what is vulgar?

The heat is oppressive, and sapping. The road stretches before us in a shimmering ribbon, leading ahead into the distance, an asphalt strip of highway flanked by burnt-brown fields on either side. The ground is parched and dry, the soil cracked and broken into lumps of earth, its monochrome broken here and there by mosambi trees- flowering brilliant and startlingly green. Tiny dust storms pick up across the fields, eddies and swirls and whorls and loops of dust chasing itself round a windy maypole, ring-a-ring-a-roses, pocket full of posies, running around the fields like little children at the beginning of summer, when the mornings are still cool, the afternoons still bearable, the evenings pleasant.

We do not dare to go out these afternoons, though. The heat is terrible, menacing, and lurks just there outside of our air conditioned bolero, waiting to pounce on us the moment we roll down the window or turn down the a/c.

When we embark from the vehicle, the furnace-breath hits us like a blast, its putrid breath causing our flesh to creep, our noses to wrinkle, our every hair to stand on end, and quiver as the first prickle of sweat flushes out on our angry skins…

Yet the sweating is minimal; at least, its not around for too long to be too much of a presence. All around us is the dryness, the infernally thirsty heat, lapping at our flesh, sapping away the water in our skins, leaching away the moisture in our lips to leave them parched, cracked and bloody, split open like the turd-brown fields all round us…

A few days back, we were riding back from work, along the highway, flanked by a glorious orange sunset and fields of tall waving sugarcane stalks, when two peacocks flew overhead, screaming loudly. We turned, and saw a field filled with a flock of about ten birds, all standing around and scratching the ground dispiritedly, some taking off to make the short trip across the brown earth into the adjoining field, the others just roaming around and screaming irritatedly from time to time.

I watched, bemused, and not little awestruck, as the birds just strutted and showed off their plumage, their feathers burnished and glistening, their million eyes staring smokily at me in the fading lights.

Far away behind them, a thin haze of dust was settling over the land, and mingling with the smoke from the cooking fires and the shimmering heat haze of the horizon, making a smoky background to a surrealist landscape.

We get back into the vehicle and started to drive away again. The local populace has come out on to the roadside, small plastic vessels in hand, filled to the three-fourths with murky, sloppy water. Then, gathering their dhotis or skirts or saris about them, they proceed to squat on their haunches, turn their assholes towards the fields, and give us a 21-bum salute. I roll the windows down, glad that the air has suddenly become cooler.

(We are deep deep in sugarcane country, and the roads are littered with discarded stalks of cane that have fallen off the tractors trundling them along to the markets or the mills. The fields are being shorn of the sweet flags planted all along in rows, and resigned oxen lurch their way with humongous loads behind them out from the small village paths into the highways, to satiate the greed of the tractor-buggies.)

The smell of drying shit is what hit my nostrils first, as miles and miles of road is dotted with earnest squatters, their faces impassively turned towards the world in front, their bottoms calmly fertilising the fields behind. Men, women, children, grandmothers, teenagers, the whole carnival is out there, all squatting on their own piece of highway, their tiny little plastic mugs of water at the ready beside them to wash their asses with.

There are many women, many young girls, and old women, toothless and thick-spectacled, all gazing forward impassively as they indulge in one of the day’s great pleasures, an occasional fart punctuating their earnest performances.

I wonder at this: noone on the highway seems to mind this ablutionary performance; noone seems to find the lines and lines of shitters as anything “obscene” or even “vulgar”. As grown men sometimes break tradition and turn their hairy assholes to the road, looking across the fields at the setting sun to give them inspiration, noone seems to be offended at the vast quantity of skin on display, noone seems perturbed that the country’s highways are dotted with freshly laid turd, piled up in neat mounds at irregular intervals..

And yet Gere gets slapped a notice for kissing Shetty in public. In Rajasthan, of all places, where the squatters do not even have the luxury of water in small plastic mugs, where they have to make do with sand instead, and leave off by rubbing their hands on the ground. Its an instructive lesson on what a nation finds objectionable, and what it does not. And what the courts are willing to put up with in the name of protecting a collective national conscience.

Please do not think for a moment that I am saying that the sight of plump maharashtrian bottoms turned toward me in silent anticipation is obscene. Or that Gere kissing Shilpa is vulgar. Or, for that matter, that the sight of an energetic Karishma thrusting her hips over a grinning would-you-have-believed-it?-future MP Govinda is offending to the senses.

