Monday, June 27, 2005

haywards 2000 - BC!

Gin and tonic? Vodka and orange juice? Shiva shiva apishtu… this is not what I was brought up to. It’s against my culture to drink such rubbish.

Time for history class again. This is what real Indians do – here are the recipes folks! :d

Liquors made from kinva

Kinva: 1 part rice : 3 part beans with added spices.
For eg: 1 drona – raw mango pulp/ cooked mashed beans
1/3 rd drona rice
1 karsha of the 6 mixed spices.

Medaka: 2 parts rice : 3 prasthas of ferment and 16 parts water.
For eg: rice wine – 3 prasthas of kinva
½ adhaka of rice
1 drona of water

Prasanna: Flour wine (white)
2 parts rice to 3 ferment and 16 parts water
For eg: 5 prasthas of kinva
12 adhakas flour
24 dronas of water
Bark and fruit of kramuka

Addition to Medaka and Prasanna:
5 karshas each of the following: patha, lodha, tejuvati, cardamom, valuka, liquorice, grape juice, priyangu, daruharidra (turmeric?), black pepper and long pepper.

Clarifying agent for Medaka and Prasanna:

A decoction of liquorice and jaggery

Varieties of prasanna:

Mahasura – white liquor and mango juice replacing in part the spice mixture given above. This is to be clarified with a handful of mixed spice, burnt jaggery, and pulp of herbs like partha. The liquor can be made sweeter by adding 5 palas of jaggery.

Other liquors:

For average quality: for 8 tulas of water –
1 tula of wood apple
5 tulas treacle
1 prastha honey

For higher quality add 1 quarter more of the 3 ingredients and for lower quality add 1 quarter less.

Spices to be added – 1 karsha each of cinnamon, chitraka, vilanga. A quarter of the quantity of each of these is to be kept in the liquor, tied up in a small piece of cloth and suspended.

Maireya: Decoction of the bark of the meshashringi with jaggery; spices to be added: long pepper and black pepper or tripala (nutmeg, arecanut and cloves)

Madhu: Grape wine - imported from Afghanistan
Harahuraka imported from Archosia.”

(Innnnteresting eh?! A round of applause for L.N. Rangarajan’s excellent translation please!)

Alcohol was certainly not an ascetic’s staple, but neither was it just for the reprobates. There are some parts of tantra where alcohol (of a type called “somapanam”) is consumed as part of the rituals. I would also remind you that bhang is still served at some north Indian weddings today as part of the traditional feast – amidst the array of strictly censored and approved food for pujas!

During surgeries, certain kinds of alcohol were administered to the patient to induce a soporific effect. Some medicines were also alcohol based. The generic name for alcohol made from sugarcane, fruits and even some roots, is “arka”, a Sanskrit word meaning “essence”. The arrack which we speak of today, is an anglicised corruption of arka.

So did our ancestors simply frolic and be gloriously drunk? Was it a one long bacchanalian orgy? Well, no. These were some of the provisions and legislations ensuring that though booze was available, people didn’t overdo the happy-and-high act:

The manufacture and sale of alcoholic drinks was basically under state monopoly. Again, there was an exclusive post for inspection and control - the Chief Controller of Alcoholic Beverages. Private manufacturing was very very limited and strictly controlled. The fine for selling, making or buying liquor in an unauthorised place was 600 panas.

There were separate drinking halls - a more charming version of the modern day pub by the sound of it – its actually stipulated in the arthashasthra that these should be pleasant always, well stocked with plenty of perfumes, water and fresh flowers!

Only people who were known to be of good repute could buy and take away alcohol in small amounts. Others could drink only in the halls. Large quantities of alcohol could not be purchased, taken away or stocked. Selling on credit was not allowed. Drunkards were punished. Like prostitutes, drinking hall owners had to report anyone who spent too lavishly and beyond their means.

Since drinking halls were common in all parts of the kingdom, some times these were also the scene for espionage and crime: a little poison could well find its way into someones glass to dispose of them. Doctors were required by law to report anyone suffering from poisoning by drink or food.

