(This first appeared in the Sunday Guardian)
When the grand mufti of Kashmir heard about Pargaash, an all girl rock band from Kashmir, he was livid. A woman following her passion? Who does she think she is, a man with enough money or power to buy off any threat of religious persecution? He then issued a ‘fatwa’ directing the band to quit, an instruction which was promptly followed. “Our tradition doesn’t allow it,” he whimpered. ‘Tradition,’ of course, is a polite word for saying that one should be ‘acting like an idiot for no logical reason.’ You mean the only reason I shouldn’t be doing this because thousands of years ago, some superstitious asshole wrote something down on paper-like material with a quill pen? Okay, that totally makes sense! Going to take all the important decisions of my life according to the ‘Five Point Someone’ of 102 B.C. What could go wrong?
We don’t send tweets to each other through birds, even though they were its traditional carriers. We don’t need to digest a billion ‘traditional’ herbs to cure a headache anymore. We don’t even need to rub two stones together to make a fire when we can use an overcharged phone battery. However, we insist on listening to a person barely educated in anything-other-than-religious-dogma on how we should live our lives, even though most of their edicts are – traditionally – pulled out from where the sun doesn’t shine. For example, do you remember a time god threatened to burn the earth down because of a really wicked rock band? Yeah, me neither. Hey, if he didn’t banish the group ‘Nickelback,’ to an eternity of hellfire and brimstone, then all the other bands are quite safe from his wrath.
Yet, the one thing the grand poobahs of all religions agree on is that we must strive to preserve gender roles forever, because it makes it easier to determine whom to discriminate against. It’s not misogynist if it’s written in the book! Stop complaining. What are you, a girl? Their basic grouse with the modern world is its snail-like journey towards equality. They are nostalgic for a time when men were men and women knew their place. Like during the stone age when men were gruffly, emotionless neanderthals who had the fashion sense of Tarzan and the wit and charm of the great Khali, and they ate anything they wanted to without even cooking it or washing it in boiled water (or as we call it in India, ‘Chinese food’). Meanwhile, the women stayed home in the cave combing their armpit hair while waiting for their man to bring home the uncooked bacon.
This discrimination also manifests itself in our culture of masculinity. We like our men to be like our most popular motorcycle: cheap, loud and using the same design since the Second World War. A ‘manly man’ must never drop his guard. If he makes one wrong move they can revoke his man card. It can be something as small as drinking the wrong beer or driving an SUV in a mountainous region while wearing a seat-belt. It can even be something simple like washing his hands before eating that can get him disqualified. And watching any teevee program whose description requires the use of more than one syllable qualifies him for instant self-deportation from Manlymanville. One would imagine that someone who wants to be perceived as a strong person with a will of steel wouldn’t be so subservient to society’s orthodox diktats. Turns out, the people who pretend to be the strongest always turn out to be the most afraid and paranoid.
We also like our government to be manly. We don’t like it when sissified college graduates lead them. An ‘education’ weakens you because it makes you do all those girly things like ‘thinking’ and ‘caring about consequences.’ Real leaders listen to their guts and only communicate in grunts and head nods. Diplomacy is for countries without a nuclear weapon arsenal! Why doesn’t our government just grow a pair and knead other governments in theirs? Man up and kill all those people whose mere existence makes us wet our pants.
Limiting your life to conform to other people’s expectations is an idea whose time has long passed its expiration date. We can only have real equality when people start looking at each other as individuals and a person’s gender won’t trap them into a life they don’t want. Being who you are is going to be the new normal.
Now please excuse me while I spend the rest of the day learning how to make a sandwich.