I would not presume to make such sweeping judgements. My point is precisely that. That I would not presume to impose upon others, certainly not the whole country, and most certainly not on Richard Gere, what I find offensive and what I do not. I may think the mild-mannered Mrs Balakrishnan down the road to be coarse and vulgar, yet the most foul-mouthed hijra may be endearing to me, the most bad-assed hiphop singer may be just noisy, and tuneless, but not to be taken seriously, or offensively. Its just my perception isn’t it? Must someone else arbitrate on that? Are there universal standards of offensiveness? If so, what are they?

(And can we move away from sex, please? We all know that India is a proud and old country that has survived for millions of year, and created its 1.2 billion population through asexual parthenogenesis, but is there anything else that the nation should be shocked at, that the nation would collectively gasp at, that they would collectively avert their eyes at?)

is there indeed? 

Hello world!

well, this is it i guess. the big gazoo. the final bigaloo. the real kapish, the asli cheez, no cheating-sheating, no hanky panky… and definitely no ISI mark.

well, i find myself today sitting in front of the lighted blue terminal, my throat parched, my fingears tired, my hands weary from a day of travel in the blistering marathwada heat…

my limbs are weary and weak, and there are small islands behind my heavy lids that still feel as if they are on fire, their dull throb offset by the light smarting that comes when my lids flash down, and cover them with blessed lacryma

let me just begin this with my favourite piece of short fiction, by swinburne, its called the garden of proserpine:

Here, where the world is quiet;
Here, where all trouble seems
Dead winds' and spent waves' riot
In doubtful dreams of dreams;
I watch the green field growing
For reaping folk and sowing
For harvest-time and mowing,
A sleepy world of streams.
 
I am tired of tears and laughter,
And men that laugh and weep;
Of what may come hereafter
For men that sow to reap:
I am weary of days and hours,
Blown buds of barren flowers,
Desires and dreams and powers
And everything but sleep.
 
Here life has death for neighbor,
And far from eye or ear
Wan waves and wet winds labor,
Weak ships and spirits steer;
They drive adrift, and whither
They wot not who make thither;
But no such winds blow hither,
And no such things grow here.
No growth of moor or coppice,
No heather-flower or vine,
 
But bloomless buds of poppies,
Green grapes of Proserpine,
Pale beds of blowing rushes,
Where no leaf blooms or blushes
 
Save this whereout she crushes
For dead men deadly wine.
Pale, without name or number,
In fruitless fields of corn,
They bow themselves and slumber   
All night till light is born;
 
And like a soul belated,
In hell and heaven unmated,
By cloud and mist abated
Comes out of darkness morn.
 
Though one were strong as seven,
He too with death shall dwell,
Nor wake with wings in heaven,
Nor weep for pains in hell;
Though one were fair as roses,
His beauty clouds and closes;
And well though love reposes,
In the end it is not well.
 
Pale, beyond porch and portal,
Crowned with calm leaves she stands
Who gathers all things mortal
With cold immortal hands;
Her languid lips are sweeter
Than love's who fears to greet her,
To men that mix and meet her
From many times and lands.
She waits for each and other,   S
he waits for all men born;
Forgets the earth her mother,
The life of fruits and corn;
 
And spring and seed and swallow
Take wing for her and follow
Where summer song rings hollow
And flowers are put to scorn.
There go the loves that wither,
The old loves with wearier wings;
And all dead years draw thither,
And all disastrous things;
 
Dead dreams of days forsaken,
Blind buds that snows have shaken,
Wild leaves that winds have taken,
Red strays of ruined springs.
 
We are not sure of sorrow;
And joy was never sure;
To-day will die to-morrow;
Time stoops to no man's lure;
And love, grown faint and fretful,
With lips but half regretful
Sighs, and with eyes forgetful
Weeps that no loves endure.
 
From too much love of living,
From hope and fear set free,
We thank with brief thanksgiving
Whatever gods may be
That no life lives for ever;
That dead men rise up never;
That even the weariest river
Winds somewhere safe to sea.
 
Then star nor sun shall waken,
Nor any change of light:
Nor sound of waters shaken,
Nor any sound or sight:
Nor wintry leaves nor vernal,
Nor days nor things diurnal;
Only the sleep eternal
In an eternal night.
 
 
next time: the gere-shilpa kiss.