The master of the drinking hall was accountable to the Chief of Alcoholic Beverages: if there was any cheating, adulteration, illegal sale, etc. he was held responsible. If a customer had had too much to drink and had fallen asleep, secret agents would make note of his ornaments, cash and clothes – if there was any theft of these within the drinking hall, the liquor seller had to repay the loss and pay a fine. Hence sometimes the sellers also employed beautiful young women to serve the liquor, so that they could draw the customer into conversation and verify his identity and right to be in the hall.
and so on.

here's a toast to real indian culture! :d

ps: thanks to sanketh for the brilliant title! i loved it :))


Saturday, June 25, 2005

THIS is my culture!

sex work is something that has taken a (un) fair amount of bashing and disowning. In the name of Indian culture, over eras we have written everything there is to be written about sex, and forgotten it as well.

We picketed the theatres showing “Fire” and said “Such Things are against our culture”. We previously refused (I don’t know the scene now) to allow free distribution of condoms saying that’s not in keeping with Indian culture. The moral police have shut down dancing bars saying they will corrupt our youth and make them abandon indian culture... Our heritage has been pruned and patriarchally doctored to suit political (and prudish) propaganda.

Like me, you too must have been told repeatedly that unfaithfulness in marriages is rampant in the west and that Indian culture was puritanical and pristine before the evil days when the west cast its adulterous shadow over us. Certainly you too must have heard of anything involving aclohol or sex being labelled western.

this is in protest against the insipid, watered down, narrow minded, chauvinistic stuff that’s being dished out as “Indian culture”. I’ve already made several references in my blog earlier to the various scriptures and their open minded (not to mention practical) take on sex, sexuality and sex work. Since Im reading the arthashasthra now, I thought id put this up. (vhp, rss and shiv sena – go read this text sometime before you term things non-indian :p)

A little background first : the arthashasthra was written by Kautilya around 1850 to 2300 years ago. As arthashasthra translates to “material welfare”, the treatise deals with the way a state should be organized, what economic activities should be taken up, taxation, foreign policy, law enforcement, maintenance of order, etc. there is one section of the arthashasthra that deals exclusively with prostitution. Since this is primarily a clinical manual on the economic welfare of the state, the chapter is business-like, discussing revenue collection from and administration in prostitution.

It was recognized that driving prostitution underground was absurd. So they did the best thing: put it under strict state control. The Chief Controller of Entertainers (that's right, there was an administrative post for it!) ensured that this form of public entertainment was managed smoothly and that no unfair transactions were forced on either client or prostitute.

Practitioners were of 3 kinds:
- Courtesans
- Concubines
- Women who lived by their looks (rupajivas), who also independently entertained clients in smaller places where full fledged state-run establishments were absent.

The state owned most of the houses of entertainment. For setting up a house, the state gave lump sum monetary grants to the head courtesan (1000 panas) and her deputy (500 panas) to purchase furnishings, flowers, jewellery, musical instruments, and other tools of the trade. The Chief Controller of Entertainers would check the head courtesans accounts periodically.

Independent prostitutes were not given grants or asked for accounts, but they paid 1/6th of their revenue as tax. In times of financial distress all practitioners had to produce extra revenue, independents paying upto 50% of their income as tax.

Courtesans were trained in the necessary skills at the expense of the state. The Kamasutra, another much-hyped but much-distorted text, lists the skills that a courtesan must have. These include singing, dancing, ability to judge the mood of a client, skill in making garlands, making perfumes, ability to discuss current affairs, art and politics, knowledge of people, different methods of love making, recitation, acting, writing, painting, shampooing, etc. As you can see, a courtesan of those days was no bimbo! In fact, she was an intelligent, cultured, well-informed woman, skilled in dealing with people. She was accordingly respected and treated well. (while we are on the subject of the kamasutra, the Richard Burton translation is supposed to be good. publishers: Hamlyn)
Courtesans sons were required to work as the kings minstrel from the age of 8 onwards, and were also trained to produce plays and dances.

The madam of an establishment was a very important person. She could become the personal attendant of the king or queen. A very high price of 24,000 panas (her annual salary) had to be paid to release her from her post. (This was the second highest annual salary paid only to the top officials like the Chief of the King’s Bodyguards, Treasurer, Chancellor...) If appointed to the king, based on her looks and skills, she would be paid 1000, 2000 or 3000 panas. ( the salary paid to the king’s personal advisor, attendants, physician etc. was 1000 panas!)

