The condom ad ban – ostensibly done to keep our homes decent and nice. But what’s behind this new wave of purism that didn’t find place in the Hindu way of life before?
Front curls tossed in disorder
Beads of sweat smearing the sandal paste on her brow --
Now her eyes droop as astride her companion she finishes.
May the face of this lady protect you
Vishnu, Shiva, Brahma,
The gods mean nothing...
Agastya, the protagonist in Upamanyu Chatterjee’s hugely acclaimed first novel, English, August, is slyly, surreptitiously asked the same question by his oily-haired office staff and the fashionably plump collector’s wife: “Are you married?”
In the small upcountry town where he is shipped out as a rookie Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer, curiosity about him is as understandable as the hushed tone in which he is asked, “Are you married?” In the answer to that question lies locked the mystery as to whether Agastya beds a woman, legitimately, and is not unknown to the pleasures of the flesh, legally.
It was also an accurate depiction of how middle-class India views sex. Homosexuality is abhorrent; heterosexual union is passingly acknowledged but stoutly denied public acceptance. Dirty people with filthy minds copulate. A woman who actively seeks sex is the Biblical harlot by the road. A man who does that is a philanderer. Even Ganga can’t wash their mortal sin.
Sanskari men and women fulfil their marital obligation by producing children, including the mandatory son, miraculously, almost magically. Credit for the fruit of the loin goes to god almighty – ishwar ka den hai (it’s god’s gift). Virginal births are a common phenomenon in hypocrisy-ridden middle India. Neither man nor woman is tainted.
Yet, it was not always like this. Hinduism was a liberating experience for body, mind and soul. The higher traditions of Hinduism did not distinguish between the sensual and the spiritual, nor did they draw a veil over the carnal desire of men and women, both as a yearning for the union of their bodies and oneness with the other. Jayadeva’s soul-stirringly lyrical tribute to this desire remains unmatched.
Hinduism, we have long forgotten, was a religion to live by, as Nirad C Chaudhuri eloquently put it in his eponymous book. Our ancient indigenous literature and texts bear testimony to this fact. Kumara Sambhava by Kalidas is only one example. From Konark to Khajuraho, our temples celebrate the Hinduism we have lost. Vatsayana’s Kama Sutra is a treatise on the way we were, once upon a time.
Somewhere we lost our way and began copying ‘virtues’ that were alien to our culture and civilisation, trading them with the ‘vices’ that defined who we were. Faux renunciation and fake chastity became the new standards of public and private life. Shame and sin entered our religious discourse. Women with desire became sinful sluts. Men who pursued carnal pleasure were to be shamed and shunned.
A veil descended on us, hiding that awful thing called intercourse, and recreational sex transmogrified into procreational sex. The Semitisation of the Hindu way of life followed the advent of the Quran-wielding ruler and the Bible-thumping Sunday preacher. What happened in the harem and the vestry was not to be talked about, just as sex in the bedroom was to remain a secret between soiled sheets. The Hindu arcadia gave way to the Hindu dystopia. Old rules were rephrased and reframed to match the new hypocrisy.
Which is why we are not repelled by the Information and Broadcasting Ministry’s firman banning advertisements promoting the use of condoms between 6am and 10pm. This has ostensibly been done to keep our homes decent and nice; condom ads are “indecent, especially for children”.
This firman is premised on multiple presumptions, possibly all of them true in our Hindu dystopia. One, good folks do not indulge in sexual intercourse between 6am and 10pm. No, it’s allowed only after the lights are out. The darkness of the veil is mandatory.
Two, even adults find condoms ‘indecent’. Well, in the make-believe world where you go to bed (at 10pm sharp) and wake up (at 6am, chaste as the night before) as mommy-and-papa-to-be, babies are delivered by storks, and you are never found under carnal knowledge, those rubbers are indeed indecent. Just that you flush the one you used last night (no, it can't go into the garbage bin as that would be letting the world know what you did) clogging the drain and letting the neighbour downstairs suffer.
Three, it is laughable that in this day and age of information overflow there are parents who believe their children don’t know. Such parents are not naive, they are stupid. Which is why they believe condoms are about sex, and not also about preventing sexually transmitted diseases. “What would I tell my children if they were to ask what’s a condom?” Tell them they are fancy balloons they will get to play with when they are 18. Difficult?
It would seem so. The minders of our morality might as well walk the extra mile and ban cucumbers and bananas from food shows along with all penile objects lest they engender lascivious thoughts and promote ‘vice’ over ‘virtue’. Or someone can consider a public interest litigation. In the past, the Supreme Court of India has spent considerable time on something as weighty as visuals on condom packets. Are tits and bums constitutional? Such are the profound questions that occupy the Hindu mind. Darkness truly envelopes the Hindu dystopia.