“In Rajasthan, we decorate our horses and our women.” I was browsing through a book of traditional Indian textiles. It was filled with bland photographs of the most wonderful saddle cloths and other tack items for horses and skirts, blouses and shawls for women. In typical Rajasthan fashion, the colours were bright and decorations over the top! The owner-manager of the hotel, the Hotel Nachana Haveli, looked over my shoulder and dropped that particular little non-PC bomb. I loved it and went scooting back to my, mostly feminist, female travelling companions to get the reaction! The westerners clucked and our Indian host said it was so typical of the male-dominated Indian culture, especially that of this particular desert state.
But it got me thinking. About how incredibly clever we males are about decorating our women. In rural communities, where men still have horses, they actually have to go out, catch the horse, brush, comb and groom before they can add the finery and make it something that shows off the owner’s high status in society. Now, I don’t know much about rural women. Perhaps their men need to catch them before the decoration can begin, but the urban ones I know and the ones I saw in India are a particularly well-trained bunch. They are almost all self-decorating. They can be seen in the many exterior decorating shops measuring the feel and drape of textiles, matching colour schemes while ensuring that the whole picture adheres to the strict decorating rules, all laid down by the women who make the rules.
While all this self-objectification is happening, the men are free to sit back, undecorated, and observe while putting back a beer or three. Sometimes the men are called upon to put in an admonishing word to an errant, undecorated women but it is thankfully rare. The women do a very good job of it on their own! Of course, there are some men who are part of the whole decorating thing. But all real men know that these are overly traditional, arty or otherwise limp-wristed. Real men wouldn’t fall for that kind of nonsense. Tie-dye T-shirts for us! (Not so?)
So why all this Indian culture stuff now, 6 months after I should have got over it all and returned to being a proper westerner? It was all brought on by sitting at Fournos Bakery at the Grove yesterday, people-watching over a delicious salmon board.It is quite amazing how “In Pretoria, we decorate our women!” I’m not sure about the horses. And we do it the lazy way. Well, they do it for us. Pretoria ladies, even in the boring winter are well turned out. (It’s interesting that we use a horsey term for being well dressed!) In the fashion of the day, there are plenty of spandex-clad thighs and bums, peeping out from cheek-revealing tops, to keep the aesthetically-minded men happy all day. Our women are decorated. But so, it seems, are our horses!
The final verdict? The men of Rajasthan are honest about it. In the west, we would deny it. Either way, our women and our horses are well decorated.