A slice of the photo album page of a first cousin on my other FB account (reserved for extended family). He’s from Benares which is also my birth place where my late maternal grandfather, originally from Swamimalai, Tamil Nadu, was a prominent Vedic scholar all his life – Vishwanatha Shastri from Hanuman Ghat. I have not seen this cousin since childhood and he still lives in my grandfather’s house. I have fond memories as a 7 or 8 year old, of a palatial but modestly furnished house with many rooms, filled with Hindu pilgrims who came to Benares for all kinds of ceremonies; a granary full of sacks and sacks of rice and other grains; exciting visits to the ghat for bathing in the river; a kitchen where my grandmother and aunts cooked over the fire in big pots for a large family – very large when everyone was visiting, which meant my grandparents, their 4 sons and 5 daughters and about 50 grandchildren; cows right outside on the cobble-stoned गली that would arch their heads back to have their dewlaps petted; the fresh smell of grass and cow dung, which smelled more like grass than cow dung; the regular visits of a snake charmer who would let us, the children, hold the snake and its little slithering snakelet offspring in our hands in exchange for two cups of rice in payment; really delicious Banarasi kachori; a bazaar where I remember being fascinated by little toy boats – pop pop boats – that would go round and round on buckets of water, propelled by vegetable oil burners; kite-flying on the terrace; older female cousins who mysteriously spent a number of days isolated from the rest of the family in a room upstairs in the terrace every now and then; elaborate stagings of the Rasa Lila by all of the children, choreographed by the older ones among them, with elaborate costumes, for the elders; and a neighboring wealthy UP family whose wealthy sons would come back home past midnight tottering down the road very drunk, very naked and shouting obscenities, the children among us rushed back inside so we couldn’t stare down from the verandah, my older female cousins back on to the verandah in no time to watch and giggle.
That past seems distant now but unlikely things can trigger elaborate memories. In this case, my cousin is a staunch भाजपा supporter, whose FB posts are long Hindi screeds – and jokes – targeting Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi. Can you tell? The screen-capture’s combination of masculine bravado, religious iconography, icons of neo-liberal lifestyles, post-photoshop internet erotica, and a distinct brand of homilies for everyday life, ought to be termed “Facebook Values” (why not? We already have Hallmark Holidays).