I recently was part of an interesting debate about “Obsession with looking/being fair and impartiality based on color” and here are my thoughts. A fellow colleague even pointed me to this book Fair Women, Dark Men : The forgotten roots of Racial Prejudice. (Yes, I pinched the title from it) The book documents the findings of an antho researcher who studied different cultures and their preferences when it came to skin color. Here are some of the interesting results:
- Although virtually all cultures express a marked preference for fair female skin, even those with little or no exposure to European imperialism, and even those whose members are heavily pigmented, many are indifferent to male pigmentation or even prefer men to be darker.
- The author reports that out of 51 different cultures in the anthropology profession’s famous Human Relations Area Files, 44 cultures favored lighter complexions on either only women (30) or on both sexes (14). In only 3 cultures was fair skin preferred on men only, and in just 4 cultures was darker skin desired.
- Lighter ladies were favored in many countries with little exposure to Western beauty standards, such as medieval Japan, Ethiopia, Aztec Mexico, and Moorish Spain, where the dominant culture was darker skinned than the conquered natives.
Of course, my first thoughts were : could this all be social class prejudice? Well, my claim is that the answer is not so simple. My colleague made the point that preferences based on color were more of an evolutionary trait rather than a product of social sanction. Even though I am no expert on evolution, I would think evolution would ensure (genetically) passing of only those traits that would aid in survival. All characteristics of human beings like the ability to walk on our hind legs, herbivorous diet, even the gestation period points in that direction. Could preferences of color be another similar trait? I have read about men preferring voluptuous women and women with wide pelvic bones, because they see them as fertile and being better equipped for child birth. This is something that seems like a characteristic passed genetically. But color based preferences .., I dont know.
I will quote Jared Diamond when he says, the whole world looks at life/society through western goggles, primarily because they were the ones that first to put indigenous technology to use. Would the preferences have been different if people from the sub saharan region of Africa were the most wealthiest, technologically equipped and the most powerful people on earth. The balance of power, at least in documented human history, has always been in favor of western civilizations. Given that people from western societies were the first to explore the world via the high seas, they could have very easily exported a powerful social prejudice. The fertile belt, where most of modern civilization is said to have originated, lies mostly in Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean region. These regions are surrounded mostly by Africa and the middle east, most of which are tropical and are home to people with relatively darker skin tone. Its not hard to imagine that “different looking” people were treated as hostile and alien and eventually this turns into social prejudice. Could this be a simple explanation to a very complex question?
In the classical world calling a woman white or fair was a compliment. People were more ambivalent about color in men. In the Old Testament Ham saw his father drunk and naked and was cursed with darkness. This is the biblical theory of the origin of human races. Thousands of years later original Christians were Medeteranians/Semites of an intermediate color between Northern Europans and Africans. “Ethiopians,” as they called black Africans, were used as the symbol for ugliness and sin. An early Christian wrote “What is more lowly, what is more like Ethopia, than our bodies, blackened, too, by the darkness of sin?” Satan would often appear as an Ethiopian. The black woman was the antithesis of beauty. A story reaches us about monks wanting to turn themselves off sex. They were encouraged to think of something disgusting. One thought of the Ethiopian woman.
Given that our societies are becoming muti-racial it will be interesting to see what will be of these preferences. My take , even if evolution did have a part to play, our generation must get over such prejudices and hopefully aid evolution( a sort of induced evolution) to rid people of this preference. It will be interesting to hear some of your thoughts on this topic. Comment away.
Whenever I meet non Bangaloreans, I am always asked a bunch of questions: “Sweater? Is it that cold outside? “, or here’s another favorite: ” can you explain why you wear socks while wearing sandals “. The answer lies hidden in socio-cultural trends that have emerged from the colleges and homes of Bangaloreans. This post will hopefully try and demystify all that.
Let me start by describing the typical Bangalorean (B- for short). A typical Bangalorean is rare yet mystical combination of traditionalism and post modern fundamentalism. Both these traits, the typical Bangalorean will adopt given the appropriate social setting. Most B-Girls can pull off a very traditional Silk Saree and an evening dress with the same level of comfort and confidence. The same with B-guys pulling off a Kurta, Dhoti and Suit with the same elegance. Most B’s, especially those raised in Brahmin households, have dabbled a bit in Classical music, Indian classical dance or art in their younger days. Most have then deserted their cultural skills citing reasons as diverse as lack to time to just, “it was not cool in college”.
