Indian marriages and the Dharma (and Indian love of wailing)

I know very well a “dysfunctional family”. (Actually, the concept is Western; Indians don’t expect much positive enjoyment from the married life – alleviation of loneliness maybe.) As must be easy to imagine, the wife thinks she’s got a hard lot. I’ve been hearing about her pain since childhood. (Her husband is bad, but more about it in a moment.)

I finally realized that she has no intention of leaving her husband! (This explains other observations too, which I had found curious.) Indians just suffer. They can’t take a willful action, because it would upset established usages!

Did Rāma oppose his father’s wish to send him to exile for 14 years? (His father may have had the right to not give him the crown, though the Renaissance princes will scoff at this idea too.) Why did his wife not oppose it (she actually chose to follow him in the jungles)? There is more to be said about it, but the essence is, according to the Indians, it is far better to suffer than to take a self-willed action. The latter breaks laws (the Dharma).

So, the lady will not leave her husband no matter what, for to take a self-willed action is very hard, as opposed to being a subject of others’ actions. How much better it is to just weep! (And everyone weeps anyway, even Rāma — “hard fate” blah blah, but no opposition of fate.) And what would the others say! What would they conclude about “this family’s culture”! So, to sum, bewailing is always very legal, while decisive decisions are of very dubious legitimacy. “Decades of bitching and weeping, but no self-willed action” sounds crazy to you? Not so to the Indians!

By the way, according to the Indian understanding of man-woman coupling, the woman is to subjugate herself to (actually, to lose herself in) her husband. [1] This is a diseased picture. Compare with the one of the higher culture in the West. That is for humans! In India, marriages are very stressful unless the wife subjugates herself to her husband, which the wives often do. (In India, even those “from good families” often have very stressful marriages.) An ideal husband infantilizes his wife, and the wife gratefully accepts his love. In the Western higher culture, two people come to live together, and it is understood that much of the common life would have to be negotiated. There is no reason for the marriage to be stressful.

Indians (in general) don’t even dream about the kind of married enjoyment depicted as common in Western stories; in Indian dreams the wife is a prized, lovely, possession to her husband, while the husband is a prized, beloved, master to the wife.

[1] Duties of Women and Wives, extracts (from Manu’s Laws, translation from Monier Monier-Williams, Indian Wisdom):

A faithful wife who wishes to attain
The heaven of her lord, must serve him here
As if he were a god, and ne’er do aught
To pain him, whatsoever be his state,
And even though devoid of every virtue (V. 154, 156).

Whatever be the character and mind
Of him to whom a woman weds herself.
Such qualities her nature must imbibe,
E’en as a river blending with the sea (IX. 22).

She who in mind, speech, body, honours him.
Alive or dead, is called a virtuous wife (V. 165).

The ideal wife, par excellence, in the Indian understanding, is Rāma’s wife Sītā. She in her own (Vālmīki’s) words (translation from the above mentioned book):

A wife must share her husband’s fate. My duty is to follow thee
Where’er thou goest. Apart from thee, I would not dwell in heaven itself.
Deserted by her lord, a wife is like a miserable corpse.
Close as thy shadow would I cleave to thee in this life and hereafter.
Thou art my king, my guide, my only refuge, my divinity.
It is my fixed resolve to follow thee. If thou must wander forth
Through thorny trackless forests, I will go before thee, treading down
The prickly brambles to make smooth thy path. Walking before thee, I
Shall feel no weariness: the forest-thorns will seem like silken robes ;
The bed of leaves, a couch of down. To me the shelter of thy presence
Is better far than stately palaces, and paradise itself.
Protected by thy arm, gods, demons, men shall have no power to harm me.
With thee I’ll live contentedly on roots and fruits. Sweet or not sweet,
If given by thy hand, they will to me be like the food of life.
Roaming with thee in desert wastes, a thousand years will be a day;
Dwelling with thee, e’en hell itself would be to me a heaven of bliss.

[By the way, MMW reaffirms Sītā as “the paragon of wife-like virtues”. Perhaps long intercourse with India infected him with some orientalism.]

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Danielle and the Wise Old Man

1.

When Danielle was in school, a student bullied her. She offered arguments, she tried to show to the bully that he actually gained nothing on acting so, but it didn’t help.

A fellow student, who liked Danielle, told her, “Bullies only understand force. When he comes next, give him a good hard kick. And if he comes again, give him an even better one”.

So, the bully upset Danielle’s lunch-box and walked away, and Danielle, following the advice, followed him and gave him a hard kick. Danielle was disturbed to find that she actually liked it.

On another day, the bully hit Danielle in the back and tried to run away. But Danielle caught him, and gave him five better ones. Danielle loved it, her friend (for her adviser was now her best friend) loved it, and the bully disapparated. Danielle was upset, though, because she did not understand why she loved it!

