No books, please. We are pseudo-traditionalists

Jun 08, 2014, 07:41 IST | Paromita Vohra

Old-fashioned books often talked about girls in this way: There’s ‘no-no’ on her lips, but there’s ‘yes-yes’ in her eyes

Paromita VohraOld-fashioned books often talked about girls in this way: There’s ‘no-no’ on her lips, but there’s ‘yes-yes’ in her eyes.

Most men have interpreted this to mean that girls really mean yes when they say no, therefore I’m going to bash on regardless.

Another interpretation is that human communication is densely layered, and we communicate with words, signs and coded meanings. While social propriety is maintained by the words, the eyes suggest other possibilities, not so socially sanctioned. What, in slang, is called giving indications.

Illustration/Amit Bandre

Publishers of books and those who feel offended by books, understand this. Say, a book offends us. We send you a legal notice. You withdraw the book, and maybe even set some aside, unasked. The reasons given are always concern for the safety of staff and family.

But for those not part of this relationship, that’s confusing na? Confronted with a lawsuit, any normal Indian will go into a faint. We will start seeing time-lapse images of ourselves growing old and bent, our bank balance numbers changing swiftly to zero, in our heads and do everything to avoid it. But, why does a legal notice cause fear for safety?

Because this legal notice is just the offended saying no-no with their lips. In their eyes is the assurance that, there is likely to be some burning, rioting and beating. Of course the people who sent the notice won’t be doing this. If some people’s passions got inflamed and run amok — what can they do? This is an occasional consequence of giving indications apparently. They haven’t broken any law themselves.

We had all better become skilled at reading the codes complex and dangerous flirtation with offence, even if we don’t write books, because cops and others are watching Facebook for ‘offensive’ posts — and those who like them.

For those worried that any joke of theirs could be taken too seriously, worry not, technology is at hand. According to The Washington Post, the US Secret Service have put out a call for a software analysis tool which will help them to detect sarcasm on Twitter.

All this aside, I want to say something sincerely and seriously. I want to say that I am offended by these book brouhahas. My reason is simple. They are completely disrespectful of Indian tradition. In days of yore, there was a truly fantastic Hindu tradition called shastrartha — (from shastra, meaning book of learning and arth, or meaning). As per this tradition, sages would periodically invite or challenge other sages to a debate of learning, called samvaad (conversational exchange)
especially if they both had a point of difference.

An audience watched as the learned people argued, engaged, clarified the issues at hand. Why did sages do this? Because they respected knowledge too much to summarily dismiss it. They would rather enquire into it with all the learning at their disposal and either expose the weakness of an argument or accept its strength. The tradition was designed to strengthen knowledge, not validate only one point of view. It was a tradition that venerated learning, not power.

If an organisation is truly dedicated to education as well as tradition, and sees these as a means of uplifting society, shouldn’t they be reviving such a traditions instead of resorting to all this westernised secular elite legal notice sending and violent coquettish game-playing? Why not combat learning with learning if you value learning? If they dismiss scholarship instead of engaging with it, in the name of tradition, on behalf of those of us who respect great traditions, it is time to call them out as pseudo-traditionalists.

Paromita Vohra is an award-winning Mumbai-based filmmaker, writer and curator working with fiction and non-fiction. Reach her at

The views expressed in this column are the individual’s and don’t represent those of the paper.

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