Mi Bodeguita del Medio

While my blog is named after a restaurant in Havana I hope to someday visit, here you will find musings, rants, political incorrectness, thoughts on Indian Nationalism, strong straight-forward opinions and tid-bits.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Purposeful verborrea ?

Each day I come across instances that occur around me that if you think about it, are deeply rooted into history. The defensive nature of people with regards to this region as compared to the rest of Spain. The desire to stand out and be considered different from the rest of Spain, and the more extreme independentistas. However, behind each stand in the Catalan region, there is a reason.

Under the Fascist regime of Franco everything was prohibited. Any artistic or liberal minded person that tried to influence others was immediately executed. Homosexuals were executed. Anyone disrespecting the institution of marriage as established by the Catholic Church was arrested and possibly executed (separation and divorce were illegal). Women did not work outside their homes, or at most in family-run businesses. It was a chauvinistic, male dominated society (hmm, maybe the expression “macho ibérico” was born in this period?). People in the autonomous regions of Galicia, Euskadi, Catalunya, Valencia etc were not allowed to speak their native languages. The country was controlled from the centre, and the language of the centre was Castellano, and everybody had to speak it.

It may not sound so extreme or harsh from the outside but the only equivalent I can imagine given my background (coming from what I believe is the most culturally diverse country on the planet) is the following: Imagine a region in South Asia that has a lot of different states and each has its own unique language and culture. All the states are more or less autonomous and there is a liberal and open minded government in place smoothly running these states with the central government allowing reasonable autonomy to these states. Suddenly one fine day, a violent group of people throw off the central government and take over. They bring all these states under one umbrella and call the country Dodo-land. Tamilians are now prohibited from speaking Tamil, Kerelites from speaking Malayalam, Bengalis from speaking Bengali, Gujratis from speaking Gujrati, Pubjabis from speaking Punjabi and so on. The only accepted language, pertaining to the central government is Dodo-language and everybody has to speak it. Apart from not being able to speak their languages, the rest of the regions have to believe in the religious ideology of the centre, lets say the religion of the central government is Dodo-ism. So, they cannot speak their languages, practice their regional traditions, and are forced to speak the Dodo language, go to Dodo-Churches and believe solely in Dodo-ism. Anyone going against this is categorised as liberal and therefore revolutionary, goes straight to jail for “provoking anti-government sentiments” and most probably gets executed, the decision depends on the whim of the officials.

The English performed many atrocities in India, but atleast didn't interfere with the culture or religions - Can you even imagine something like this in India? I can picture massive country-wide revolutions, protests and consequently a lot of blood-shed and war. Which is what happened in Spain. For three years, the national civil war ensued which finally ended in the dictators taking power with Franco at the top.

In spite of religious beliefs being the same, there was a lot of repression. Journalists, painters, sculptors, writers, artists, poets, musicians and anyone practising any form of artistic expression was randomly jailed and often executed. The prevailing fear made a lot of people passionate about their liberty flee the oppression and move to France, South America and other countries. During those 40 years, Spain was closed off to the rest of the world, and no outside influence was tolerated. The state sided with the influential upper class, the Church and the royal family. It was a sort of caste system with the royalty on top, hand in hand with the dictators, the Church next, the burgouis following them and then the common peasants. Could this also be a reason why modern spanish is so full of double meanings!? Qué piensan los españoles?

When Franco died in 1975, it was almost as though the entire country took its first “free breath” in forty years. All those decades of restrain suddenly gave way and people started to experiment with everything. Be it cinema, art, music, photography, literature, poetry – freedom was in the air and it reflected in every aspect of life. The woman was released from her role of “ama de casa” or housekeeper, and started to venture out into the business world and demanded a respect that she never had before.

In Catalunya, Galicia, Euskadi etc the repression was two-faceted. These people faced both overall general and cultural repression. Unable to speak their languages and practice their cultures openly, these regions are now reinforcing their identities with a vengeance, with Catalunya leading the way. I'm not too fond of politics and don't really know whats going. But the feeling I get being here is that there is a soft-revolution going on as far as negotiating with the centre with regards to autonomy of the region. I suppose the trick is to accept the present and go along. Although personally I believe in "united we stand, divided we fall," this is clearly more complex than just a black and white scenario.

So now, finally coming to the point - as of the 21st century, in my opinion the pendulum has swung the other way - the country has gone from one extreme to the other! If you watch the really successful internationally acclaimed films of Almodovar for example, you’ll note the excessive and rampant exhibitionism, experimentation with previously outlawed themes such as homosexuality, transexuality, prostitution etc. I recently watched a movie called “Amor Idiota” (idiot love) and I was totally shocked. A seemingly innocent title, my flatmate and I were looking to rent a romantic comedy. The movie turned out to be almost too embarrassing to watch. Today more Spanish women smoke as compared to men, gay marriages are legal, men are allowed “paternity leave” and the workforce constitutes of almost an equal number of young women as men. Sex is openly discussed. After the imposition of Catholicism for so long the generations born after the dictatorship ended are exploring other religions and spirituality. In certain ways, Spain has overtaken traditionally liberal countries.

Back to the comparison with India, all people in India don't even speak Hindi. We often have to use English to communicate between the North and South. But no matter what the language or culture, everyone from Kashmir to Kerela is Indian at the end of the day. Obviously someone in Spain back in 1935 didn't realise that its not the language that makes one feel from a certain region, its much more than that.

I would have liked to be a bird sitting on a tree one fine day in 1970 somewhere in Madrid just to observe things. As of the 21st century however, Spain has come a long way - and it shows.

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