussions. I exchange regular emails with Aneesh and today he asked me a question.

One of my friends just got lucky with his girlfriend. i.e. he had sex. Now this got me thinking. It's not the usual sex before marriage thing, but i was wondering would i be able to do it if it ever comes to that. I have no idea where ethics figure in this or anything, or how the girl might feel about it. But was just wondering, what's your opinion?

I replied to him and realized that the reply is almost a blog post. I put it here with minor edits. These are personal viewpoints, and yes, you may make value judgments on me based on these. :)

You have asked a difficult question. I have thought about this thing, amongst the many things that I have thought about and I have not really reached a conclusion. However, let me put down what I think about it. The views are completely personal and as yet unformed.

The upbringing that I have had is extremely conservative. Sex and all are not talked about. Even things like love marriages and petty romances are taboo. With such a background I have a natural taboo against promiscuity.

I have, by the way of my education, come to terms with romance. I think it is perfectly okay for young people to be in a relationship. The issue of sex is however problematic. I approach these questions from a very personal viewpoint.

Part of my ideology is constructed around the idea that if something isn't harmful to somebody then people should be allowed to do it. If two young people have sex then it isn't really causing any harm and thus it is perfectly fine to do it. However, I imagine - what if the girl I was in a relationship with had had sex with someone before me. Despite all my libertarian leanings, I think I would be uncomfortable. That is taboo setting in. I have certain notions of fidelity drilled into me that I'm not able to get rid of. And it is not about the girl having done anything wrong. It is more a question of loyalty. I would not feel as close and as attached to this girl as I would feel with someone who has only given herself to me. Possession is an important aspect of romantic relations.

But I also understand that people change. That girl may have been in love with another person at some time. She may just have had sex just because she wanted to have some fun. What really is wrong with it? It does not necessarily imply that that girl is any less loyal or loves me less. When I think this way, I feel that I would be okay with her sexual history as long as I am convinced that she really has moved on.

But thinking that way, would I be comfortable with her having sex with someone while she is with me? After all, she may be doing it only for fun, and this may not reflect her feelings towards me in any way. I don't think I would be comfortable with that. For me, sex is an expression of very intimate romantic feelings for your partner. So if she does it while she is already with me, I'd be offended. Yes, I am judging her by my own standards and not hers (her views on what sex means may be different) but what other standards do I have?

Moral of the story - I'm perfectly okay with monogamy. As long as you are with one partner at a time, I'm okay with it. You may move from one partner to another but not more than one person at a time. Having written that I realize how western that sounds. That is precisely how fidelity is defined in contemporary western world. And I'm amused at how easily I discard my native morality and embrace the Western one.

One a more private note I think I will be able to do it if there are no strings attached. One night stands. If we are just doing it for fun for one night and are never going to see each other ever. I may do it. But if there is any kind of interaction between me and the girl, I can't do it. For example, I couldn't do it with an acquaintance. First issue would be hurting her because having sex probably means a certain kind of commitment. It may not and the girl may be very casual about it but how can I be sure. Second, I just wouldn't feel comfortable doing it with someone I'm not really close to.

So for me it is the extremes that is okay. Recreational sex is okay. Making love is okay. Not chasing girls just so that you can bed her and then leave her to her fate. I don't know if you get this but I can't put it better than this.

Doctor Who - A Different Style

I have seen a considerable amount of science fiction television now and I think I can safely claim that Doctor Who is perhaps the most different science fiction serial that I have ever seen. Doctor Who is funny, which is very, very difficult to do with science fiction. I think only the British do it, Douglas Adams did it in the Hitchhikers Galaxy and Doctor Who is in the same vein, in places.

A Story is Just a Story

Almost all stories these days try to be realistic. That is works absolutely fine as long as you’re in the social-realistic genre. If you’re writing about the oppression of the tribal people in India or the miserable life of Dalits, it works marvelously. In fact, the more realistic your writing, the more powerful it tends to be because it really is reality that it seeks to represent.