The Wise Old Man said, “Danielle starts becoming a human”.

2.

When Danielle was 15, she was elected the Chairgirl of the C. C.P. She was full of ideas and the will to correct all wrongs. And she jumped right into the business.

Her first strange case was a man refusing to give Income Taxes. Danielle met him, and he quoted Burke and said, The Thing is an Outrage. Danielle didn’t understand him, but she did understand that her own position depended on people not objecting to Income Taxes, and so she sent him to jail.

Pretty soon she had her hands full. She found that a popular councillor was quite corrupt. She dismissed him from the council, and found too late that he had friends everywhere! Soon, newspaper editorials starting speaking against “the slow destruction of the C. character due to foreign influences”, the Yeas in meetings started coming tardily, and even her cook started adding too little or too much salt! Danielle consulted books and found out that one “consolidates the Society” via external threats. She declared, “We shall not stand by and watch the provocations by our neighbours. We are ready for fitting replies, replies which suit the great C. people”. She studied up on propaganda, and started promising that by following her plans, the poor will become the rich, that the great C. people, drawing on their traditional wisdom, would soon enjoy an exciting and calm life at the same time, et cetera. And she organized a sting operation to catch the corrupt (ex-)official “red-handed”, and put him in jail.

Everything now went smoothly. Only Danielle’s soul was contorted. She was actually in pain. It seemed to her that she was not made to “lie, flatter, evade, compromise, pander to every ineptitude”, just so that idiots can be happy. So, she resigned from her position.

And the Wise Old Man said, “Danielle is become more human”.

(Almost forgot. Before resigning, she remembered about the tax protester, and pardoned him. He emigrated to Mars, and in later years he and Danielle became good friends.)

3.

A couple of years later, Danielle found herself in a “strange” company. (It was actually a barbaric company, but Danielle didn’t acknowledge such things! She wanted to be always friendly, graceful and helpful.) There, a man tried to rape her.

She asked herself, “How are such things even possible? How is it that while I won’t do this to anyone, someone else can do this to me? Could it be that the world is ugly? Can one live in a world where such things are possible? Would I have to keep a look out for such things at all times, henceforth? How would I be able to love humans again!” Danielle found that her world was collapsing and started crying.

But the Wise Old Man appeared, and started speaking to Danielle thus:

“Danielle, suppose you were passing through a jungle and were chased by a wolf. How significant would this event be? Would it shake your world? Would you say, ‘This digs up fundamental issues! I cannot move until I’ve reconsidered — in light of the new details — how I see myself, how I see The Others, and how I relate to The Others!’? No, you wouldn’t. You would just take a bath, laugh at it, and then forget the whole thing.

“There are events — and the responsible agents — which you wish to honour and cherish, because they affirm your best hopes. And at the other end, there are events and agents which you cannot accommodate in your worldview, because accommodating them will corrupt your picture of Humans. So reject them! If someone asks you, ‘did something unpleasant happen there?’, you could just answer, ‘I don’t remember!’. Who says that this is a ‘significant event’? It is up to you to assign significances!

“Wash it off after retribution, if you can afford to deliver it swiftly. Or wash it off without retribution if you cannot deliver it swiftly. But, it is like holding hot coal in your hand – a top concern is throwing it off.

“Accommodation of an event and the person in your world is an honour, and if the other person can learn of it: a gift — for it shows that one’s efforts are meaningful. Notice and praise are gifts. Censure is a greater gift. Use them carefully. Give gifts to what you love and wish to strengthen, not what’s ugly! And while the very act in the former case strengthen you, the very act in the latter case weakens you!

“Become hard, Danielle. It is not right to attempt to love ‘all of it’ — pick up and nourish some, and ignore or suppress the rest. It is not right to care for all of it, not right to get entangled with all of it. You love yourself much in your opinions, show more love to yourself in your acts!”

Danielle liked what she heard and found that she had become stronger, and also lighter, than before. (She was resolved to consider and develop the ideas still further, of course.)

And the Wise Old Man said, “Danielle is now become a human”, kissed her forehead, and disappeared.

4.

As she passed her mid-20s, Danielle noticed that things were getting duskier. She noticed that meeting new people did not excite her, as it once used to do. A walk through nature used to be immensely pleasing to her, but she noticed that it wasn’t anymore. She found that people respected her, and some even loved her, but there was something unlovely about this love. At times, she wanted to marry and have children, but she wanted a husband to look up to (at least in parts!), and she didn’t know any such suitable person. A few years of being cooked in this — and Danielle was now in pain!

One fine day, she was strolling in a garden, and whom does she find but the Wise Old Man! He had become older and frailer, but he looked as profound as before. They greeted each other, and Danielle seated him on a bench.