The head courtesans post could never be inherited by her son. Only a daughter or deputy could succeed her and control the establishment. If both were absent, then the state took over the establishment, appointing the next head.

There were special punishments for depriving a prostitute’s daughter of her virginity with or without her consent. The mother could make the man pay 16 times the fee for a normal visit in addition to a fine if he did this. (isn’t that neat? – avoiding potential abuse situations.) The right of the mother to protect her daughter until she came of age was firmly recognized and respected.

Courtesans had the code of conduct and ethics to follow suited to their profession. They could not refuse a client who had come to them for their normal services, and conversely, there were also rules governing who could approach a courtesan. There was even a provision for the wife to seek redress if her husband continually refused to sleep with her since men had the alternative outlet of visiting an establishment! court cases concerning courtesans were addressed in a separate court of law with exclusive rules since these issues were different from the rest of society’s.

So you see, far from having closed its eyes to sex, or shuddering prudishly about it, Indian culture had a very healthy, well thought out, fair attitude towards it. The next time someone preaches inaccurately to you about it – get 'em! These are the facts.

If I continue feeling this enthu, my next post shall be about alcohol and our culture :)

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Wednesday, June 22, 2005

degrading denim.

Has anyone noticed that the advertisements for jeans are getting extremely crude? You glance at the ad and you cannot quite make out exactly what it is for - aphrodisiac, viagra-substitutes, impotency cures – oh yeah, or just plain old jeans.

The last ad I saw showed a man and a woman, both bare - chested. ok… maybe they were trying to promote body comfort and confront body politics… but nope. the primary focus of the ad was on the man reaching for the woman, both of them looking like they were ready to mate at the drop of a hat - the jeans were not even fully seen for crying out loud!

An ad like this would typically teach a kid that:
a). wearing jeans means youre inviting sexual attention.
b). if some womans wearing jeans it confers on you the right to go around feeling her up – theres no considering that she has a space of her own, or is entitled to say no.


I saw this “healthy” advertisement in a newspaper that’s supposed to be famed for being conventional and respectable. You know, when I was in school we were told to read the newspaper regularly because it had relatively safe and clean information, improved our knowledge of current affairs blah blah. If this is the garbage that my kids are going to learn by way of “general knowledge”, thanks, but no thanks – im definitely banning newspapers at home.

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Saturday, June 18, 2005

chit-chat and this and that.

Ok. I’ve something specific to say, but im not sure how to express this so I shall ramble first…!

You know, on my holiday, I had the most satisfying conversations early in the morning with my hostess. She, my sister and I, would sit around the kitchen cupping our steaming mugs of coffee and slowly start talking about this and that. And it would invariably be totally engrossing, and we’d continue it into breakfast and chew over the subjects and toast slowly - until we saw the clock and got a jolt!

One of the things we talked about was this opportunity to have such comfortable conversations. For all of us, there were a lot of things we couldn’t share with many people we knew – that we were not so conventional, held some things important, were in certain kinds of environments considerably reduced the field of possible fellow chit-chatters! We used to talk about religion, women, politics, and different cultures… all the “sensitive”, potentially dynamite stuff with no hassle. It was a very gentle way of looking at things: you could step back and just take issues as they were and look at them without feeling defensive about your politics, or feeling like it was a judgment issue and you had to make loyalty stands and stuff… remarkable because she was a foreigner, and I have this “thing” about white skinned politics! shes one of those rare people who are white only on the outside – her politics are pretty golden brown :) shes a truly remarkable woman – she has seen so many things in life, and has had so many diverse experiences, its great to talk to her!

In a similar way, this blogging thing has been unexpectedly nice. All the things that im bursting to say but cannot, I say here. I find people are generally pretty open minded in the blogworld. Sure, they may disagree with every word being said somewhere, but they seem to listen and then shoot it down, which is great!

I must say so far my blog experience has been most pleasant. but now and then things threaten to get unpleasantly personal or aggressive. I understand I pick controversial topics to write on, and that we all have heaps to say on different things. Fights are welcome as long as theyre interesting to read (this is one of my worthless friends contribution!) and as long as they don’t hurt someone – whether its me or a person who comments here. I dislike fights strongly and am fed up of em in real life. So being a bossy thing, I-refuse-to-have-another-battle-on-my-hands-here! :d

(Sheesh. That disclaimer (or whatever you wanna call it) was worthy of a warranty manual!) Right. im done here. Beam me up Scotty.....


