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Have You No Mother Or Sister?

Lotus Temple

The Lotus Temple to the Baha’i’s faith in southern New Delhi, concrete flower blooming out of the murky haze of a frantic city. Thousands visit everyday grazing through its gardens, corralled into lines outside a door, as one herd is silently herded out another door, the new herd gestured to sit, mute, within stark and barren petals rising high, one central, golden emblem the only relief atop budding roof. Two modest arrays of flowers, dwarfed in the cavernous space of the giant Lotus, the only concession to the monotony of white, marbled floor to break up the semi-circles of hundreds of plain chairs. An oasis of calm, silence and bemusement for tour buses’ herds.

Beside the Lotus, a visitor centre, the only attraction, no other thing to see amidst acres of flat, untraversable grass and flower beds. To, perhaps, shine light on, enlighten and explain who, what, why an empty and silent flower exists. The Bahai’s accept all religions or none, reject none or all, within the temple any scripture or holy book may be read aloud, hymns may be sung but nothing else is allowed to be said, no sermons read out, no instruments played to accompany song, no discussions of faith and absolutely no rituals or ceremonies performed. Would pagan verse from Europe be allowed to be read aloud is a thought or indeed would the Book of Jedi?

While accompanying two, young German women, volunteers from Project Why NGO, around the visitor centre, an elderly Indian man approaches, friendly, offering his hand in a warm gesture to shake, asking ” Where are you from?”, England and Germany the reply. Next he enquires ” Are these your wives?” …………err no just friends. A joke, it must be as he smiles broadly still shaking hands, then leans forward close to the ear and says ” I will give you Rs1 Crore for them”…………ten million Rupees! Rather shocked and sure it must be still a joke, English politeness and embarrassment takes over. No, no, no, ha ha, nice to meet you, goodbye. Extricate hand, wave goodbye just so he gets the message, turn round so he gets it for sure, a bemused trio stare at each other in wonder about what just happened. Laugh it off, talk about it later as a funny incident, but it sits uneasily, Should a joke be taken with good nature no matter what the subject? Was it, is it, harmless? Should such talk be accepted in a strange, foreign land where tradition and manners are very different from Europeans are used to?

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Thoughts turn to incidents in the last six months, well covered in the media, the brutal gang rape and murder of an innocent in Delhi, another in South Africa equally brutal, the almost daily report of abuse of young girls and young women, in India particularly. During an evening discussion on how men talk to women in India and how to deal with such situations, a traditional and common phrase emerges. Nearly every man and boy respects and protects his mother and sisters with a reverence and devotion common in their extended family tradition. When any man talks to woman or girl with any suggestive disrespect, the retort given, aimed at his manliness and family values , is “Have you no mother or sister?” An instant and unequivocal rebuke. It has a few interpretations but two ways of understanding it are; “How would you like it if I talked to your mother and sister that way?” and “What if your mother and sister heard you talking that way?”

There is now one European man whose mind has grown a little more for the better, with an understanding of the reality, a damn fool no longer, when presented with the unacceptable, upon hearing verbal distastefulness is armed and ready with the perfect and instant reply.

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