Innocence is a state of mind, not the ambiance of nature
It's either acute amnesia or height of hypocrisy that has assumed a pandemic proportion. We're in it together. While we don't leave out any occasion to paint the town red, we lament the loss of bucolic innocence which we never possessed. We read headlines such as 'The day my village lost its innocence' or 'End of the age of innocence' etc. We package our eulogy on the demise of innocence with so much nostalgia that we shed a thousand tears at our urban gatherings. At home, expat parents regret the loss of innocence whenever their daughters come home late, safe and secure. "Wish we were back in our village," cries the mother. "We should have left the kids back home," regrets the father.
But the truth is our hamlets had never been innocent. Nor had we been. Humans can never be. The fall of man happened in the Garden of Aden when the first humans, Adam and Eve, committed the first disobedience. With myth, fables and anecdotal evidences by our side, it isn't realistically fair to say innocence had been the pillar of pastoral happiness. The modern man indulges in such make-believe myths to bail himself out of the mess he is in.
The word innocence has been misunderstood and misinterpreted by the common man and the literati alike. Thousands of verses have been written glorifying the 'inculpable virtues of pastoral life' while blaspheming the 'urban panoply'. I had made my own immature contribution to the mess. I feel sorry about it.
"Just a couple of decades back we all lived in hamlets. Rustic and serene. We dived into flowing rivers and placid lakes. A big splash of freshness energised our souls. We bit into the Alphonso mangoes mama plucked from our own backyard. We deep-fried the giant danio dad fished from our own paddy fields. No one visited vegetable shops. We never had one. We ate the eggs that mama's 'Juliets' laid in the laundry basket. Their 'Romeos' that dustbathed in the garden lay down their lives to satiate our guests. Life was a drop of nectar. As sweet as the juice that the palmyra trees brewed overnight." This is what Yours Truly once wrote in a past-present study. Wifey praised me to the moon and back after reading it.
Innocence has often been construed as an impeccable image of the abundance of nature. Social media artists stretch the definition of innocence to a ludicrous level. The portrait of a giggling grandma, her face gaunt and skin swarthy and wrinkled, is captioned 'The innocence of countryside'. An angelic smile isn't the signpost of pastoral innocence. I grew up observing villagers all my childhood. Hiding behind my mum's mundu (sarong), brightened by the good old Tinopal fabric whitener, I had watched many such fake icons of innocence.
Valliamma, a 70-plus widow who my mum said had breastfed me once upon a time, dragged her frail body and a bagful of tales to every home twice a day. The septuagenarian who lived in a single-room hut, bitched about people in exchange for food. She turned to bad news for sustenance. She was an ancient mobile version of Facebook. Once upon a time, my village was full of such Valliammas, who remind me of the Shakespearean line, "One may smile, and smile, and be a villain."
Beevathumma, a 40-plus farm hand, was our Instagram, transmitting vivid images of all that's bad. Kunjipennu, a middle-aged jobless woman, was our Twitter provider. She tweeted scorns at every passerby, good or bad; rich or poor; ugly or pretty. The quotidian drabness of the village life had blown so much hatred into their minds. Like they say an idle mind is the devil's workshop. And you want me to call them icons of innocence? Kunjipennu closed down her tweeting business after her daughter Manorama (name changed) was raped by Ramanathan and she became another decimal in the number of sexually abused minors in India's 'innocent villages'.
My jaw drops when I think back on the men of villages in my childhood. They lived a much faster and more colourful life than the urbanites. Ramu the fisherman was married with a number of kids. Thanka, a widow with three teenaged children who lived three plots away, was so lonesome she invited Ramu's august company in the day, sparing the nights for her boyfriend's legal better half. It worked for them but gave me heartburn whenever I passed by both houses on my way to the grocer. My village had many such Ramus.
Sathyabama settled back in my village with four school-going children after her husband died in Colombo. The reasonably well-off family had employed the farm hand Kumaran who was soon promoted to the status of a boyfriend. I unlearned all the moral lessons learned at the Tagore Memorial School whenever I went to their house to borrow books or magazines. The whole village lived with their alliance of convenience. My neighbourhood had many such Kumarans.
Nouveau riche from the Gulf as well as poor fishermen rubbed shoulders at the little whorehouse we had. They relaxed in the shades of giant mango trees arching over the house by National Highway 17 as we toddled to our family business. "Don't look there," my uncle would instruct. Apart from such parental guidance and the murder of a couple of clients, patriarchy and flamboyance never faced moral policing.
If we have to secure our village homes as soon as the sun sets, If we have to escort our daughters to the village ice cream stall, if we have to hide our girls from ogling and marauding gangs, the so-called innocence of village is nothing more than a poetic construct invented to discredit urban civilisations. Innocence is a state of mind, not the ambiance of nature. Let's stop masquerading