Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Beauty at what cost?

An Australian immigrant to Canada told that he found the sight of Rajasthani women walking the sandy desert in their colourful skirts and jewellery, with pots of water on their heads a beautiful sight. I told him, it may look beautiful to you but believe me, those women are certainly not happy carrying water pots on their heads, walking the long distance, in the blazing sun, from the well to their houses and then continue with their household chores of cooking! He disagreed and wished that, that aspect of Rajasthan would not change due to modernization.
I found his wish both cruel and thoughtless. Here is a guy, who has 24 hour water & electricity supply, a fan if he is hot and a heater if he is cold, a car to drive even to the nearest store instead of walking and all the thousand comforts which one takes for granted and  not even notice in Canada. He wants the women in Rajasthan to live in such suffering for "aesthetic" reasons!

This is what irks me about the modern people. They assume that "simple" is beautiful or "simple is good" and want "others" to follow that life style while they have their modern comforts and luxuries. City folks moan about the changes happening and the loss of the tribal culture and rural lifestyles; yet they want for themselves,  the latest and best gadgets in the market!
 This train of thought reminds me of what I heard when I visited Udaipur in Rajasthan.

 A lorry driver in Udaipur commented to me that his brother was a camel driver and was unable to get a bride;   all the girls in the village wanted to marry  lorry drivers who earn more and can keep them in greater comfort than a camel driver. None of the girls wanted anything to do with a camel driver! To get his brother married, he had to first  get his brother a lorry and a driver's licence!

Below is a news item from Bangaloremirror.com which shows the hardships faced by women in Gujarat and how they refuse to marry so as to avoid a lifetime of physical labour and hardship.

Due to an acute water crisis in two villages of Gujarat’s Vadodara district, would-be brides are fighting shy of marrying into families in Jetpur and Devaliya villages. The reason is that they have to trudge distances to fetch water in the scorching summer heat.

The two villages, with a total population of about 3,000 people, are situated about 30 km from the Sardar Sarovar dam project on Narmada river.
Member of Narmada district panchayat, Harish Vasava, said that this has been the situation over the past few years. “Parents refuse to marry off their daughters here due to non-availability of permanent drinking water,” said Vasava.
Sahida Banu who lives in Devaliya village says they are in no position to offer drinking water to guests. “Instead, we prefer to offer a bottle of cold drink,” said Sahida. “Water is very precious for us. We have to walk kilometres a day with buckets of water.”
Nafisa Banu from Jetpur village said that finding a bride for young men is a problem. “The underground water is undrinkable due to the salinity.”
“The water problem has led to health hazards for villagers,” said sarpanch of Devaliya, Neeta Bhil.
Vasava said that though water from Narmada is supplied to north Gujarat, Saurashtra, Kutch and Rajasthan after the construction of the dam on the river, people in these villages still face water crisis.
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Likewise, there are people who choose a hard life, not for the sake of 'aesthetics' but under a misguided belief that a physically hard life is "more honest" or "keeps one healthy and fit". My father is one of these annoying persons who believe in physical work instead of using technology to make life comfortable and he is also autocratic enough to impose this on my poor mother and other hapless members in my family. For example he prefers to draw water from the well by pulling the bucket up with a rope than using the motor pumpset to draw the water. He prefers to buy the milk by walking to the milk booth daily morning than having it delivered at home. He wants my mother to ground the chutney by hand, in the granite stone pestle and mortar instead of using the electric mixer. The list goes on.
Why the hell do these people (like my dad) not realize that the time spent on physical labour could be better used to do cognitive activities such as learning a new skill or reading; could be used to relax, to socialize with friends, to contemplate, day dream, think, play, etc? Why this insistence on torturing oneself and others by doing things manually for hours together instead of with technology in seconds?

The resistence to use of anything new is seen often in many third world countries and there are many reasons for this. Unshakeble belief that the old customs are good and new are bad; that the 'ancients knew better than us new-fangled people'; that anything modern or western is evil or at least suspect. On the other hand what is also a mystery to me, is the speed at which some new stuff is accepted such as television, cinema, cell phones and computers! The co-existence of 1st century technology such as the bullock carts and 21st century technology such as space craft, cell phones and computers can be seen in countries like India and one wonders, how long  we will continue to use the logics, beliefs, technologies of 20 different centuries simultaneously ! Use of computer software to arrive at one's horoscope is a perfect example of the mix of ancient logic and modern technology!

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