But when you do the same thing with science fiction and fantasy, you run into trouble. Well, not trouble exactly, because people have done it very nicely and are still doing it. Take Star Trek for example. When Star Trek was initially produced, Gene Roddenbury made sure that every single LED on the set had a well defined (albeit fictional) function. The ‘authenticity’ achieved through such meticulousness is what takes the show through.

But not everyone can do it or likes to do it. That is when science fiction becomes near-pulp and looks like nothing more than a nerds fantasy.

Doctor Who, however, is supremely conscious of the fact that it is just a story. No effort is really made to bring authenticity to the story. The Doctor travels in a time ship that looks like a police box. To make his ship work he has to push archaic levers, valves and pistons. He carries something called the screwdriver that can open any sort of lock. He carries a psychic paper that shows you whatever it is that you want to see. When the Doctor is asked – You took me back in time. What if I kill my grandfather and am never born? – he just chuckles and replies – Are you planning to? No, says the questioner and the Doctor shrugs and walks away.

And the viewer immediately realizes that the Doctor is just that, a story. There is not much sense in questioning and nitpicking about the plot details. Instead the mind is left free to perceive what the story wants to say behind the plot – be it the problem of increasing traffic in big cities in Gridlock or the nature of human religious beliefs in Satan Pit.


My best loved episodes of Doctor Who are metafictional in nature. In 2006 series there is an episode in a group of individuals is investigating the Doctor’s appearances through history. These individuals meet together because of their interest in the Doctor. They start hanging out together, socializing and also end up falling in love. This mirrors what real Doctor Who fans in the real world will do. Fans come together at conventions, start socializing because of common interests and yes, many of them do end up getting married. This episode was lovely in the way it recognizes how fiction impacts society and then took it up to make it into another interesting fictional episode. This episode shows how fiction is in conversations with the society and with other fiction.

This episode also reveals how fictional characters become cultural heroes. Indeed, anything that has gone on for three decades is bound to become a culture in itself. Indeed, Doctor Who is very much part of British culture and art. Many references in literature I’m able to get only now that I have seen the show. Just like Star Trek has a huge cultural impact in America.

Related Posts:
* Doctor Who

Doctor Who

Doctor Who is a legendary BBC science fiction drama series. The first Doctor Who appeared on television in 1963 and went on continuously for 26 years till 1989. It was revived in 2005 by Phil Collinson and has completed another 3 years now. It is rumored that there will not be any Doctor Who in 2008 because the actor, David Tennant is going away on a theatre tour. I have watched the three new seasons of Doctor Who and I am hooked.

The Young Wise Old Man

I have spoken previously about the archetype of the Wise Old Man in the context of Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan. Doctor Who takes an interesting turn on the whole concept.

The Doctor is old, very old. He is a Time Lord, a species that can regenerate. When the Doctor’s hand was cut off in the 2006 Christmas special episode, he just … grew it back. And that is not all, the Doctor can regenerate entirely. At the end of such regeneration he becomes a completely new man. Totally different.

Pragmatically speaking, such regeneration is a plot device by which continuity is maintained in a series that runs over 29 years. One actor plays the Doctor for some time. When he is done, he just regenerates and bang! We get a new Doctor played by a new actor.

However, on a plot level this ensures that the Doctor is always young. The Doctor is young in appearance, he is young in behavior. But nevertheless, he is very old. He knows a lot of things. He has been all over the galaxy. And he always has a plan. He has at least some clue about what is going on. Thus, he is a Wise Old man who is young.

In this way, the series cleverly combines the Young Hero and the Wise Old Man into a single character. The character that results is farm more powerful than both. He is a character who young girls can both pine for and depend upon.

The Companion

Having said that, it is not surprising that the Doctor always travels with a young and beautiful girl who is known as the Companion. The young companion on one hand tends to accentuate the youngness of the Doctor through a similarity in behavior and body language which is certainly that of young people. On the other, it emphasizes the oldness of the Doctor by contrasting how little she knows about the Universe.

