Where are all those ladies who used to frequent public drinking places in Mangalore?and maybe Bangalore too?and who thought that pub-crawling was their birth right and no one, certainly not men who did it themselves, would dare deprive them of their right? We haven'theard much about them lately and also about the Ram Sena, which maintained that pub-crawling by women was un-Indian and wanted to teach them a lesson. Perhaps there has been some kind of truce between them, or maybe the ladies have stopped going to pubs.
I am in two minds about this. That women are within their rights to visit pubs and bars for drinking, just like men, goes without saying. This is a free country and there is no reason why they cannot or shouldn'tdo what men do. Ours is a modern society and India is a modern country, and also a democratic one, and you cannot differentiate on the basis of gender. But the question remains: should women do what men do just because they are supposed to be equal? And was the Ram Sena within its rights in objecting to the public manifestation of this right?
It is true that women drink along with men in most public bars in the West. The women who do so or insist on doing so in public bars in India belong mainly to the middle class, for the simple reason that working class women simply cannot afford to do so. The middle class in India imitates the West and suffer from an inferiority complex vis-a-vis their counterpart in the West. Since the West is supposed to be superior to the East in most respects, the Indian middle class believes that it is doing the right thing in imitating westerners, including drinking and kissing in public, watching pornography in public, and going about semi-naked? in public places because western women do so. If the men also want to do so, good luck to them!
What in fact our middle class women are saying?and they are supported in this by some middle class men?is that modernisation the same thing as westernization, and if you wish to go modern, whatever that means, you have to go western, because otherwise how do you know you are on the right path to ?modernity?
So you shed your clothes and your bindi, you shed your inhibitions about sex and have several partners?because that'swhat Britney Spears does and isn'tshe on so many covers in New York and Paris??and frolic in the nude at Cannes and on the yachts of investment bankers and playboys. It is all part of the game, as far as modernisation is concerned and who is going to stop us? Certainly not the Ram Sena, a smelly little gang of urchins who has never tasted a Martini and do not know what an Oscar is.
I grew up in Goa when it was occupied by the Portuguese. There were, and still are, two distinct communities in Goa, one Roman Catholic, and the other Hindu. The Roman Catholics were the dominant group simply because they were close to the rulers. The Roman Catholic Goans were indistinguishable from the Portuguese in almost everything except one?they were brown. Otherwise, they dressed the same way as the Portuguese, ate more or less the same type of food, and spoke the same language. I am talking here about the middle class Goans.
We Hindus, on the other hand, dressed differently, mostly in dhoti and shirt, prayed in temples, not churches, ate our own type of food, and had traditional Hindu names, which the Portuguese couldn'teven pronounce. All our ceremonies were traditional Hindu ceremonies, for we were very proud that we were Hindus, and when I first started learning Sanskrit, the language of the Hindu Gods, I cried, for I felt I was being carried to heaven.
Although I went to the same schools as the Christians, I rarely went to their churches, or, for that matter, to their houses. We never ate with them. My grandmother, a devout Hindu, was very strict about this.
Does that mean we were not modern? Not a bit. We were as modern as, perhaps even more so than our Christian friends. We learnt several languages?as many as five at the age of ten, including French and Latin?many of which I spoke or wrote fluently. We did scientific experiments and took part in geological expeditions. I had English books and learnt scores of Shakespeare'spoems by heart. I used to go to the Governor'spalace to study with his grandsons who were my classmates though I never touched their food or drank wine. I was always a good Hindu, but a modern Hindu, and when I went to England for further studies, I was even a little bit of an Englishman, though I had not tasted beer or touched bacon. The West is much more than beer and pubs; it is Milton and Shakespeare, Einstein and Newton, Brahms and Bethoven. And you don'thave to drink beer to make their acquaintance.
A good Hindu is almost by definition a modern Hindu. Swami Vivekananda was a good Hindu and he was also a modern Hindu. So was Lokmanya Tilak, the man who told haughty Britishers that ?Swaraj is my birthright and I shall have it.? They put him in jail in Mandalay for six years but he did not bend. Tilak was a modern Hindu, and a modern Indian, who wrote extensively on Indian culture, opened schools for girls and founded modern colleges like Fergusson College in Pune where I now live. It was Tilak who signed the so-called Lucknow Pact with Mohammed Ali Jinnah, who was his friend and his legal adviser. And this happened nearly a hundred years ago.
Our guiding motto should be modernisation yes, westernisation No. We don'thave to copy the West in everything, whether it is drinking in public bars or dancing in clubs. Our women don'thave to expose their limbs to attract viewers. Cinema is an art-form and women, should be enthusiastic participants but they should remember they are Indians. We should be as modern as we can be, but we must also remember that we are Indian, citizens of a proud modern India, and stop imitating the West, and following westerners like slaves.