Thursday, April 03, 2008

Beauty or Utility? Home or Office?

The following is the artcile that I posted to WritersBlend in the month of March when the Leit Motif was "Women"

If I ask the question “What is more important in life? Beauty or Utility?”, 99 out of 100 will say Utility, without even thinking. This is almost as if beauty were a negative attribute.

After much thinking about a possible explanation, this is what I understand.

The adjective “beautiful” has been wrongly used to describe so many ugly creations of man, that the mention of “beauty” sometimes brings negative connotations to the mind.

Naked models dressed provocatively, walking a ramp, to offer cheap titillation to lecherous men (and women) for the sake of money, are often described as “beautiful”.

The fair complexion has been “beautified” by those who wish to sell fairness creams.
The cosmetic industry and beauty saloons are selling beauty.
Several “ugly examples of beautification for commercial purposes “can be given but the point I want to make is this.
The ulterior motive behind “beautifying” certain things is so well known to all of us that beauty is seen not as a virtue anymore but as something that is very shallow. The meaning of beauty has been reduced to something that merely pleases the senses and has no greater significance in the affairs of the world.

This can be clearly seen in certain anecdotes that you hear so often.
“Beauty is skin deep. Beauty lies in the eyes of a beholder.” That is what they have been telling us for ages. They sound so irrefutable!
In essence, the true meaning of beauty is forgotten or completely lost.

In the same way, utility or utilitarianism has been glorified and venerated; not by a particular individual or a category this time, but by people in general. The reason is, utilitarianism is caused and fuelled by greed and all of us are greedy. So the glorification was necessary if only to serve as a justification of our greed, if not anything else. In course of time, utility has been associated with necessity, with purpose, usefulness, fruitfulness, worth and with value. The result is that an entire generation is convinced that beauty is mere ornamentation and utility is purposefulness.

It took me a single reading of Tagore’s essays to realize that there has been so much misunderstanding!!! I realized that utility stands for fragmentariness and beauty stands for wholesomeness.

The open spaces, the rains, the trees, the mountains, the people stand for beauty. Harmony, goodwill, peace, cooperation and love are the traits of beauty.
On the other hand, the cluttered offices, the air conditioners, the lorries with their exhausts, the vendors with their goods, the plastic covers stand for utility. Competition, greed, shrewdness, diplomacy, hostility are the traits of utilitarianism.

All things that are wholesome, complete and one in nature are beautiful. It is needless to say therefore that all things that exist in their natural state are wholesome and therefore beautiful.
Utility happens when you break the whole into fragments.

The evergreen forests stand for beauty. The furniture and timbre made from trees cut down stand for utility.
The breeze from the open spaces stand for beauty. The artificial air conditioners stand for utility.
The waterfalls stand for beauty. The power station stands for utility.
Once again, utility happens when you break the whole into fragments.

One may ask the most expected question. Are the offices, the vendors and lorries not necessary for our survival?

Yes. As long as they are driven by need they may be inevitable.
But once they become driven by greed, they begin to destroy all beauty around them and create nothing but ugliness.

Think about this.
The trees in Bangalore are all being brought down because someone there believes that utility is more important than beauty. The lakes are being closed for gain of more lands for construction. Again because, someone thinks utility takes precedence over beauty.

In place of trees and lakes, offices are being built. More trees are cut to build apartments for the people who spend all their time in these offices. In order that the people working in these offices may spend their money to buy goods they really don’t need, some more trees are cut down to build shopping malls.

In summary, man’s preoccupation with utility has converted this entire world into a gigantic office to which the home has become a mere appendix.

What has all this to do with the subject of women?
The connection I am trying to establish is that...
Utility is a man’s preoccupation and beauty, a woman’s.

Nurturing a plant in the garden, cooking for a family, bringing up a baby, decorating a home are all a woman’s preoccupation….. in all of these one can see a woman’s unconscious preoccupation with beauty and wholesomeness.

The cars, the factories, the chimneys, the concrete jungles and their wooden furniture that stand for utility are the production of a man.
Whereas the home, the people in living in them, the love that’s binds them, the paintings decorating the walls, the flowers in the vases, the carefully tended gardens and their plants, the aroma in the kitchen that stand for beauty are the creation of a woman.

