Dinner With Siddhartha

#1 Jan 19th, 2009, 05:53
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....Later in the evening we are seated on the floor outside the temple and served dinner on thalis. The food is bland, greasy and gummy; worse yet is the snippy young Indian seated next to me. He insists on talking politics at every opportunity — and not dispassionately. His name is Siddartha.

....Sid loves to rail on about America’s moral failings. Lots of Americans still believe in the myth of a morally superior Indian culture. I’ve met plenty of Indians who half believe it too. In his case however, the myth is just a shallow conceit used to shore up fragments of foundationless logic. When the name of Phoolan Devi arises he comes unglued. He’s infuriated at the way the Western press has “lionized” her.

....“She’s just a common murderer,” he insists. Phoolan’s violent revenge on the men who repeatedly raped and brutalized her, he feels, was unethical. He says if she had killed them at the time of the rape it might have been justifiable. “So,” I say, “You mean to tell me if your mother or little sister or for that matter you yourself, were savagely raped and beaten, you wouldn’t permit yourself to shoot the barbarians who did it after some artificially delineated time limit had passed?” “Oh that would be different.” “Why is that?” Referring to the fact that fourteen-year-old Phoolan ran away from her husband, after being continually beaten and raped by him, he says, “Because she’s just a low-caste woman; her behavior provoked the attacks.”

....This guy hasn’t a clue. I see he will be one to avoid. Pretending my mouth is too full to talk I keep all further comments to myself. Sid is content to keep up the conversation without me and goes on a rant about how America is in bad shape because we have no traditions. “Look at all the divorce in your country.” I pick up the newspaper I’ve been carrying and open to the article on wife burning — I point to it. “Yes,” I tell him, “but our tradition of divorce creates so much less smoke.” He gets a pained look, like he’s got tea up his nose. Now he’s the one who‘s too busy eating to talk.
#2 Jan 19th, 2009, 07:59
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Although I agree with the hype on Phoolan D- on the simple grounds that a criminal was lionised, elected to parliament et al- this is precisely why generalisations are odious.

Whether about a countries 'moral failings', 'low caste people' or whatever.

Sometimes people decide to run down something and then find reasons for doing so.
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#3 Jan 19th, 2009, 10:51
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That generalizations can be odious - I agree. I'm not sure I understand the rest of your post. Are you saying that Phoolan Devi was merely a common criminal who took advantage of her notoriety?
#4 Jan 19th, 2009, 10:56
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Yes.

Which does not excuse or condone in any way what happened to her.
#5 Jan 19th, 2009, 10:57
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Ahh, I know these conversations well! One thing I've learned, which is true around the world: my country is like my little brother - no one beats him up but me!

I've also become almost zen like in my mastery of simply nodding vacantly and not responding when someone wants to dump their opinions on me.
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#6 Jan 19th, 2009, 11:00
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Quote:
my country is like my little brother - no one beats him up but me!


How true.
#7 Jan 19th, 2009, 11:09
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Whatever your acquaintance may have thought of Phoolan Devi, his attitude to domestic violence (She must have done something to deserve it) is still common among both men and women the world over. In India it has barely begun to be challenged; surveys show amazingly high (like more than half) percentages of women who say that it being hit by their husbands can be justified.

It is a pity that this Sid spoilt your meal.
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Originally Posted by sadhu I've also become almost zen like in my mastery of simply nodding vacantly and not responding when someone wants to dump their opinions on me.
Nice one! Such people tend not to listen anyway,
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#8 Jan 19th, 2009, 13:16
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The West would never have known of her but for her notoriety in India and her election to Parliament.
#9 Jan 19th, 2009, 21:08
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Originally Posted by bariloche View Post The West would never have known of her but for her notoriety in India and her election to Parliament.
You could say the same for Gandhi and Nehru who the British viewed as insurrectionist trouble-makers. They were jailed many more times than Phoolan Devi.
Last edited by Keshava; Jan 19th, 2009 at 22:23..
#10 Jan 19th, 2009, 22:48
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#10


Point to Keshava, I think!

