Monday, September 15, 2008

Dancing With Shiva, Part 12

We had come to India just in time to witness its shift from a Third World country to an emerging economic force, and at just that moment (at least it seemed to us) when ancient Indian customs and modern Western influences were in curious and perfect balance. Take the music, for example.

Ancient rhythms and traditional instruments blended with the lyrics and social influence of Europe and America in so many popular hits on radio and in Bollywood films.
One night in Pondicherry, attending a Rotary celebration, we watched as Indian women in saris abandoned dignity an modesty to dance with each other to the pounding beat of "Take It Easy Policy," a song from the hit movie "Khadalan," blaring from loudspeakers all around us.
Over that music and the laughter and the clatter of plates in the buffet line, I talked with Asha about raising children in general, and 14-year-old girls, in particular.

"She is not wanting to do as she is told, she will not dress properly, she thinks she knows everything, and then there is this Michael Jackson," Asha said.
"Michael Jackson?" I asked in disbelief. I told her I thought he was rather passé.
Asha was animated, her gold bracelets jangling, and she spoke with exaggerated outrage that was amusing and entertaining. "Here is this awful person who goes to bed with children and has all these surgeries to change his face and make himself white, and my daughter worships him as some kind of god."
Asha's carriage was so casual and sophisticated, and her attitudes seemed so modern and Western to me, but at the same time I realized that she was equally devoted Indian culture and tradition, and that she was most probably would arrange the marriages of her children.

Donna Vesely, our team leader, stayed in Asha's house, and a few years later, Asha's daughter became a Rotary exchange student and lived with Donna. She did not lose her rebellious streak in the intervening years, going home to Pondicherry after the school year with a tattoo.
But Asha would never have an opportunity to arrange the girl's marriage, because one night, on that terrible stretch of Highway 45 between Pondicherry and Madras, her daughter lost her life.

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