On Lalu Prasad Yadav’s 70th birthday celebration in Patna, his wife Rabri Devi reportedly talked about preferable daughters-in-law in the following terms- “Cinema hall aur mall jane wali ladki nahi chahiye. Ghar chalane wali, bade buzurg ka aadar karne wali, jaise ki hum hain, waisi ladki chahiye. (I don’t want cinema hall and mall-going girls. She should be one who can look after the house, respect elders, and manage outside work, just like me).” The internet was overtaken by a wave of frenzy after this, which hints at the multiple, warped timelines that co-exist in India. On the one hand, women are outraged at such statements. On the other hand, they have to sit in front of their prospective mother-in-law, trussed up in a saree, and answer regressive questions in order to be ‘selected’ to marry the mute yet prized prince in question. Women have managed to loosen the ropes that bound them, have over-stepped common Lakshman-rekhas set for them, but still find themselves persecuted and limited by society time and again.
Rabri Devi invokes two heavy tropes in the above statement. The cinema halls and malls take up a position directly opposite to that of ‘sanskaar’. They become the negative charge to the positive of virtues. They are an allegory of the western culture that is found to be slowly seeping in, and destroying the foundations of the sacred Indian culture. This culture, the dusty old holy books and the people disseminating its knowledge seem to echo the patriarchy. Being an ideal woman entails ridiculous hoops which the women of India have to jump through. For example, she must know that her knees are a sight that might corrupt illustrious, veteran sanskaaris like our Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The following picture might populate the nightmares of the ultra-sanskaari Rabri Devi, symbolising the triumph of the western culture in corrupting the Sanskaari Naari of India- This woman leaves her duties (and shame) behind, struts-off to a mall in the godless clothes of the goras- a short skirt, or even a low-cut blouse, with garish red lipstick and a cigarette between her lips. She goes alone, without being escorted and protected by a male member of the family. She fails to be at the beck and call of her elders, exhibits the audacity to have a will of her own. And she has, god forbid, a life beyond the household.
Ironically, Lalu Yadav recently admitted to owning the 2-acre plot in Patna where the biggest mall of Patna is set to be built. I hope they build little temples in it, with its corridors ringing with bhajans and kirtans. Only way to justify a mall these days, isn’t it?
By Halak Pandya.
Halak is an undergraduate student pursuing literature. She aspires to be a writer. Halak also holds a Master Diploma in Bharatnatyam and a Black belt in Taekwondo. She describes herself as a luftmensch.