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The latest Manyavar ad starring Alia Bhatt has been getting hatred, but what I couldn't understand is where the offensive part lies!
Lately, my FB page has been flooded with posts related to the new Manyavar ad. I would have loved to say that there have been at least some posts which are in support of it, but sadly most of them have been about not just lashing out at the ad but demeaning Alia Bhatt too in every possible way.
Now, I just don’t live out of India but I am married in a very different culture too. I am married to a north-American. Our cultures contrast in many ways (good or bad- depends on one’s perspective). So I am not always updated on the latest Bollywood movies, songs, ads, shows on the Indian TV etc. I usually come to know about them from FB, WhatsApp, basically social media. But in the last few days, as I logged on to FB, I saw not one but a good few no of posts related to this ad, and though usually I don’t react to most political/religious/even current-affairs related posts/arguments/views of others, simply scroll down through them, the posts related to this ad somehow grabbed my attention and I had to find out what exactly was going on? What exactly this Kanya Daan debate was and why so many people were getting so offended by it?
I found the ad on YouTube. As I clicked on it, the first thing that I noticed was that how many more thousands of dislikes it had than the number of likes (which again convinced me that there was something really offensive there, maybe about the religion, even the Gods). I hit the play button with much anticipation, expecting something on the lines of the movie PK or worse. The ad began, but much to my surprise, within 2 minutes, very quickly it got over too, and I was left dumbfounded to see how simple the ad was.
There is Alia Bhatt, dressed as and looking radiant in the role of an Indian bride. With the eyes that do talking and convey every single emotion of a new bride effortlessly ( happiness, joy, anxiety, even sadness) and with the most endearing smile playing on her lips, she says the simplest of things, things that only every girl (or every other girl) hears back home since her birth. At least in North India, at least where I come from. And at the end, as someone who has always been told by her parents that the home she was born in is not her home but she belongs to somebody else’s house- the man she’ll marry, just before the Kanya daan, with a very heavy heart, she suggests to make just one little change in this ages-old yet very important custom. A little thing, change of just one letter: Daan to Maan (Kanya Daan to Kanya Maan) basically da to ma. That is it! The simplest thing! ‘Maan’ means respecting, honoring someone and their wishes, in this context your own daughter/ women in general. Nothing derogatory about that, right? But the reaction to that video and the comments there (first few that I happened to read) left me confused and amazed to no end! I watched the ad again to make sure that I hadn’t missed on something, and again. And then again and again, just because how much I could relate to every single word she said there and how much I loved the ad. Finally, it made me so emotional that I couldn’t help but cry too!
Now worrying thing about this whole thing is, other than the fact that how many people are lashing out at the ad and Alia Bhatt and how many are making videos/posts explaining what ‘Kanya Daan’ really means and why does it hold such an important place in Hindu weddings. Amazingly, most of them are men who know nothing about being a ‘kanya‘ in our society or have ever experienced/ would ever experience anything like Kanyadaan. There are many highly educated too in my own friends list who have posted views against the ad ( and I am not saying they shouldn’t have an opinion contrary to mine, yet the kind of posts they’ve shared is what worries me). One of them might easily be one of the most educated person in the world (And no kidding. He has at least 6-7 degrees to his credit- B. Tech., M. Tech, B. Ed. MBA, PhD. You name it and he might have that degree). He shared a page involving Pooja Bhatt, Alia Bhatt and their father- Mahesh Bhatt, which tries to prove why the Bhatt family doesn’t believe in Kanyadaan. Some of you might know which post I am talking about. One of the most demeaning, insulting thing you can tell about a woman, a daughter more specifically. In this case Alia Bhatt.
One of them took a slightly better approach. He posted a video which tried to explain what the scriptures might have actually meant by this custom of Kanya Daan, and though I have to admit that definition by scriptures sounded endearing (at least in that video), even made sense to a certain extent, yet we have to accept that it’s something that might have been written many thousands of years ago. Things and reality might have been very different than what they are now. My question is what is so wrong in that ad that it is offending so many people?
