domingo, 15 de julho de 2012

Clothes and Sex in India

Clothing in India represents gender norms. It's inappropriate for a woman to display her shoulders, yet men wander about in tank tops or bare-chested, with a cotton-sheet like contraption called a lunghi that they wrap around their waist and dangles suggestively above their knees. This morning, as I walked to the bus station to inquire about tickets to Kerala, a middle-aged man swung his leg up and over the seat of his motorbike, completely exposing a freely dangling penis to oncoming traffic. Women modestly cover their breasts, chests, shoulders, arms and legs, yet bellies and low backs see quite a bit of sun. I've seen old grandmas hobbling through the market, carrying an unbelievable girth which swings too and fro like a pendulum. This does not seem to bother anyone, least of all the grannies who use their considerable size to sidle up to the front of the line.

I have never worn so much clothing in such oppressive heat. My butt and thighs are now covered in itchy heat rash. I keep myself covered in a vain attempt to reduce the obvious and uncomfortable stares from men. Though in South America I grew accustomed to the piropos, or cat calls, there is something more intense about the physical appraisals from some Indian men. Sex and sensuality are so taboo. Husbands and wives cannot walk hand in hand. Only men get cozy together, walking arm in arm or holding hands. I've seen 3 boys huddled together a top one bicycle, or two cyclists riding side by side, grasping at each others finger as they nonchalantly swerve through autorickshaws. The Hindi gods, however, are all explicitly sexual. Lord Shiva, one of the most well-loved gods, is very...virile. Sanjay, Anna's friend that I met through Raguji, told me that when Lord Shiva takes his consort, Parvati, to bed, he doesn't leave the room for a year. In fact, his devotees pray to him with a lingam, an extremely phallic stone that falls, perfectly erect, into a concave oval. It takes little stretch of the imagination to see the oval represents a woman's genitalia. So Lord Shiva is represented and praised through an obvious physical union of woman and man- why are small tokens of affection between couples so taboo?

Sanjay seems to think it's an influence from Victorian England, that the Brits clamped the chastity belt on modern India. I'm sure it's more complicated than that, but I don't know what else could have moved a culture famous for their randy and half-naked gods into a subdued or even, at times, suppressed sexuality.

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