Danielle was eager to talk about herself, so she started right away: “Dear Old Man, could you have any idea about why I am unhappy? I am able to do good work, I am surrounded by friends and well-wishers, and I don’t see any unsolvable problem around me! So, why am I permanently troubled? Why am I getting heavier?”

The Wise Old Man thought a bit, and said:

“You are trying to solve problems created by others. Others have some ideas about shaping the world according to their own visions. They do what they can, but part of their failure is that they create new problems on the way. And you follow them, correcting errors. It is essentially the garbage collector’s job.

“That everyone likes you is precisely the sign that you are doing things wrong. Don’t you recall the stories of people opposing new ideas and perspectives with their full strength? Every new thing ‘cannot be done’ — and when it can be done, it is ‘bloody murder!’. The majority hate anyone who differs — in opinions, actions, powers, habits and dress! And yet you have a cakewalk everywhere. Isn’t it curious?

“But you don’t have a cakewalk. You are unhappy. You are unhappy because you are not a prime mover, but someone constrained to employ her powers in service of the ‘common good’.

“You wonder why you don’t find ‘good people’? That’s because you see them as ‘dissipators’ or ‘evil’. According to you, they should be there, right next to you, under the yoke, sharing your burden.

“You, too, don’t have to solve problems. You can, instead, be playing! Get rid of the ‘spirit of gravity’.

“And develop your own dreams, and work on them. You don’t have to worry about solving problems of Spain — problems, of which there is no end; dream of your own voyages.”

Danielle felt excited at such talk, and filed the Wise Old Man’s words reverentially in her to-do cabinet. When the Wise Old Man moved to get up, she gently kissed his forehead, and helped him stand up. Before leaving, the Wise Old Man said, “Dear Danielle, never despair!”.

The Wise Old Man said to himself, however, “Danielle will become a child”.

5.

Danielle did often despair. How did she overcome it?

She had always been severe with herself as she thought that by “not sparing herself” she would be grow up faster. When she noticed that she handled some event non-perfectly, she got angry. Repeat mistakes, or stupid mistakes, despaired her.

One day, when she was in despair, she noticed a stranger, and said to herself, “Wait a minute! I think I am worth more than him! I think I am worth more than many around!”. This made her wonder, “Is my pride in myself, which is still perfectly intact, consistent with my despair with myself?”

So she dug. She noticed that her desire to “not spare herself” requires her to be as harsh as possible and see everything in the worst possible light. Repeated a mistake once too often? You would keep on doing it! Would an attempt succeed? Bring out the most unpleasant possibilities, and set up that as the ‘truth’! Such ‘truths’, however, robbed her of cheerfulness.

Danielle had often noticed that when she felt weak or pained, she worked badly. She had realized, though, that failure when weak or pained is “natural” — nature punishes the weak, often with death. She wondered if she needs to attempt to be happy all the time when working.

And she asked herself if it is not foolish to assign probabilities in the first place. All cases are unique, so there is never a precedent. When Moses led Israelites out of slavery, would he have worried about the chances of success? Is it not enough that there is a possibility of success? If she cannot do without a picture of the future, then instead of the ‘truth’, she can have a ‘belief’!

It is wonderful to illuminate all the weaknesses and mistakes. She can work on correcting them! But at no point can she do without cheerfulness. “Nothing succeeds in which Übermut plays no role”.

She finally realized that she had been taking things too “seriously”. She hadn’t noticed that there was no God anymore, poking around everything and nodding or shaking his head at everything. There was no more a worry about Eternity. She was ‘allowed’ to make mistakes. She was ‘allowed’ to blow things up! It is a game. She said, “I can frown on myself — and then cheer up!”

What allows her to handle the world so lightly? How does she have the power to get herself into fresh air? Remember the Wise Old Man? So she thanked the Wise Old Man.


Notes:

This has a few elements from a story which Ray Kurzweil and Amy Kurzweil are writing, mentioned here [Youtube.com: around 27:00 to 33:00.] and elsewhere. Danielle is a supergenius who (in the Kurzweils’ story) changes the world by solving humanity’s accumulated problems.

I have tried to show that some parts in the story (the Kurzweils’ story) are missing.

“Danielle will become a child”: See Thus Spake Zarathustra, The Three Metamorphoses.

“worry about solving problems of Spain …”: This is a reference to Columbus, though Columbus was born in Italy.

Übermut means a bold cheerfulness, where the limits of “good sense” have been crossed; excessive cheerfulness. A translator of the quote uses ‘prankishness’, another ‘high spirits’. (The quote is from Götzen-Dämmerung.)

