Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Two Women

My co-worker Amy, is curious about India but draws a line at trying "candy covered with silver foil" better known as kaju katli to us desis. She was born and raised on a farm and still lives there commuting 20 miles each way to work, has traveled very little but has a wide variety of interests. She is married to a trucker who loves art exhibitions, museums and concerts. In summary, she is does not fit a stereotype and I enjoy talking to her.

At lunch a couple of days ago, she was telling me about the murder of Jassi Siddhu as reported in TV. Obviously, she had got several key facts mixed up. The tale as she had interpreted it, was one of a medieval and feudal India where women were routinely killed to save honor and maintain purity of caste. I had the surreal feeling of listening to Mrs G discussing the circumstances that led to Rani Padimini's jauhar in my eight grade history class.

I thought I was giving her a patient hearing when she said "What are you grinning about ? Did I say something funny ?" and I replied "The moral outrage of the civilized west at our heathen ways is amusing. Nothing like a bride burnt for dowry to cause a media frenzy. News about India is either about how primitive we still are or how we're taking all the high tech jobs away. Isn't that contradiction hilarious ? At any rate India is all about bad news in the west"

Amy had to admit there was some truth in what I was saying. I asked her if she or anyone she knew was curious about what outsourcing was doing to our middle class, the last bastion of moral values - about the young and rich Indians who were profiting the most from the BPO boom. She said that she had never thought about it.

"Guess what, those are real people just like Jassi Siddhu, and what's more they're smart enough to take away most jobs and there are a whole lot of them out there. Even thought its not half as fun as the Indian rope trick, hatha yogis and modern day satis, I think the west should be interested in what they are thinking and doing - it may impact them" I said.

I told her about the Tania Banerjee murder making special note of the fact that an Indian woman was murdered in this case too and by an Indian man. That was the end of any similarities between Jassi and Tania. India is not a monolithic entity with all parts moving at uniform velocity through space and time. A Romeo-and-Juiliet-esque murder takes place at the same time as when a woman works for an escort service for fun. Whereas Jassi marries and dies for love, Tania is only interested in sex and spurns a man who wants to marry her saying "What you earn in a month at office, I earn in a single evening. I am not interested in marrying you". The first step to analyzing India is to accept such glaring contradictions.

Tania is about India just like Jassi is except that NBC spin doctors don't think its worth their while to comment on a story that so starkly contradicts popular myths and notions held about the country and particularly about its women. My little schpiel left Amy quite speechless.

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