(in principle, at least)
#11 Jan 19th, 2009, 23:03
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The BIG difference between Poolan Devi and Gandhi/Nehru was caste. When a Dalit bandit/insurgent/victim fights back, it's not going to be received in the same light as a couple of bourgeois-democrat gentlemen activists going to prison. I think the West had a lot better understanding of what Gandhi and Nehru were doing than what Poolan Devi was doing. I'm not even sure Poolan Devi knew what she was doing.

As I recall, Poolan Devi was lionized in the West mostly by people who promoted her as a "strong woman" without fully comprehending the complexities of her story - including the caste angle, or the combative relationship between poor people and authority in India. I remember rallies, people with megaphones, flyers, and impassioned speeches about the racist-mysoginist-power-elite-colonial-fascist-etc. forces keeping down....blah, blah. Where I went to school, I heard this every day. The focus was on rape and revenge and the oppression of women. Poolan Devi's guerrilla response was lauded, but it was not a deeply analytical discussion. For one thing, there was (in the West) no criticism - just, "Who is Poolan Devi?" At that time, no one in the U.S., certainly, really thought about India - just a few nutty scholars. I think the movie Bandit Queen (regardless of facts) actually brings out more of her deeply conflicted, confused, outraged, and wounded side. As for her political career, I was in India when she won her seat in Parliament, and she was simply a puppet, thrown up to garner votes. There was an outcry at the time. She herself seemed bewhildered by it all. I got the feeling she was swept away by her own actions, by events - it was almost a Greek tragedy illustrating the effects of karma.

As for her killing her rapists... on one level, I don't shed a tear for the rapists, but on another level I do shed a tear for the demise of the rule of law. Indian judges get away with quite a lot of activism from the bench, which they are permitted by the Constitution, but they can't just say, "It's alright to commit revenge murder." Gunshots would ring out across the land, instantly, if they did that.

As for her death, well... it's the landlord-dacoit politics of that part of India, isn't it? Once she stepped into the "male" role of bandit-chief, the drama had to be played to its inevitable conclusion: takht-ya-takhta (a throne or a coffin). As a Dalit woman, they were never going to let her win.

So how does Sid fall out politically? Is he Saffron? Or is he just a man with no imagination?
#12 Jan 19th, 2009, 23:04
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#12
Quote:
Originally Posted by Sadhu View Post I've also become almost zen like in my mastery of simply nodding vacantly and not responding when someone wants to dump their opinions on me.
Mastery then, must be avoiding opinions altogether, except one's own, isn't it?
#13 Jan 19th, 2009, 23:06
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#13

Talking

Quote:
Originally Posted by Keshava View Post ....Sid loves to rail on about America’s moral failings.
I've sat next to more than a few passengers on three hour bus rides through the Tamil Nadu countryside who feel the need to tell me how bad America is and how Americans are this or that from what they see on TV or read in the paper.

what usually shuts them up is when I tell them that they are no different from Americans.

of course they feel morally superior to me because I'm just a poor slob of an American: "WHAT?!? ME? WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?"

I say, yeah, like all the Americans who judge India and Indians by all the filth and poverty they see on TV and in movies and think that's the way all of India really is.

after that, I can usually fall asleep because they stop talking to me.
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#14 Jan 19th, 2009, 23:25
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#14
WHOA!

From tomorrow we can all start liking Americans again!




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#15 Jan 19th, 2009, 23:27
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#15
Phoolan Devi was an exceptional case where she could at least turn back and start doing something in her own way ...and as being outstandingly unconventional she eventually became famous and used the fame in term of power....and remember no moral guardian/gurus were there beside her to chanellise her in a civilised way....and she was another unfortunate girl/lady from a illiterate background from a remote area of a third world country like India....so she could not have protested in a sofisticated way with the help of social reformers.....

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