Towards liberalism

I was raised in a fairly conservative family; my father’s atheism not preventing him from being socially conservative. Until I went to college, I never blew candles for my birthday, for they were deemed to be “against Indian culture” at home. I went to RSS Shakhas, my seniors at RSS stuck BJP posters on my door, and except for the 1989 Assembly elections when BJP didn’t put up a candidate in Kanakapura, my parents always voted for that party.

My wife comes from a different kind of family. They are religious but can be described as being more “secular” (her name (Priyanka) might suggest to you their political leanings). So she grew up doing poojas and keeping vratas on all sorts of random Hindu festivals, but also blowing candles on her birthday and calling up “Santa” and getting Christmas presents also. Yeah, you look for compatibility on several axes when you’re searching for a long-term gene-propagating partner, but political leanings are usually low down on that compatibility list.

Last year, I totally and completely failed to appreciate her celebration of Christmas, instead treating it as yet another random holiday, before and after which nobody did anything at work. I failed to give her any gifts, or organize any “christmas events” for her. Yeah, the in-laws came over, we had set up this little crib based on dolls we’d purchased in Sri Lanka on our honeymoon and all that (unfortunately we misplaced that set, else we’d’ve displayed it as part of Dasara too, this year), but I must admit I’d failed to “celebrate” the festival. And in my defence, it was never a festival that I had celebrated, so “forgot” was actually a valid excuse.

So this year we decided to have a Christmas party at home. Basically called a few friends over, most of whom responded with astonishment (thanks to my RSS legacy), but were kind enough to land up. And once again we searched hard and found that “crib set” and set it up. And started playing Christmas carols, until I got bored and switched the music to Black Sabbath, which nobody really minded. Much alcohol was consumed (especially wine, given the Christmas spirit), plum cake was had and Chinese food ordered in.

In the intervening years I’ve found myself becoming more and more socially liberal. It probably started when I moved to IIMB; I think that was the time I stopped being judgmental of people based on their backgrounds, and stuff. That was the time when I started respecting individual rights, and those leanings got stronger as I slowly opened up, joined a libertarian-leaning mailing list, and realized that this was actually what I (as a person, irrespective of my background) was about.

On a foreign vacation earlier this year, thanks in part both to the lack of interesting vegetarian options and the availability of fairly succulent-looking meat, I stopped being vegetarian. A few months after that I participated in a “Ramzan meat walk” (though I didn’t consume much meat during the walk, since a lot of it was ‘hardcore’). I find it silly now that I’d actually joined a group of hostel-mates that campaigned for a “vegetarian table” at the hostel mess because the non-veg food “looked too gross”. But when someone starts singing “Silent Night”, I only remember that variation that a chaddi dost and I had come up which changes the song’s lyrics in a way that it ends with “and two souls become three”.

Given a chance, if I were to register as a voter and there were elections tomorrow, I might still vote for the BJP, following family tradition, but that would be more in line with economic thought and lack of options rather than my conservative background. I oppose the forced 11pm shutdown of Bangalore pubs, but don’t care about it enough to join protests on that front. If the government subsidizes Haj and Kailas Mansarovar Yatras, I demand that I get funding to attend the Pastafarian conference in Texas. And I still intend to open my autobiography (whenever I write it) with the lines “As Babri Masjid came crashing down, I celebrated. It was my tenth birthday and we had a party at home … “.

5 thoughts on “Towards liberalism”

  1. What I find especially interesting is that when talk about conservatism, you somehow don’t talk about alcohol.

  2. By any chance do you feature in the book ” The beautiful and the damned” by sidhartha deb.. if yes than quite a change from whats little is in the book..

  3. I don’t see how holding a Christmas party at home is equivalent to being “socially liberal”. It is a social pretension more than anything else.

    Also, conservatism is not so much about being religious or traditional. It is an attitude that demands a certain amount of scepticism towards change and the latest fashion be it in politics, economics or culture. A conservative loathes change for change’s sake. Instead, he respects the tried and tested over the novel and the eccentric. It is a pragmatic philosophy.

    Sadly, there’s too much vilification of the word “conservative” by thoughtless and shallow liberals these days.

  4. Also, a lot of people talk about being “socially liberal” but “economically conservative”. Such men are labeled “libertarians” in the world today.

    I don’t understand this breed. I’m not sure if it’s possible to be “economically conservative”, but “socially liberal”. Social and Economic conservatism go together. In the absence of social conservatism, the success of a free-market economy will only be a pipedream.

    The 19th century is often held up as a remarkable triumph of laissez faire economics. That’s true. But the Victorian era was also a very conservative era that emphasized hard work, family, thrift and enterprise. These are essentially conservative virtues. A more socially permissive society would’ve had less appetite for hard work and ambition!

    Also, I’m surprised that you’re turning more “liberal” with age. For most people it’s the other way around. As Churchill once said – “If you’re not a liberal at 20, you have no heart, and if you’re not a conservative at 40, you have no head”

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