What is surprising, however, is that while the Companion is almost always in love with the Doctor, and so it the Doctor, their love remains of a very non romantic kind. In fact, in the 2005 and 2006 series the relationship between the Doctor and Rose Tyler, his Companion was almost that of a father and daughter.

In the 2007 series, Martha Jones, the new Companion does appear to be in romantic love with the Doctor. However, this does not develop into any solid relationship in the series.

Why this may be is because of the mythical nature of the Doctor. The Doctor is a character that is static in time. He does not change much. He does not grow. Whenever he shows signs of growing, he regenerates and we have an entirely new man. His life is repetitive at best. He keeps on fighting the same villains again and again and again. And that is why we love to watch the Doctor. We are in love with his TARDIS, the daleks, the cybermen, his companions and his antics and witticisms and that is why we keep watching him year after year after year.

If the Doctor changes, all this would be lost. We want to see the Doctor as it is.

Not developing relationships is part of this strategy. If you fall in love, you change. You age. Eventually, you’ll be expected to have family. Settle down maybe. We cannot have that for a myth. Just like Superman or Mickey Mouse, the Doctor lives on.

Related Post(s):

* Doctor Who - A Different Style

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Krishna Ki Atmakatha - Manu Sharma

Any retelling of an Indian epic is a mammoth task. But given that it is surprising how many times it has actually been done. Perhaps that is the allure of an epic. You never get tired of telling and retelling the story.

Manu Sharma’s Krishna Ki Atmakatha is a political retelling of the Mahabharat it nine parts. I should not really call it a retelling of the Mahabharat. As is clear from the name, it is the autobiography of Krishna. But it tells us not the story of Krishna the God but of Krishna the politician. On the sprawling pages of this epic, Krishna transforms from a gifted adolescent to a master politician. His God-hood is reduced to clever propaganda.

There are some problems with this text. I felt the characterization to be a bit restrictive. We get to see only one part of Krishna’s character – that of a politician. But Krishna was a lot else. He was a lover, he was a friend and he was a King. We don’t really get to see all of these. And among the ministrations of Krishna and Chhandak, his most trusted man, other personas fade into the background. One does not get any insight into the characters of the Pandavas, with the possible exception of Bheem who is splendidly portrayed as a muscular brainless hunk.

However, I have only recently started reading things in Hindi and I have found the style to be distinctively different from the Western Novel. Perhaps it will take some time to sink in.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Sunday, September 02, 2007

A Bullet through My Head

(C) Deviant

I lay down, tired. I imagine a bullet having been shot through my head. It is lodged somewhere deep inside my brain. It has squished those grey cells. It has punctured that wriggly outer layer of my brain. It has shattered my skull into tiny fragments. It has ruptured the skin above it. And the blood oozes. The blood flows down my temple. I touch it with a finger. The finger comes off read. A pearly red drop at the tip of my finger.

American Gods - Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman’s American Gods is such a different work that I find it really hard to say anything about it, except that I really, really liked the book. Perhaps my inability to say something is because I have not read much of contemporary fantasy. But perhaps it is also because I have been so completely bowled over by this work.

The novel narrates the tale of Shadow who finds himself caught up in an epic war between the old gods and new. And before he can decide which side to take, he has already taken one. Only to discover that there are no sides, really, to the war at all. Only the All Father and his brother win in the war. Everyone else loses. Everyone else dies. But Shadow stops it. Shadow stops the war.

I will not tell you how or why for that may spoil the fun of reading the novel for you, if you ever do, but I will tell you this. American Gods is like wine. It is not a page turner. It lacks all qualities of a best seller. Yet, it has won the Hugo and the Nebula for science fiction, the Bram Stoker for horror and the Locus for fantasy and it is like wine. Wine that you can sip slowly on a lazy evening and gradually get intoxicated.

Like Sandman, American Gods isn’t very plot oriented or pacey at all. It is slow and deliberate. It is like a dream where nothing really is very concrete. But at the same time it reeks of reality. It makes you think about the world around you and what it has become and whether all this is worth it.

It is certainly a must read.