“There was no more a worry about Eternity.”: Some concern for Eternity is probably healthy. See “The Seven Seals (Or: The Yea- and Amen-Song)” in Thus Spake Zarathustra.

[Also, the 5th section is not complete. It covers only half the problem. There is another despair — when you think that “the world” not good enough.]

“In vain you tell me that Artificial Government is good, but that I fall out only with the Abuse. The Thing! the Thing itself is the Abuse!”: Burke.


Narnia Book 8, Sweet Oblivion

Narnia would have remained happy and gay forever but for a minor inconvenience. Puddulegum was here.

Now Aslan, despite all his great powers, was not all-knowing. He simply thought — Puddulegum is a good fellow, he deserves a nice afterlife. But how much of a good fellow Puddulegum was, he didn’t know. Puddulegum was happy to be with all others and others were happy and he kept saying that good times will not last forever and others obviously kept telling him that this is not so, we are already dead and there is nothing more to lose. High King Peter asked him to cheer up, Roonwit the dumb wit[1], Lucy the pussy, all kept working on him until he stopped creating anymore trouble. Not that he stopped thinking that good times will not last forever but he stopped saying so. Some say that even he thought that these good times would last forever but nevermind.

It so happened now that one day, when Queen Lucy was returning home after a nice party with nymphs and dryads and dwarfs after much dancing and merrymaking, she heard someone crying. NOW she felt a little trembling. Who could cry, in such a great land. Suddenly she heard a wail from far off. A centaur had shouted. She didn’t know that the demise had already begun.

Lucy reached there and found Jill. Though Jill first wanted to hide the fact and then didn’t want to tell she told finally that she remembers her parents and brothers and sisters. She explained her troubles thus. She couldn’t go to their land for she was already dead. She didn’t want others to come, for they will have to die first and oh, how bad death is. And Aslan says these times will last forever. Will they join her when they died? But then if it happened soon others too will start coming and this new Narnia will die of overpopulation. And then why cant she marry and have children for Aslan says that in this land of dead no NEW life can be generated. And she said a deep thing in between her tears. “Puddulgum was right. Damn it, he always is”.

Lucy gave a sensible suggestion. They should ask Aslan himself about this. Jill was afraid a bit but Lucy told her that it was not right to cry and be afraid in this land so sooner she got this out of their mind the better.

So they started running to Aslan’s cave. First they couldn’t believe their eyes. Aslan was looking sad! He was talking to a Centaur and didn’t notice that they have come. Finally the centaur was gone and Lucy and Pole went to Aslan and said “Hail Aslan. We come with a problem”. And Aslan growled and said, “Dumbwits can’t you see that my problems are bigger than yours? Why do you disturb me with your childish and girlish ones?” But soon he composed himself and told that he was sorry and they could say whatever they have come for. After shock and then a bit of steadying Pole told her story. Aslan listened with patience and when she finished he took a deep sigh and said, “I understand but there is little I can do. I could have brought everyone you would care for and everyone they would have cared for and so on, and have cleaned the earth of all life and brought all here (and mind you, my world is big enough to accommodate all, any finite infinity) , but no more. The stars are speaking. There has been a change in guard of the Supreme Council and the new ones are uneasy of my parallel system. Dear ones, my powers are drawing to a close. It was me who stopped you from having thoughts of the other world, I may confess. Soon this world would end. (What!, shouted the two.) What would happen to me and all of you I can’t say for sure. Perhaps all will dissolve into oblivion, and powers higher than me say that that is the truthful place of all.” The girls said “No,No” and started crying . Even Aslan the mighty dropped a tear or two. He started comforting them. But they won’t listen. Soon they ran off to tell the sad news to others.

But the news was in the air. The birds were not chirping as happily, the sky was no more so beautiful, the colours were not as bright. Everything started looking like a painting. Soon the news spread like fire everywhere. The kings of old (for there were no kings now) called a great meeting and Aslan himself came and told them the story. Since all were good people they told him, nevermind, thanks for all the good time you have given.

As everyone in our age knows, the dead are only figments of imagination. All the programs are loaded on a computer in the Headquarters of Supreme Council. It so happened that a lazy fellow, Witman the computer operator by that name, was tired after running for Aslan errands. Moreover Aslan was only in the program, but the powers had given him free run for his loyalty in ages past. After the new election there was a proposal to shutdown all non-productive systems and so it happened.

In a moment everything was gone.


Written for my sister 3 years back (i.e., in 2005). In Chronicles of Narnia the last book ends in a nightmare which the author tries to pass off as a dream-come-true! More unbearably, my sister liked it. So I ‘completed’ the series explaining what was wrong. It ends with some malice as you see. It is good work!

Added in 2018:
[1] Roonwit was a nice, stately, centaur. http://narnia.wikia.com/wiki/Roonwit