I’ve read this article three times now and each time I’m a little more bamboozled that The Hindu would carry it. Either the greater Chennai region got hypnotised by an evil extraterrestrial, or it got sucked into a time warp (again the work of an evil extraterrestrial, surely) while the rest of India was being fed stories of Sania Mirza’s wedding or C.V. Aravind is dangerously out of touch with reality. Not only does he think India is Victorian England, he’s created this amorphous mass in his head which is the land of free love and is known as “the West” (where they must serve that wonderfully-specific cuisine known as “Continental” — now don’t get picky and ask which continent). In the West, they don’t marry, they have teenage pregnancies; they are loose, immoral, irreligious and sexual anarchists in general.

Clearly, the growing popularity of the right wing, the celibacy thing, chastity balls and America’s Bible belt in general has slipped under  Aravind’s radar. On what basis does this gent believe he has any authority to pronounce all relationships that are not marriages in the West casual and without passion or affection? Especially since the global consensus seems to be that more often than not passion and affection go flying out of the window when couples get married.

Anyway, on to one of my favourite sentences in the article:

“Such liaisons are presumed to be unholy for marriage is still held sacrosanct and cohabitation is a natural corollary of wedlock.”

Thanks to two crucial words being omitted, this sentence is pretty much gibberish, which is fitting since Aravind’s notion of pre-marital sex being an exception is exceptionally rubbish. Those two missing words, however, give the writing a certain manic edge and if I close my eyes, I imagine C.V. Aravind as a chap who is frothing around the mouth like a rabid rottweiler and pounding on a keyboard. And before you start wagging your finger at me for getting personal, might I just point out that I’m doing my best to be sympathetic here? Because what other than lunacy can justify a man in contemporary India saying

1. a live-in relationship is one of convenience

(This is a ridiculous observation from someone who has just said that people in live-in relationships are ostracised. If they’re ostracised, then it’s not very convenient, is it? I’m not going into the unlikeliness of live-in couples being ostracised because maybe they are in Chennai but if it is that bad, then wouldn’t it be more convenient to get married? Plus, C.V. Aravind has clearly never been in or known someone in a committed relationship outside marriage if he thinks that walking out is convenient and easy. Unless convenience is a euphemism for orgasms, in which case I suggest those who support marriage get offended that they’re being branded as those who don’t get any.)

2. marriage is a seal of love upon a romantic relationship

(Of course, marriages are never relationships of convenience in a country where so many arranged marriages are essentially merger-and-acquisition deals. ‘Course not. Because signing a paper in front of a dour-faced registrar is what proves you’re committed and in love, rather than succumbing to family and social pressure or gnawing loneliness. Forget the fact that those signed papers make it difficult and expensive for someone to walk out of a marriage, regardless of how justified such a move would be. It’s all about love.)

3. the break-up of live-in relationships scars the man and woman

(Divorces, on the other, hand clearly don’t happen in Aravind’s India. Or perhaps they’re painless.)

4. pre-marital sex is alien to our culture and its perils include unwanted pregnancies and transmission of STDs.

(Because only unmarried people in relationships don’t use contraception. It’s the married folk who pop their pills and make regular use of the condoms in the bedside drawer. Sexually transmitted diseases, in Aravind’s world, are like American heat-seeking drones; they find the ones who haven’t sat in front of priests and registrars and zoom towards their privates with unerring accuracy.  And since when is pre-marital sex alien to our culture? We’ve been showing films with pre-marital sex for decades. What does C.V. Aravind think was happening in the first part of Aradhana for example? Our myths have women having pre-marital sex with gods and we created an entire erotic canon about an adolescent god who cavorts sexually with married women way before he’s reached marriageable age. Plus, culture is created by the actions of people and the actions of Indians suggests there’s a lot of pre-marital sexual activity going round. It’s so ironic that Aravind describes it as “alien to our culture” because reading this article, I felt like it was a manifesto by some group like the Cult of Ridiculousity located in the armpit of a galaxy, written by Douglas Adams.)

5. the internet promotes pre-marital sex.

(This, I’m certain, is simply a projection of personal hopes or efforts. Someone please forward to C.V. Aravind websites like the New York Times and More Intelligent Life and Good so that he is made aware that there is more to the web than the dubious chatrooms and sites he’s been visiting.)

You know, I like The Hindu and there’s tremendous irony in the fact that C.V. Aravind’s article can be found in what is known as the newspaper’s “beta” version. For decades, The Hindu had the layout and font that was guaranteed to put people to sleep, no matter how well-written the article but I still subscribed to it and read it while knocking back espressos. The reason it found favour among so many of us was that its articles were reasoned and well-researched. They were written by people who took their writing seriously (perhaps too seriously on some occasions). Which is why this was the last newspaper that I thought would fall prey to what I like to call the Hartosh Singh Bal syndrome. Have an opinion? Package it in the most blinkered, illiterate fashion and then blurt it out on a page. Result: guaranteed chatter and tooth grinding.

Disclaimer: of course Mr. Bal isn’t the first columnist to say idiotic things to provoke his readers but he did, admittedly, create a stir of sorts with his piece on Indian English literature. Despite the wilful idiocy of the piece, full marks to Mr. Bal for having managed to rile up more people (online, at any rate) than Akar Patel did with better writing and opinions like India got independence too early and that the one trait that unites India is opportunism. However, no matter how many hundreds of responses Mr. Bal’s article evoked, it remains a terribly-argued bit of writing and tragically for him, that’s the article for which he is remembered. On the other hand, maybe it’s not so tragic. Maybe that’s the kind of fame Mr. C.V. Aravind was dreaming for himself when he wrote his opinion piece.

P.S. If there are missing words in this post, please imagine them. I was frothing at the mouth like a rabid rottweiler and pounding at the keyboard.

6 thoughts on “Southern discomfort

  1. Unfortunately, it is the most baseless ‘theories’ built on shaky (even non-existent) grounds that find favour with most readers/ news channel watchers.
    It’s the curse of our times to be too impatient with the facts. The more simplistic something seems, the easier it is for people to nod their heads and accept unquestioningly. I’m sure CVA’s article found many takers who couldn’t be bothered with stopping to think about how many blissfully married couples they really know.

    It’s ironic considering ours is supposed to be the generation with the most access to information ever.

    • You should see the comments for his piece. There’s more than a few congratulating him on his insight. I think that’s what made me explode all the more.

  2. Unbelievable. I like The Hindu… I visit their beta site everyday (the older one was awful, you’re right), and I fail to understand why they would want to publish this piece of unsupported, unconvincing and utter failure of an article. Leaving aside the matter of the opinion itself (which I also think is dumb), even the author’s argument is crap. He can’t support his point with anything other an stupid, untrue generalisations, and cliched statements.

    Thanks for pointing this article out. I think I shall write to the Hindu to point out their stupidity in publishing this article!

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