Sunday, June 12, 2005

andha ponnu.

its a house lit up in festivities. there are little fairy lights even on the trees in the garden. the street rings with the joyous cacophony of children playing. its a large hall, filled with wealth and people. the aunties and uncles sitting around in chairs, making conversation in spurts whenever the children's noise will allow them to.

in that crush of children, there stands one little girl alone, totally out of place in her simple skirt and darned shirt amidst the others' cinderella dresses and spiderman costumes. what really wrings your heart is the string of brightly coloured beads around her throat. a silent bid for childhood. shes "andha ponnu".

she is a live-in servant, looking after the child of the house. shes barely taller than her ward. maybe a few years older, certainly not as privileged. her frail shoulders support the responsibility of playing nanny to the child. she wipes its nose when its got a cold, runs to fetch its toys, to pick up its diapers, or frocks, or hairpins as it sheds them with gay abandon...

its not that shes beaten by the family you know - they do feed her well, give her clothes, help her earn and support her family. its just that her social life is to watch the children play from the shadows of the balcony. her family life is to sit in the front in the car as the child is cuddled by the mother behind her in the rear seat.

she always lives only on the fringes - a wraith of denied and deprived childhood.

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Saturday, June 11, 2005


ok, ive just been tagged so this post is about that. (sensibly stoned, you escape with your life.. this was only about books, so its ok - how i dislike those "soul searching" questionnaires! .... and now that ive finished making a fuss, thanks for thinking of me! ;-) )

here goes. the answers (with a sprinkling of blah!)

Total books I own:
Um. I really have no idea whatsoever! My mom was a lit student – we have books from her childhood, college days on. book-madness kind of runs in the family! :)

Last book(s) I bought:
Mort – Terry Pratchett
Many Mansions : Edgar Cayce on Reincarnation – Gina Cerminara
The Agony and the Ecstasy – Irving Stone

Last book I read:

The symbolism of Hindu gods and rituals – A Parthasarathy

I didn’t like the first section because I dislike most of mainstream religion. The second and third parts were very interesting - mainly advaitic explanations. Some of it was really good – strongly recommended.

Currently reading:
Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology.

The actual title is “The New Larousse…” blah blah blah. But it was gifted to my parents when they got married (isnt that a really great gift!), so I figured the “new” is no longer accurate! Hehe… if you like mythology this is absolutely brilliant- world mythology with corresponding statues and paintings of the gods and goddesses. (Hamlyn, i'll settle for cash! ;))

American Power and the New Mandarins – Noam Chomsky

This is a collection of essays. Noam Chomsky has been criticised for being a little commy, but I still like what he has to say - the man talks sense! This collection has a brilliant essay The Responsibility of Intellectuals, which can be read here too.

Books that have had an impact on me:

This is the order in which I read ‘em, and the reason why :

Animal Farm – George Orwell.
Whenever my “red” tendencies threaten to surface I think of this book and shiver! That evil of ghastly sanctimonious intention is just unforgettable.

Being Peace – Thich Nhat Hanh.
This is where I learned that meditation is done with a smile, and need not be a deadly serious affair! It made me realise that it takes a warrior to be gentle. Plus sheer sentimental value – I was given this to help me through a very bad patch :)

Sand and Foam – Kahlil Gibran.
Expressed so many things so beautifully when I was lost for words : )

The Making of A Counter Culture : Youthful opposition to technocracy – Theodore Roszak.
It brought alive the counter culture and helped me organise my thoughts and look at things more critically.

The Whole Woman – Germaine Greer.
The defining feminist work! It was such a brilliant introduction to feminism. Threw up a lot of issues… helped me wake up.

Everybody Loves A Good Drought – P Sainath.
An incisive commentary on what is happening at home.

The Algebra of Infinite Justice (collection of essays) – Arundhati Roy.
Gave me more stuff to think about. Voiced the nameless fears and undirected anger. And told me more things about my country that I didn’t know.

There! All the worthless details of my life for whoever it is who wants to know! :d

Hmm. im supposed to tag 5 people more. alright. since some folks i know are singularrrly lazy (and i do hope the person whom this is directed at is reading this!) im taggin 3 and leaving it anonymous so they can decide whether or not they want to take it up :)

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