So now there’s an advertisement that uses the word ‘condom’ a lot, advertising a downloadable mobile phone ringtone that consists of the word ‘condom’ sung in cheery harmony. The BBC World Service Trust launched the ad, of course, and it was funded by the Gates Foundation, but the good old GOI cleared it, which is a far cry from the days when the then union minister Sushma Swaraj was flaying soap commercials for posing clear and present danger to our family values.
The sudden lowering of governmental inhibitions must have something to do with the little problem we’re having with our population, which on the upside is swamping the global economy and, on the downside, large parts of the solar system as well. The fact that this condom ad made news headlines is a sorry comment on a country facing an AIDS crisis.
Speaking of family values, I’ve never been able to figure out our position (if you will) on sex. For instance, we’re a country that cannot say the word ‘sex’, or admit that anyone is even remotely sexual, including actors whose profession description, including their totally unironic self-descripton, is ‘sex symbol’. We beat up people who celebrate Valentine’s Day, and form vigilante groups to roam round apprehending and intimidating the sort of people depraved enough to have a… a… (it sticks in my craw)… a party, as happened recently in Bangalore.
Simultaneously we valourize marriage, which is kicked off by a ceremony in which two people stand up in front of a whacking great crowd and announce, in essence, that they’re going to be sleeping with each other regularly. In fact we often marry people off even before they’ve hit puberty, just to make sure that the second they feel like having sex, they have someone to get busy with. This explains how we ended up with 1.1 billion people, but it does not explain why they’re still so coy.
We’re also a country in which, although we have great monastic and ascetic traditions (though these are, globally speaking, sometimes congruent with marriage), not having children is still seen as nothing short of weird. Now that we have cloning technology who knows what might be possible, but the last time I checked, when people implore you to have children, they’re begging you to have sex.
It’s too tiresome to yet again trot out the examples of the Kamasutra and the Khajuraho temples, but when you hear people drone on about our conservative traditions, it’s inevitable. Those drawn and sculpted lovers are doing something indisputably recreational. They’re definitely not thinking about the sacred act of childbirth—or if they are, it really turns them on.
The leviathan is stirring, however. Unmarried people are starting to live together without lying about it or blushing; movie stars are going out with each other in the full glare of publicity, and there’s neither any doubt what they’re up to nor any comment about it; writers are writing about sex—mostly badly, but then that’s the nature of sex writing all over the world; singers are singing about it; columnists are answering questions about it, and the great machine of Bollywood keeps everyone’s hips grinding. In Poona, not too long ago, a seminar on sex was very well attended by lots of middle-aged people who by the lights of many self-appointed guardians of morality should long have forgotten what goes where, and how, and why.
Before we know it we’ll be saying words like ‘sex’ out loud. Until then, you can practice saying ‘condom’ without falling to pieces.