Mansplaining meets babusplaining

Another day, another ridiculous bit of advice from our officials. The booklet ‘Mother & Child Care Through Yoga and Naturopathy’ distributed by the Ministry of Ayush recommends that pregnant women avoid eating meat and eggs, stay away from bad company, hang ‘good and beautiful pictures’ on the wall, spend their time reading the ‘life history of great personalities’ and ‘be with good people in stable and peaceful condition’ and ‘detach themselves from desire, anger, attachment, hateredness (sic) and lust’.

For now let’s set aside the wisdom of anyone at all taking advice from a publication that contains the word ‘hateredness’ and let’s ask some serious questions about this advice.

How will these good and beautiful pictures have the desired ‘good effect’ on the foetus who can’t see anything beyond the amniotic sac?

Do we have a list of acceptable great personalities that whose biographies could prove to be edifying reading for pregnant women?

What’s a woman dealing with pregnancy hormones to do when she gets angry? Or tired? Or feels intense desire (be it for spoons full or pickle and other food craving, or for her husband)? How does she detach?

And, here’s the most important one: how dare anyone tell pregnant women to avoid meat and eggs just at the very time they need an increased intake of protein and iron?  The best source for dietary protein and iron is meat, especially for people used to a non-vegetarian diet.  Let’s not forget that India is a country where the majority are non-vegetarian (yes, you heard me right – more than 70% of Indians are meat eaters). Should we wonder why India has the  third highest percentage of low birth weight newborns in the world at 28%, a figure that UNICEF cautions might even be higher due to poor reporting? Should we stop and consider that the direct causes of low birth weight is poor nutrition during pregnancy and dropping meat from the pregnant woman’s diet will only make the problem worse?

And what is hateredness?

You won’t hear me disputing the fact that Yoga, ayurveda and other traditional practices have much to offer us in our modern world. You won’t hear me advocating that everyone should be eating meat. You also won’t hear me telling the government to stay away from the business of giving advice. I do however have an issue when that advice is wrong, even harmful. And when the underlying tone is that sanskriti is superior to science.

I’m old enough to remember the international patent battle over neem. In 1995, soon after the European Patent Office granted a private American firm a patent to produce a fungicide from the neem plant, India woke up and began the serious task of protecting its ancient, indigenous knowledge. And rightly so. Traditional remedies go back centuries as does our knowledge of how to use them, argued India as we won the David vs Goliath battle in 2005 and the patent was revoked. The very fact that this patent was issued in the first place gave us a new respect for traditional knowledge and home remedies that were in danger of being supplanted by chemical pharmaceuticals.

And thus began the resurgence of naturopathy, and all the traditional fields that came under this umbrella: ayurveda, homepathy, unani, siddhi, yoga and more. India flung itself into a research and development in this field with a pride that bordered on chauvinism. 1995 saw the establishment of the Department of Indian System of Medicine and Homeopathy, which, under the current administration, was elevated to a ministry – the Ministry of AYUSH. Now, with the seal of ministry approval, we have a situation where mansplaining meets babusplaining, and a new level of bizarre is born.

Onward and upward India. The new dark ages await.


When politicians contribute to my continuing education

This week I learned several new things, and I guess I have politicians to thank for it. Let’s start with the inspiration for the name of this blog and something my biology teachers failed to bring to my notice. Peacock Tears. It took a High Court judge from Rajasthan to enlighten me about the fact that peacocks remain celibate and that little baby peafowl are the result of peahens swallowing (no pun intended, I assure you!) the tears of the majestic strutting males. Now isn’t that beautiful? Wonderful Brahmachari peacocks! No wonder they’re our national birds. We don’t kiss in our movies, we don’t hold hands in public, we fly into an internet tizzy when an actress meets our Prime Minister with her legs visible. It makes perfect sense then that our national bird doesn’t do the nasty. We, as a people, are far too pure for something as dirty as sex!

Let’s set aside for a moment that ‘the birds and bees’ is losing meaning as a metaphor now that I’ve discovered that, as per our learned judges, not all birds actually do what they are supposed to do. Let’s also set aside the fact that our population now stands at 1.3 billion people (or 18% of the world’s population) and it couldn’t have got to this point without a lot of horizontal action. Let’s take a look at education instead. How messed up is our education system that we produce High Court judges who think this way? But why am I surprised when we have 12th Standard Sociology textbooks that say this:

“If girl is ugly and handicapped, then it becomes very difficult for her to get married. To marry the girls bridegroom and his family demand more dowry. Parents of such girls become helpless and pay dowry.”

And 9th Standard Hindi textbooks say this:

“A donkey is like a housewife. It has to toil all day and, like her, may even have to give up food and water. In fact, the donkey is a shade better, for while the housewife may sometimes complain and walk off to her parents’ home, you’ll never catch the donkey being disloyal to his master.”

How do we react when the Chief Executive of a major IT firm says that 60% of Indian IT graduates are ‘untrainable’? And when a professor who has taught at IIT-Kanpur says this:

“I have always been amazed at the Indian software industry. That it can grow so fast and become so big despite the absolutely abysmal quality of education in our colleges… A lot of people have talked about poor quality curriculum, poor quality faculty, poor infrastructure, poor school education, and so on. I disagree. There is a much simpler explanation for this: Copying in our colleges, besides laziness.”

But let’s set all that aside for now and get our continuing education from politicians.

Because, from across many oceans, Donald Trump contributed to my expanding vocabulary and gave me the word ‘covfefe’. Did Mr. Trump mean to type ‘coverage’? Did his short fingers and even shorter attention span meet autocorrect to contribute to the creation of an unexpectedly delightful new word? Even if no one knows how to pronounce it (cov-feef? Cov-feh-feh? Can I do the ‘vf’ consonant combination after a few glasses of Pinot Noir?). Or was it just code meant to make sense to only the (dwindling) inner circle of trusted White House loyalists as Sean Spicer maintains?

And while we are distracted with peacock tears, are we losing sight of the fact that the Indian government has just made it harder for Indians to access one of the most affordable sources of protein available to them? Or that self appointed ‘cow protectors’ have attacked and killed more than 10 people since 2015? Or that 22 lakh people across the country who work in the cattle slaughter industry and a further 35 lakh in the leather industry might be unemployed soon?

And is ‘covfefe’ distracting us from the imminent American withdrawal from the Paris Agreement on climate change? We do know that searches for ‘covfefe’ are far ahead of searches for ‘Paris Accord’ Google. So, what happens when a country that produces the second highest greenhouse gas emissions on the planet (and the highest per capita) chooses not to care any longer? What will the world look like when we lose our natural wonders like the Great Barrier Reef to warming oceans? What will it do to our coastlines when giant icebergs are calved out of Antarctic ice faster than we’ve seen in recorded history?

And while I fight for the right to raise cattle and eat beef in India, am I being a hypocrite when I ignore the fact that cattle farming in the US is a bigger contributor to greenhouse gas emissions than vehicles?

For now I’m not inclined to face my hypocrisy. I’m off to celebrate getting my new blog off the ground with a steak. And some Pinot Noir, of course.