Traditions for dummies

In my 30-year-old stay in India, I have hosted many foreigners. And on all occasions, I have been tempted to tell stories …ones not true but …ones that make interesting listening. Stories like those narrated to the foreigners by the pan-chewing guides at the gates of Taj Mahal. Or closer still…Mahabalipuram.

As with most things spoken about in this Blog…the tourists are also of two types. There are the tourists from US of A and tourists from the other countries. For a not-so-trained eye all would be the same. But for somebody like me…who has spent his life observing people and their backs (in this case back-packs)…there is a major difference between the two.

For the non-US guy…everything Indian is great and is to be appreciated…but for the US tourist everything Indian is to be seen and laughed at from a distance. We might have exceptions on both sides. My apologies if you don`t agree with me.

Here is a bunch of stories I told a very curious and stiff upper lip American tourist I met in Mahabalipuram. I promise I did not start the conversation…

“Hi There! I am Jack Nicklaus.”

“Hi, I am Jamshed Velayuda Rajan.”

“Nice place this Maamalapuram. Back in our country we have stone carvings…but that is on a huge mountain. We call it Mount Rushmore.”

“I have heard of it. But I don`t think Mount Rushmore is a traditional site. It doesn`t have the magnetism attachéd to Mahabalipuram.”

“What do you mean?” asked the US tourist.

“I mean, each of these stone carvings in Mahabalipuram depicts a story. But Mount Rushmore is just a mountain, where the busts of four Presidents have been carved out.”

“Are you serious? I don`t believe it.” The adamant US tourist burst out.

“Yes sire. We in India have a story behind everything we do. Unlike your country where everything is driven by logic…and hence is a boring.”

“If that is so true pray tell me why the ladies sprinkle water in front of the house everyday? I bet there is no story good enough to justify the hard work, so early in the morning.”

I had to think hard. I needed a story that would sound exciting and yet…believable by US standards.

“You won`t believe this, but hundreds of years back Indians were very peace loving people. They won`t take up arms even against their worst enemies. Because of this non-violence, there emerged another way to express displeasure. Whenever Mr X was upset or angry with Mr Y, Mr X would get up late in the night (around 1-2 a.m.) and walk up to Mr Y`s house…and piss in the front courtyard.”

“You mean piss as in urinating?” The US tourist butted in.

“Yes. The idea was to let Mr Y know that there was some displeasure over his actions. And over a period of time…everybody was pissing on everybody`s courtyard.”

“Must have been quite messy?”

“Yes. But it does feel bad to see your courtyard full piss-marks early in the morning. It is an indicator of the number of people who hate you. Eventually, the ladies in the house decided to sprinkle the whole courtyard with water first thing in the morning…more to cover-up the traces that for anything else. Thus saving some respect for the family.”

“Do you guys still go around pissing in each other`s courtyard?”

“Nope we don`t. All that was stopped the moment we took up arms. But the ladies still sprinkle water in front of their houses…early in the morning.”

“Why?”

I wanted to say, “That`s Indian tradition for you,” but could not, even as I walked away into the sunset.

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