As kids, specifically the generation that was in school in the late 90′s, B-girls and boys were treated to a mix of cultures. The onset of cable television did bring a powerful dose of globalization to urban India; parents made sure that amidst all the cultural chopsuey, their kids held on to their traditionalist values. Which is why most B’s grow up with a multicutural influences and practices. Most B-kids can relate to watching the Mahabharath/Ramayan on TV as well as watching Remington Steele, Knight Rider and Wonder Years. The result of this cultural mishmash was the multitude of cultural fads (read popular culture) that influenced the youth during the late 90′s. These cultural fads were purely a result of the amount of infusion of global culture in the households of the kids. Take for example the places I studied during the late 90′s. Different groups of Individuals had different heroes and role models, and each group followed a different cultural norm. Its not hard to figure out that kids from different cultural tastes didn’t mix much but, there really wasn’t too much tension amonst them either. Each one was happy knowing the other was, in some way, not their type. Here are some of the cultural groups that I can readily think of:
- There were the Americanized kids who lived like the kids from Wonder Years or SweetValley High; these were probably the ones with access to cable, imported paraphernalia and whose parents shared multi cultural tastes themselves.
- The traditionalist kids were the ones that watched regional movies, didn’t realize the importance of branded clothing and tended to abhor the Americanized kids. Their parents probably didnt allow them to access Euro-American television or magazines and worse yet, portrayed the same as a form of evil.
- There were the liberals who believed in both schools of popular culture,and who experienced a mix of both these cultures. Most of these kids didnt need to rely on popular culture as a mark of identity.
- Then there were kids like me, who didn’t know what the f* they were doing.
One thing I have to unanimously agree on is that B-kids are very well read. You will find kids in high school influenced by the works of Wodehouse, Forsyth, Alistar Mac Lean,Crichton, Agatha Christie, Dickens and Sheldon to name a few. Enid Blyton doesn’t help with the clarity on popular culture either, if anything, the famous fives and secret sevens have just ruined it for most of us. They would do unthinkable things and we would be left wondering about our miserable and non adventurous lives.
Certain things don’t excite B’s. Bollywood for example, just doesn’t excite us. Yes, there are the occasional Shah Rukh Khan and Hrithik fans, but why settle for these when you can watch Kevin Spacey or Brad Pitt. We are also not very into sports. Cricket still is the most popular but you wont find the same level of fanaticism as the rest of India. Exhibitionism, of wealth and prosperity, is also not a very strong characteristic of B’s. B’s dont like over paying for South Indian food. Nothing more than Rs 30 for a dosa, but yes, Dal Fry can go as high as Rs 150. Technologically we are very sound and learned. Most have interacted with computers from the early 90′s. Enough said, let me answer those questions I asked.
Why do I wear a sweater? Most B’s do. Take a look around. Given the general chill in the air, most B’s have a wide variety of warm clothing. This includes sweat shirts, sleeveless sweaters, cardigans, jackets etc. All we need is the weather to be remotely close to “not hot”.
Why do I wear socks when I wear sandals? most B’s start riding a two wheeler once they are out of school. Bangalore is also a very windy city, so there is usually a lot of sand and mud on the roads. We wear socks for ergonomic reasons. Not because its cool, but because it keeps our feet clean, esp when we ride. It also saves our legs from looking like a zebra’s hide due to the exposure of the open parts of our feet to the sun.
More to come …. But do reply with other traits that you think are uniquely Bangalorean.
To have gold is to be in fear, and to want it to be sorrow.
Then why is it that people are so attracted to it. Gold and diamonds have time and again been responsible for some of the worst wars in the history of mankind, and yet, people long to own it. A visit to any jewellers shop on a weekend should be enough to understand how crazy people are about this yellow metal.
This got me thinking about why gold was what it was. Some of the earliest records of human history depict how people adorned themselves with gold. It was a symbol of wealth and prosperity. Countries still speak of Gold reserves and I am sure, every one’s heard of Fort Knox. Its viral. History shows gold as being the symbol of affluence, society doesn’t treat buying gold as being morally wrong and the effect of this is the craze that surrounds gold. Indian traditions, as with many other religions I am sure, mandate gold offerings during certain ceremonies and rituals. Such is the value attributed to the ownership of gold. And why is Gold expensive? Because it is so hard to get.
One hardly realizes that every gram of gold probably has a very unfortunate story to be told. Mining tops the list of the most dangerous professions in the world. Along with being the most dangerous of the professions, its also the most hazardous as almost every miner is plagued with a variety of diseases specific to miners. Same goes with diamonds and other precious metals. I don’t need to explain the perils of people in African countries and the famed conflict diamonds.
And, I don’t buy the argument that by not buying gold we are denying people a livelihood. I can make the same argument about prostitution and I don’t think that’s morally acceptable. A lot of people believe about diamonds and jewellery being cursed and I think its more than fitting given so many lives are lost in the process of procuring them. The next time anyone buys gold or any other precious metals, think of these facts.
Rains are common sight in Bangalore. Ever since the day I started travelling by myself, I distinctly remember being stuck in the rain. I was stuck yesterday for more than an hour and it got me thinking. Rains are a great leveler.
I am sure many relate to the image above. It usually starts with the realization that its going to pour. The feeling of cold dampness in the air, hitting you whilst you try and race to your destination. This is usually accompanied by strong winds raising dust and debris from the road. Winds so strong that you see people meandering around the straight road in order to hold the wobbling two wheeler steady.
