Why is our culture (well, at least what I observe in India) so obsessed with covering up things?
It’s both figurative and literal. Literally, we seem to want to cover every possession we have….the TV, the washing machine, and even the food processor in the kitchen are covered with cloth covers, and there are specially made plastic covers available in the market for each of these gadgets (and more). The covering is perhaps to guard against dust…but that is not really a solution with a gadget that’s in use on a daily basis. I was amused to find at a friend’s place that the lacy cloth cover they had on the dining table was actually preventing them from dusting or cleaning the table properly. When I went next time, I noticed, to my further amusement, that a plastic sheet had been used to cover the tablecloth!
Some of this “cover up” seems also to do the westernized style of life. When one sleeps on a rush mat that is rolled out at night, and rolled up and stored away in the morning, there is not much that can be covered…but a bed with a mattress needs a bedsheet, a top sheet, and a duvet or an artistic bedspread on top of it all. In our country, all this just manages to catch a lot of dust, and has to be changed at regular intervals, creating a lot of work! Seating on the cement “pyol” or on the teakwood swing…or sitting on those same rush mats or dhurries….doesn’t involve any cover up material, but a sofa set must have cushions, and covers for those cushions, and sofa-backs…the fashionable (and affluent) life-style is still the one that imitates the western mode of life, with plenty of material, which may be unsuitable for our hot climates…but is followed, sometimes with an air-conditioner to keep out both heat and dust. We cannot even seem to stand having our wonderful sculptures of stone and marble as they are…we need to cover up “sensitive” body parts with cloth. Our ancient appreciation of the human body seems to be covered up by the cloth of prudery and hypocrisy.
Another form of cover-up, I notice, is that of our repressions in many ways. There are so many topics that are taboo for Indian families to mention; and we cover up, and pretend they don’t exist. Recently, working on some data for child abuse, and sexual abuse of women within the home, I found that it’s far more prevalent than most people realize….it’s all covered up within the family, and often hushed up…to the detriment of the victims, and to the general detriment of those who might be sensitized by a more open discussion of the topics, to be wary of such situations.
We seem to sometimes live in a cover-up world…especially we of the middle class. We are happy with our water supply, and turn a blind eye to the fact that our maids probably queue up for pots of water. We do not want to know how the trash that each houseproud woman or man throws out, accumulates in toxic piles in the landfills. We do not want to talk about how corrupt our leaders are, and how they are amongst us. We bribe our way to getting our various papers moved through government babudom…and then we do not want to talk about it.
Whatever is covered up (and denied)…to my mind…is something that will fester and get worse. Recently, a problem I had denied to myself came to a head and finally demanded resolution. Covering it up was the worst possible thing I could have done. Bringing it out into the open, talking about it, has made tackling it much easier.
Decency, morality…these seem to be words that cover up a lot of hypocrisy, too. A recent report on Indian sexuality in Indian homes says that 78% of parents do not discuss the topic of sex with their children, who then get right or wrong ideas from the peers or the internet. “Nice people don’t discuss this,” is often the refrain. What is wrong about discussing topics such as transgender, same-sex love, rape or eunuchs? Why do we pretend that these topics don’t exist, cloak them with the cover-up of invisibility? It’s as if these people inhabit an entirely different planet from us.
I agree that we need not be discussing such topics all the time, and all of us cannot be evangelists. But a willingness to accept that the world has many different hues is something we need to do….I must accept that I have dirty clothes and that the washing machine that cleans them need not be hidden away under a plastic cover, pretending to look like something else.