Having understood that the office represents fragmentariness and home represents wholesomeness, I am flattered to know, to realize that our society endowed women with the responsibility of home and men with the responsibility of office. The more important one entrusted in the custody of more able hands.

This is not to say that a woman’s place is at home although I am not very sure sometimes. But surely a woman’s priority should be the home over the office. Her job is more important, more difficult and she alone is capable of doing it. I am simply saying that the home is a woman’s prerogative.

In today’s world characterized by hostile competition, greed, consumption of materials, mistrustfulness and a struggle for survival, perhaps women’s participation in office is somewhat necessary if not indispensable. The above fact notwithstanding, women need to prioritize. They are often faced with the question Home or Office?

The torch bearers of feminism, the custodians of liberation, the advocators of equality, all short sighted, shallow thinking people, are sending out the wrong messages. If a man can do it, why not a woman?

It is very difficult to escape the influence of the rhetoric, but one must understand that men and women are inclined to different things by nature. There is inequality in nature which must be preserved.
If men and women were meant to equal one another and had a common purpose to fulfill, there would not have been two sexes in nature. Nature would have created just one sex and there would have been uniformity.

The very fact that the creator has created two different sexes should tell us that we have different reasons for coming into the world, that we have different interests to pursue and that we are unequal.

By aiming at equality, by attempting to do all those things that a man does, a woman only succeeds in relinquishing those special qualities and special rights that nature has bestowed upon her to create beauty and wholesomeness all around her. She is also shirking from the responsibilities that nature had endowed her with.

Every society, every home, every situation calls for some kind of sacrifice to be made for its sustenance, well being and progress.

To substantiate this, I will use Bangalore as an example. If the beauty of this city has to be restored, what should be done? People should stop driving one man cars and use public transport instead, thus preventing the necessity to construct more roads, thus preserving greenery.
People should walk as much as they can and not drive everywhere thus refraining from polluting the atmosphere. In other words, certain sacrifices will have to be made to sustain the environment of the city.
The conclusion is that, the virtue of sacrifice or abstinence preserves beauty and wholesomeness, whereas indulgence necessitates utilitarianism and results in fragments.

This was an example from the environment scene. But this holds true in every facet of life. Every home, every society asks for sacrifice (mostly in the form of abstinence from indulgence) for its well being, sustenance and progress.

From time immemorial women have found themselves expected to make this sacrifice while men indulge. (This too has evoked much rhetoric from our feminists). This may seem unfair at the first glance and but if you look carefully, you will understand it is a woman who has the more difficult task at hand of creating a home, of creating wholesomeness and it is a woman who has the self control to make the necessary sacrifices.

The biggest challenge that a woman is faced with today is not a man, not discrimination, not oppression.
The challenge is to understand that she has a greater purpose to fulfill in this world than a man and to discover her purpose.
It is to understand that the almighty meant the man and the woman to complement each other and not compete with each other.
It is to understand that her place in the family, in the society is that of someone who holds the reins to unbridled horses.
The challenge is to decide for herself who she is and what she wants even as the feminists try hard to tell her who she is and what she should want.

I would like to conclude by quoting George Bernard Shaw. “If women were as fastidious as men morally or physically, then, that would be the end of the human race”.


Ed Vis said...

The trees in Bangalore are all being brought down because someone there believes that utility is more important than beauty. The lakes are being closed for gain of more lands for construction

Sowmya, I agree with everything you wrote. I was in Bangalore last year and I was literally shocked the way things are done over there.

What ever happened well thought out “ town planning.” Every where I visited, I saw High rise apartment buildings coming up one after another....My question is "Does anyone knows from where people are getting their water supply? Does anyone knows where sewerage is disposed?

In US, people say "one person's terrorist is another person's freedom fighter." Similarly, I am concerned whether "one building's sewerage is another building's water supply?

Sowmya said...

Dear Ed Vis,

Welcome to this space :-)
I am concerned too but I am hopeful things will get better once the construction phase of Bangalore has come to an end... You should be in Bangalore right now... It is very very green... There is spring bloom everywhere... I am much relieved...

Do visit this space again... :)

By the way, may I know how you came across this blog?