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January 28, 1998


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Farzana Versey

The root cause of evil

Dominic Xavier's illustration Just as a society that has run out of whores finds solace in the embrace of a neglected and irritated wife, so also family values are the last straw of a civilisation afraid of AIDS, attraction and life. The family legitimises going to seed.

As Solzhenitsyn observed, "If people didn't live in families, no tyrant would be able to stay on his throne. He'd be washed away as if by a flood… They break our necks and all we do is start families."

Why am I railing so much against what is an institutionalised existence, what gave us our loved ones? Because most of us do not know the harm that a closed set-up can create. I have just received a letter from a doctor attached to a medical college in Aligarh who thinks I am doing a great disservice to "women, families, children and the nation at large by projecting your (and of five per cent of the women's) problems on the entire women's population."

He further urges, "Encourage them (women) to cope with fear, anger, love, jealousy, guilt, worry, burden, responsibilities, etcetera and take disappointments in their stride. As yet with most of your articles, you are simply adding to their anxiety and leading them to psychosis."

This gentleman believes that the family system prevents more than 90 per cent of physical, mental and social problems.

I think it is the root cause of most of the evil that stems from the human soul, and how the family can prevent a physical problem like arthritis or piles beats me!

Family values have given us such time-tested virtues as sati, and its modern-day incarnations -- the dowry system, four wives, wife as chattel, son as legitimate heir, daughter as temporary guest, complete obeisance towards elders even if they are talking utter rubbish… Incest, child abuse and sharing the brothers' and the cousins' wives is prevalent not only in the modern nuclear family, but also in traditional families where being close-knit is taken too far.

Remember the games we played as kids? They are all played in families: hide 'n' seek, robbers and thieves, snakes and ladders, hopscotch, dumb charades -- each one a willing and able participant. After all, the family has given us such healthy assets as ready-made role models (whether they are worth emulating or not), it has given us sibling rivalry to prepare us for the big bad world outside, it has brainwashed us and put every known stereotype on a pedestal for us to do pooja to every morning and claim never to forget. And when some horrible forces from purgatory come forth to tip the scales the other way, you must justifiably get frightened by this onslaught on your integrity. If keeping a dog on a leash or being kept on one is integrity, good for you.

Politics is not a dirty game you learn as a professional. You acquire all those sinewy skills in the sturdy family system -- how to slice your opponent not with a chop but with a sweet tongue, how to strive for one-upmanship, how to play one against the other, how to compete for space and affection. And how to smother. To posses. To grasp. To kill. To numb.

As dear Julian Mitchell lamented, "Freud is all nonsense; the secret of neurosis is to be found in the family battle of wills to see who can refuse longest to help with the dishes. The sink is the great symbol of the bloodiness of family life. All life is bad, but family life is worse."

And yet, it is this that is promoted as a haven of sorts, a satin-covered package offering a panacea for all ills that plague society. Just visit one old age home, an orphanage, a home for destitute women or the cages in the red-light areas and you will know all about the wonders of family values. All these people are where they are because the so-called family system did not give a damn.

We are now wanting to chase family values because we say, look, even America has realised its importance. Actually, American presidents and most western heads of state, with nice little mistresses and part-time lovers tucked away somewhere, find this a convenient deal to promote. You talk of family values and even your cat (aptly named Socks, that under-the-feet thing) gets fan mail answered and appreciated and, of course, paid for by the harried tax-payer, whose family values make her/him run after the pot of gold at the end of a rainbow on a summer's day.

Believe me, if there were no family values, people would be far more ethical. They would not need to fight for somebody else's dream and be encouraged to do something they do not want to do and pretend to be proud of a family tree and strew flowers at graves they never shed tears over.

Family values are all about trying to fool ourselves.

Illustration: Dominic Xavier

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Farzana Versey