The Body and Civic Duty
The wrestler’s somatic critique of hedonistic everyday life is not restricted to the “skin-deep” level of fashion. It is also directed toward larger issues of public, civic life. Wrestlers feel that physical health and fitness are directly related to one’s duty and ethical responsibility as a citizen. Consequently, it is argued, the weak, debauched everyman is not only undermining his own integrity but is, in effect, shirking his responsibility as a modern Indian.
Wrestlers, like many others, express cynical frustration with the hazards and alienation of modern life. In particular, they are vocally critical of those things which affect them personally. A ponderous, monolithic bureaucracy must be negotiated when seeking admission to schools. A formidable legal apparatus must be penetrated when applying for building permits, licenses, and interstate-transportation documents. Tension is inherent in dealing with police and other public officials. And one feels alienated by a pervading sense of powerlessness when performing everyday tasks such as buying rations at a state-run store, making reservations for a bus or train, or waiting for a shipment of building materials for the construction of a government-subsidized house. Accusations of corruption are legion, and many wrestlers with whom I spoke expressed a deep-seated distrust of police officers, railway booking clerks, local politicians, legal advocates, school administrators, bank managers, building contractors, and many others. Some wrestlers come from the ranks of these much-maligned public servants, and many wrestlers know people in high places. Despite this, however, the category of public servant, as opposed to those individuals who actually fill the role, is regarded with a great deal of suspicion and resentment. I often heard wrestlers talk of how they were unable to gain admission to school, take out a bank loan, or build an extension onto a house without first bribing someone involved; this did not solve the problem, it simply bought them access to a daunting, alienating bureaucratic maze.
While corruption is regarded as a public scourge that has penetrated almost every rung of public administration, state bureaucracy, and private enterprise, wrestlers are equally critical of a less administrative form of corruption: the practice of adulteration. Wrestlers are very suspicious of the quality of all commercial goods. Like many others, they doubt if the sugar they buy is in fact pure sugar. The same applies for flour, milk, salt, ghi, molasses, oil, or any other household commodity. Cement, coal, petrol, kerosene, and diesel fuel are all thought to be “cut” with some inferior product in order to increase profits by way of inflated volume. For wrestlers in particular, ghi and milk have become the symbols of once pure and pristine products which are now rendered less valuable through adulteration. I was told that it would be impossible for me to buy pure milk, and this from a wrestler whose family business was dairying. One of the elders at Akhara Ram Singh arranged for “pure” ghi to be made available to me through the aegis of a “reputable” dealer. Left to my own devices, he said, and others concurred, I would probably have ended up buying some half-and-half mixture adulterated with cheap vegetable shortening. One can only imagine the apoplectic effect this would have had on my digestive tract.
The inchoate world of suspicion, public distrust, and corruption shadows the parallel world of seductive self-indulgence. Thus, in the wrestler’s view, it is the young man who primps, preens, drinks tea, and watches films or television who is also most likely to take bribes and adulterate products. A satirical verse in a popular wrestling journal (Dwivedi 1974–1975: 33) captures this notion:
Immorality extends directly out from the unhealthy body to influence the ethics of public life. In part this equation is effected through a particular logic of responsibility and duty. Narcissism is manifest self-interest. As a person’s attention is drawn narrowly to himself, the degree of his responsibility to the common good diminishes. In this formula, corrupt power—whether it be the ability to influence ticket sales or building contracts—is concentrated in the individual and serves self-interest. It is significant that power, morality, and fitness are linked so closely in this logic. In a very real sense an individual is thought to be more susceptible to vice if his body is not fortified through exercise and disciplined training.
There is no product now which is not adulterated And no official will “move” unless well remunerated
Yes, we can live without the aid of television But without the mandate of T.V. is there a national mission?