One visit to Khajuraho is enough to convince the most closed mind that we were once a free society.
One visit to Khajuraho is enough to convince the most closed mind that we were once a free society. Of course the official guides are sexist to a man: ours took the guys aside with a whispered, "Come sir, now I will show you many statues in success pose." My aunt who is a little hard of hearing promptly rebuked him saying, "Why are we not being shown the success position, my good man?"At which point he turned a vivid magenta and sullenly pointed out the variations on bestiality, sexual athleticism and Caligula-style orgies captured in stone. We may not have been the sinful degenerates boiled in lava a la Pompeii, but given our numbers it is clear that we were, 'pretty hot to trot.' What happened to our sense of fun? My friend Cherian thinks it was legislated out of us by colonial rule when Victorian sense of prudery was deeply offended by our mujras, nautch girls and the like.
A malevolent, Talibanic piece of legislation preventing the gainful employment of women in places where alcohol is served remains stubbornly in the Excise Act: an annoying legacy of our colonial past. Shatbi Basu, an authority on wines and spirits, who conducts national bartending competitions on behalf of the hospitality industry from time to time, finds the situation absurd. 'It's a pity that women are prevented by this archaic rule from giving Tom (Cocktail) Cruise a run for his money. Female bartenders are just a no-no.' Naturally the statute is selectively implemented, colonial hangovers being an excellent method for the collection of that quaint English custom: chai-pani.
But why blame the Brits? Like Alice, they've gone, but we're still here compounding the red-tape we inherited with our own rope tricks. Those of you of a certain vintage may remember the barmaid so vividly portrayed in the musical version of 'Oliver': 'Mr. Percy Snodgrass who would often have the odd glass, but never when he thought anybody could see. Secretly he'd buy it and drink it on the quiet and dream he was an earl with a girl on each knee.' Perhaps the early founding fathers of the Empire felt English blood would be unable to handle 'tasty, native wenches.' Maybe they wanted to ensure that any hanky panky that her Majesty's loyal soldiers got up to should remain restricted to the military bordellos. Whatever the reason, the rule was firm: no working gals where demon alcohol is served.
A hotelier friend of mine, hoping to kickstart his nightclub business which has been down in the dumps post the highway ruling decided to bring in a bevy of Phillipino beauties to croon nightly in his pub and dispel the doom and gloom. Being a shrewd Sindhi, he decided to apply for official permission, lest his Phillipino nightingales, after arriving from Manila at considerable expense were prevented from plying their trade by the powers that be. Richani (not his real name) met the police commissioner, the parks commissioner, the minorities commissioner and the commissioner for the upliftment of doom and gloom, but the NOC remained as elusive as the Scarlet Pimpernel.
'Anything else you want, you take it I say,' said his fixer, in the elaborate, sweeping manner of the breed. 'But this female band is banned item.' He eventually managed to get his NOC and was delighted until he read the fine print: "Male artistes only." He briefly toyed with the idea of passing them off as transvestites but dismissed the idea as impractical and one that would risk exposure at the first raid andbody search.
Tickets had been purchased, visas procured and our man was all set to transform the pub scene with his brand of Manila Spice but was forced to abandon his plans by an unfeeling bureaucracy. 'This stupid rule is over hundred years old and they still haven't changed it, he moaned piteously. 'We will change the name of Cubbon Park and all road names but we will never change these stupid colonial rules. This is the true Indian tragedy." In these Talibanic times perhaps the need of the hour is a Ministry for the Promotion of Vice and the Suppression of Virtue?