Whatever Alia Bhatt says there, isn’t that the reality of countless women in our society? Truth be told, not just a few handfuls but millions of women grow up in their homes knowing that it’s not their home, but they are a guest there- a Paraya Dhan (at least until a few years back, in many places even now). I, for example, am one of them. It breaks your heart in a million ways when you are just a little girl and you come to realize that the place you think of and call as your home isn’t really your home. That you are a guest there (and mind it, not everywhere you are pampered like a guest, in fact quite the contrary), and it doesn’t get any better once you get married. It hurts everyday until you find the strength within and finally make peace with it (but the ones who really experience this, do we ever really make peace with it?). Many leave this world with that pain of belonging nowhere throbbing in their hearts like another organ in itself.
So, Kanya Maan– is it really that big of an issue that so many are not able to accept this little change? Is changing Kanya Daan to Kanya Maan (honoring/respecting/supporting a girl/woman in the truest sense and not treating/telling her that she is paraya dhan) really an attack on our culture? ( Do you see the irony of the situation here?).
Coming back to the ad, I probably wouldn’t have written this blog, probably wouldn’t have even cared to watch the ad and wouldn’t have reacted the way I have, had it not been for two reasons. Last few days some things have happened that have troubled me to the core and have put me in a spot where I can’t help but question many things regarding our culture all over again. Last few weeks, I- who lives thousands of miles away from home, is married in a very different culture- a culture where though conflict may exist between a married woman and her in-laws, but it doesn’t really go beyond that ( no violence, no humiliation, not even taunts- not even amongst the rural, not so-educated people).
I have been hearing from a very dear cousin (who lives back home in India in my native) that how his own mother- one of my aunts and Bhabhi are creating a havoc in his married life. How they are mistreating his new, very young wife. In spite of the fact that she has given into their almost every demand, has changed herself drastically ( does things the way they like, dresses the way they want her to), and yet how my cousin’s family taunts her every so often, not just on her ways but her family too ,maa ne kuch nahi sikhaya, iske maa baap to aise hi hai (her mother hasn’t taught her anything, her family hasn’t done anything), you know the drill. And not just in front of the elders of the family but sometimes end up humiliating her in front of the kids, even the housemaid! And worse, they think it’s their right! How come you would ask? because now she is their bahu (daughter-in-law), because she lives in their house, because she doesn’t belong to her own family anymore but them because she is married and was given away by her parents during the marriage. Because (and it hurts me very much to say this) she is now their property (they don’t say those words but they sure do treat her like that).
And as if that wasn’t enough, as I was struggling with this piece of news, 3-4 days ago, I woke up with another terrible news about a junior from my school. A girl who is no more. A girl who though I wasn’t very close to and don’t remember a lot about her because it was some 20 years ago that we lived in the same hostel building in a small village, yet she was someone who used to call me didi. Someone I knew, who I might have played with, laughed with, shared my food with. And in case you are wondering what happened to her? According to some of my juniors, a few years ago, she was set on fire by her own in-laws. Yes. Burnt! Alive! Like she was a thing!
No, I don’t mean to say here that all the problems related to how so many women are still mistreated in our society are because of this particular custom. I do not mean to say that a slight change in this particular custom will solve all the problems. Maybe most parents do look at ‘KanyaDaan’ and such rituals as just very important (and religious) practices and nothing more. May be many parents, they do not literally give away their daughters, but just comply to a custom, a ritual, something like garland exchange, like applying henna on hands, something that has been a very important part of our weddings for the longest times, yet we have to admit that there are many indeed who take these things literally (especially in rural setup). Such as my cousin’s family and the in-laws of my junior (who will never see the light of this world again). We have to admit that many of these customs do strengthen the thought process of such people.
If not for ourselves, then for my cousin’s wife’s sake and many thousands like her who are sailing in the same boat and my junior who left this world much too early, if I may suggest, let’s welcome such changes. Or at least not dismiss them without even looking at them and considering the possibility that they might help bring a good change in the society. It doesn’t necessarily have to be ‘KanyaMaan’ but something that won’t at least make our daughters feel like we are giving them away for good and they do not belong to us.
Many millions of women in our society have lived their whole lives like an outsider in their own homes (where they were born and where they were married). We owe this and many such changes to them and most definitely to our future generation. We really do.
So, here’s my question to you : KanyaDaan or KanyaMaan, which one would you choose?
A/N: I have never owned a single piece of clothing from Manyavar, nor do I intend to in the near future, and though I do definitely admire the acting skills of Alia Bhatt, I am no huge fan. In the last 2-3 years, I have seen only 2 movies of hers. Raazi and Udta Punjaab. Thank you for reading.
Image source: Still from the Mohey Manyavar Ad
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