Monday, July 03, 2006

Wasteful Abundance

Nobody needs to tell me why, when there is shortage, there is no wastage but I need to know why, when there is abundance there is so much waste.

In my recent travel to Joyrambati, birthplace of Sri Sarada, wife of Sri Ramakrishna, I was aghast to see the waste of food at the dining room both for lunch as well as dinner. People demanded extra helpings even before they finished what was on their plates and then wasted all the food because they either did not like the food or they were full.

Very strange indeed! At the time that Sri Sarada lived there after the passing away of Sri Ramakrishna, there were days she only had salt and rice to eat. Living in abject poverty she never complained about it.

There were many other things she did not complain about – as a feminist I have been thinking often about her life. Did she not feel any sense of rejection when her husband did not touch her like she should have been as a wife? Did she not feel desire as all women feel or have the right to feel? Did she not feel let down by her husband when he left nothing for her by way of pension after his passing away? Did she not feel burdened by constant kitchen work that she did even when she stayed at Dakshineshwar with him? Did she never raise her voice even to him?
At a workshop I conducted in Ranchi at the National Women’s Conference in ‘97, participants willingly got in touch with their bodies by touching themselves from head to foot in their mind’s eye. They had to, without using their hands, travel slowly and gradually over each and every part of their body resting for longer periods on parts they had reservations about, like breasts, pubes etc. The hour-long workshop was tough for a number of people as throughout they also had to keep their eyes closed. During the discussion after the hour, a woman from Ranchi said she felt very angry at having to touch herself – she had never even felt around herself during her bath in her whole life. Remember, she did know what she was going to have to do. I had explained it at the plenary session. She had come because she wanted to know her body. This was her subconscious desire. Her conscious mind revolted.

Even now, women may be far from their bodies, not even knowing that they are cutting it away from themselves as if to say it is something they are not supposed to relate to. So if one is refused conjugation, can a woman who does not even know her body, feel what she is missing? If a woman has never touched herself or ever played around, ever know what gives her pleasure, painful pleasure or plain pain? If she does not know her body, how is she going to negotiate her right to any and all physical pleasures that she can derive from either initiating the process on her own self or guiding her partner to giving it to her?

My niece in Kolkata is in her third year of Engineering and tells me a lot about her love life. She likes to have many boyfriends without committing to any. So all are kept waiting in the wings! I asked how does she negotiate? They propose she said. In my days "propose" was for marriage, not to go around, just see each other. We received letters telling us that he/she cared and would we like to go steady? Or at the School Social, the boy danced so close to the girl, she was in no doubt what he felt or wanted to do with her and the spinster teacher on duty burnt with vile anger at the sure audacity of the girl’s tolerance to such bashful closeness and fiery breath going down her back.
Things have changed it seems. I wonder if my niece lied when she said that she never has got kissed! How weird! I told her. She kept such a straight face I knew thankfully she was lying! On another occasion she explained in full what happens to a boy/man physically when he is ready for sex. How does she know? Her biology teacher explained everything to her and the whole class, she says. So I am convinced somehow. Why should she not keep a certain distance from me as well? Afterall, I am her mother’s sister! One must keep some space with aunts no matter how close you are to them.

My niece in Mumbai on the other hand is going places! She is awake for half the night I was told by the nosey in-house, house help, looking at all the porno sites while her parents snore! She has just finished school and will be in College this year doing her XI th . So what is she doing? Just curious I suppose! Checking out. Must know all before trying it out soon in college? I asked does she know about condoms? Safe sex and all that? " You are really ancient", she reprimanded me, " Aren’t you aware that condoms are not always required when you have sex? You could be just necking around. Besides, did Shabana and Nandita Das use condoms in Fire?"
Boy! Oh, boy! I just shut my mouth.

We live in a world of abundance. So why not waste a bit on real experiences. It’s always good in the long run.
Yet when I looked from the window of my small restroom at the Ashram at Joyrambati, at the lovely green fields dotted with patches of bamboo groves stretching over miles and as far as the eyes could see I wondered. Abundance in nature - why does it not seem wasteful, but just the way it should be? Does abundance become wasteful when it’s freedom to be limitless is curbed? Or does abundance become meaningless when it goes and hits the rural, local industry like I found out in Joyrambati – I went from shop to shop, asking for what I could buy that was locally produced. Everyone stared at me blankly. Finally, I bought some brown sesame seeds as against the white and black ones I am used to seeing in the city, and a kilo of freshly extracted mustard oil mixed with sesame oil, hoping to make some pickle with it. There is a flood of products that are from larger markets and distributors have done a good job of seeing to it that the local produce is so overshadowed, even innocent villagers forget what is the specialty of their own land. Shame on poor and shortsighted marketers!

So I have returned from rural Bengal always as usual with fond memories of its landscape. Yet there is a heavy heart when I think of the waste of food at the Ashram and the ruination of local industry by larger, more powerful players from outside.

Can someone tell me why waste is so much a part of abundance?
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