Happy Ka­ma­su­tra Di­was!

Enough of the po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated brouhaha ev­ery Valen­tine’s Day, let’s rechris­ten the day and prop­a­gate our rich her­itage in­stead

Mid Day - - Comment - Aditya Sinha Send your feed­back to [email protected]

My aunt re­cently com­plained to my mother, who is vis­it­ing, about Valen­tine’s Day. I silently lis­tened to her men­tion how young­sters gift each other cards and flow­ers, and how this day was un­known when they were young, etc, etc. My si­lence lasted all of five sec­onds. I tired of my aunt’s pro­pa­ganda (she is a long­time fan of Sushma Swaraj and her grouse against Modi, who she other­wise ad­mires for be­ing un­abashedly anti-Mus­lim, is that he has re­pressed Sushma), and sug­gested a so­lu­tion: that she cam­paign to re­name Valen­tine’s Day as Ka­ma­su­tra Di­was. Af­ter all the Ka­ma­su­tra was around when she and my mother were girls.

They were cha­grined and em­bar­rassed. My father con­tin­ued eye­ing a plate of bis­cuits on the cof­fee ta­ble, while my un­cle con­cen­trated on his smart­phone, check­ing What­sApp (my aunt and her hus­band stopped the news­pa­per sev­eral years ago as it was an “un­nec­es­sary” ex­pense, and they get their news from the usual dubious net­works of fake news). My wife was not there to scold me, even if for ap­pear­ance’s sake.

Valen­tine’s Day is not a ter­ri­ble curse or grave threat to our cul­ture. My mother, who has lived abroad since 1965 and is fa­mil­iar with the com­mer­cialised day, won­dered when it be­came a big deal in In­dia. Pre­sum­ably around the first gulf war, in 1990 – the time that satel­lite TV en­tered In­dia. (five-star ho­tels in Delhi had im­me­di­ately set up satel­lite TV in their bars to show us live cov­er­age of Amer­i­can high-tech py­rotech­nics in the wake of the crum­bling of the Soviet Union.) The gulf war ended but MTV stayed on, lead­ing to the wide­spread use of fig­ure-hug­ging jeans (till then, the few brave girls who wore jeans used to pull their shirts over their hips with true In­dian hu­mil­ity), and sub­se­quently, the an­nual St Valen­tine’s Day.

My aunt fa­nat­i­cally de­rided the in­flu­ence of west­ern cul­ture on our youth. It was fairly hyp­o­crit­i­cal. When I was a high-schooler in New York, yoga did not ex­ist (or, at least, it was un­known in pop­u­lar cul­ture). Now, var­i­ous types of yoga are ubiq­ui­tous in Amer­ica from coast to coast, with many fraud­u­lent guru types seek­ing to patent their prac­tice (in­evitably some of these gu­rus end up fac­ing an avalanche of al­le­ga­tions of rape, etc). To patent yoga is ridicu­lous – it would be like try­ing to patent bap­tism or cir­cum­ci­sion.

Sim­i­larly, when I was a teenager, there were only some high-end In­dian restau­rants in Man­hat­tan, which made our food (ba­si­cally, north In­dian food) an ex­clu­sive din­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. When I was in high school in lower Man­hat­tan, a row of Bangladeshi restau­rants opened in Green­wich Vil­lage that made In­dian food ac­ces­si­ble to stu­dents and oth­ers with mod­est bud­gets. Now, In­dian food is so fa­mil­iar that Hollywood films oc­ca­sion­ally ref­er­ence the samosa (though samosas any­where in Amer­ica taste the worst).

The point is that when cul­tures in­ter­act, there is al­ways an ex­change of in­flu­ences. The spread of re­li­gions and re­li­gious cul­tures in Asia has of­ten fol­lowed trade. Didn’t Ma­hatma Gandhi say that our cul­ture was like a house whose win­dows should be opened to al­low fresh air to blow through? Be­fore lib­er­al­i­sa­tion we did not have much west­ern in­flu­ence (or even Soviet in­flu­ence, for that mat­ter, though peo­ple around the Third World were en­joy­ing Raj Kapoor’s movies), but we also didn’t have much af­flu­ence or even tele­phones, etc. Dr Man­mo­han Singh, as Narasimha Rao’s fi­nance min­is­ter, took a con­scious de­ci­sion to lib­er­alise the econ­omy, cit­ing South Korea’s rapid de­vel­op­ment (it was eco­nom­i­cally at par with In­dia in 1950, but is now miles ahead). With lib­er­al­i­sa­tion we had to ex­pect things like Valen­tine’s Day and twit­ter to reach us.

Any op­po­si­tion to Valen­tine’s Day is ba­si­cally a way to scare peo­ple the way that “Love Ji­had” does though its oc­cur­rence is sta­tis­ti­cally a rar­ity in a pop­u­la­tion of 125 crore; it is merely a method of po­lit­i­cal mo­bil­i­sa­tion. The Shiv Sena used to be the ones ha­rass­ing florists and cou­ples in parks; since 2014, vig­i­lante groups of un­em­ployed young­sters have mush­roomed and adopted the cause, with im­punity, es­pe­cially in BJP-ruled states. It’s not much dif­fer­ent from the way the BJP is try­ing to ha­rass twit­ter, merely be­cause its fol­low­ers are not al­lowed to abuse or threaten with rape other so­cial me­dia users who po­lit­i­cally dis­agree.

Thus the sug­ges­tion to change Valen­tine’s Day to Ka­ma­su­tra Di­was. Vat­syayana’s San­skrit trea­tise on love and sex is glob­ally fa­mous – some­one handed Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton a copy when he vis­ited Ar­gentina two decades ago – and not only would we be com­bat­ting the “per­ni­cious” in­flu­ence of west­ern cul­ture, but we would be prop­a­gat­ing our own glo­ri­ous her­itage, an achieve­ment more tan­gi­ble than the non­sense about pre­his­toric WiFi and mytho­log­i­cal air travel and di­vine plas­tic surgery, etc. I wish ev­ery­one a happy Ka­ma­su­tra Di­was!

Aditya Sinha is a writer and colum­nist. His lat­est book ‘In­dia Un­made: How the Modi Govern­ment Broke the Econ­omy’, with Yash­want Sinha, is out now. He tweets @au­tumn­shade

The point is that when cul­tures in­ter­act, there is al­ways an ex­change of in­flu­ences. The spread of re­li­gions and re­li­gious cul­tures in Asia has of­ten fol­lowed trade. Didn’t Ma­hatma Gandhi say that our cul­ture was like a house whose win­dows should be opened to al­low fresh air to blow through?

Vat­syayana’s San­skrit trea­tise is the world’s most fa­mous book on love and sex­u­al­ity

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