And it pours. Slowly at first, giving you a hope that you might actually make it to your destination with just a couple of wet spots on your shirt. Unfortunately nature doesn’t comply and lets it rip. This is followed by a frantic search of the surroundings in hopes of finding a shelter. The problem here is that, more you hope of beating the rain with your superior driving, lesser is your chances of finding a good spot under a shelter. Most good spots are usually taken by people who seem to have been perenially standing there. Then there are extremely good spots, places where you can bite into a morsel or two whilst you wait for the rain to stop. In Bangalore, these are usually road side bonda or chaat shops and some times small hotels, that are more than ready to receive and service the stranded incidental customer.
Then there is the company. A varied mix of people that will be a part of your life for a short time and will be forgotten within the hour. This is where you relate to your position in society. The place where boundaries of caste, education, race and gender are diminished. For example, yesterday, I had the pleasure of sharing a small awning on the street with a mechanic, a young mother and her new born baby, a worried father who couldn’t believe that nature and fate had together let him down, a budding guitarist from eastern part of India, a woman who was dressed as a nurse and couple of people I couldn’t recognize because they felt it was too embarassing to remove their helmets while they waited under an awning for over an hour. No, there was no food, nor was there any reprise from the winds that would blow a good helping of rain onto our unprotected selves. But there was goodwill. People who tried their best to help protect the young baby, giving the mother tips. People who gave a restless individual a polyethene cover, who decided that, it would be better to brave the rain than stand helplessly . People who would enviously look at passing cars, often letting out a soft sigh as if indicating a sense of displeasure about their current state (envy is probably the most prevelant of the emotions amidst the Indian middle class, blog post on this soon). People who were more than ready to have a political debate about the recent elections often claiming superioirty of infrastructure in Bangalore, forgetting that they were stranded under an awning. There were no politicians or engineers or doctors. There were just people. Stuck in the rain.
I was surprised to see the website of BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate Shri L K Advani. Seems like President Obama’s use of internet during his campaign has inspired many to establish their presence on the net. The internet has become synonymous with the younger generation and this new form of campaigning is an effort to find in roads to enticing the youth to vote. Other efforts like Jaagore have also been designed especially to encourage the otherwise uninterested youth to vote. Jaagore almost reminds me of P Diddy’s vote or die campaign. Looking back at some of our politicians and the diligence with which they handled issues like terror , allegations and instances when they made news, I am but over enthusiastic about the legislative future of my country. With such inspiring prospects being added to cadre, not to forget the seriousness with which they treat this post, its almost certain that our country is headed to being utopian at the least.
Whats my take on this ? I am not very clear. I am in a fix to decide which leader to vote for. I am trembling on my stands of libertarianism when faced with such convincing candidates. Let the big choice not be so hard on us folks. If capable leaders is what we need then we have dozens of them. Why make us choose ?
This question came up when I plucked a flower from the branch of a tree only to be frowned upon by Natalie, a colleague of mine. I defended myself by saying that the flower’s destiny was to be plucked by me and that it had served its purpose of existence. But thats when it hit me, what is the purpose of our existence?
I have pondered a lot over what I was destined to do or achieve in my life and never , and I mean never, could I come up with even a reasonable explanation to it. Come to think of it, everything can be attributed to my purpose of existence. Is writing this post my POE ? The fact that you are reading it, is it your POE ? Most people I know would say that they were born for some greater purpose than to read a lousy blog post, but can you say that for sure ?
The thought became more intriguing when I thought about luck and chance in general. Why is that some people have all the luck and other people get screwed over hard? Why is that only a handful of people have gone to the moon, why not the whole who lived in the same era ? People say its a one in a million chance, or a chance of a lifetime, but if thats so then is that chance predetermined ? If thats so, the flower that I picked out of the tree, was it the lucky one to be picked by me ?
Hermits and wise men are always claiming to have discovered the true meaning of life itself then why not share it with one and all. Humans would be a much better set knowing what the true meaning of life is. The other popular question that goes hand in hand with POE is the question of faith itself. Atheism is the most rational explanation to life. The fact that we don’t know a more complex being than ourselves, proves that nobody could have created us. Its easy for the created to not know of its creator, if the creator wishes for it. What if God can only be perceived through the medium of faith. What if none of our senses are incapable of recognizing the true creator. Most of our decisions are based on what our sense organs perceive. What if God can only be perceived through some sense unknown to man.
Humans as the most complicated and intelligent being on this planet can only partly replicate the visual and the auditory sense. We cannot replicate smell, touch or taste – if we could, we would have never eaten out. But is that our flaw as a race ? Will we realize our POE when we can truly command our senses ? I don’t think we can even begin to explain our 6th sense without commanding our 5 known senses. Probably then, we will get an answer to the question of our purpose, God and everything else.