Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Move over, Deepak and Chirag because Khandaan ki Deepika is here

Okay. First of all, thank you Richard III

 Second of all, I will try and write this without stomping out a triumphal march, without whooping with joy and without waving my… let’s see now - tits perhaps, since all the bras are burnt to cinder by now?
 No? Anyway, let’s just say without waving something appropriately feminist-y

 I won’t do any of this because I know that in spite of what I’m going to say and in spite of all that has been already said on the subject, it will be a long, long time before women will be …

 Well, since we ARE on the subject, let me digress a tad to set the record straight. On what women want. We don’t want to be equal to men. At least I don’t. What I want is space – (the loftier word is freedom, I think) to exist as a woman. Not somebody else’s concept of a woman and certainly not what many men want women to be, but my own.

 And if that’s not clear, let me put it in perspective.
The fruit fly exists as a fruit fly, by its own concept of a fruit fly should be and not as the dung-beetle’s version. Got it? Not that I am saying men are dung beetles – though, I’ll have you know, these are clever little mites ; the only creatures on the planet - other than humans - who navigate their way around using the Milky Way.

 So, dung-beetles are people too and I want to be left alone to be a woman on my terms and I’m not going to rah-rah about women being equal to men. Or better. Or any of the rest of that circular, crappy argument. 

All I want to say is simply this. The identity of a person has always traditionally rested - barring a few matriarchal societies - in knowing (or not knowing) – who your father is. And the” legitimacy” of that identity rests solely on whether he married your mother and thus made “an honest woman” out of her. So tracing lineages and ancestry have been – and still are - essentially patriarchal exercises. That is why we have words such as ‘forefather’ and why all forms of identification like driving licenses, voter’s ID and even our very own Aadhar ask for your father (or husband’s) name, never your mother’s (or wife’s – are you kidding us?) name.

 This is also what fuels the hugely lucrative and flourishing industries of female foeticide and infanticide. Because women are dispensable and fortunately, largely combustible. I mean, you burn down one bahu, there are at least another three waiting in the wings to marry your “Khandan-ka-Chirag”. But without that “Khandaan ka Chirag”, that “Kulla-Deepak”, how would the glorious bloodline of our family continue?

 Well, genetics sees this enchilada somewhat differently.

 Let’s say you are a male skeleton found nearly 630 years after you were done in on a battle field somewhere in the English Midlands, now a car park. The experts who find you think that you might be the remains of Richard III, the last Plantagenet King of England. But they want to be sure. So what do they do?

 Rustle up some of your DNA, naturally.

 Then test it to see if it matches with that of any of your current day descendants.

 But here’s the rub. Not any descendant will do. Because not any old DNA will do.

And here’s why.
Both the human egg and the sperm contain genetic material which will jointly draw up the blue-print of a future human being. However, there are differences in the type and behavior of the genetic material contained in the egg versus that in the sperm.

 Oh, you mutter, so this is the part where I crow about the superiority of the DNA in the egg versus the sperm?

 No. I will just present the facts and leave you to judge. The DNA that determines the human genome (or the entirety of your hereditary information) is called the mitrochondrial DNA. This is found both in the human egg and as well as the sperm. But during fertilization, the mitrochondrial DNA in the sperm is destroyed. Which means that this all-important DNA, which carries your genetic history, can be passed on ONLY maternally. From mother to her daughter to her daughter to her daughter etc., etc.

 Now, just to cover all the bases - it’s not that the mother does not pass the mitrochondrial DNA on to her sons. She does. (Mums are like that only.) But her sons in turn will not (cannot, actually) pass it on to their children. Also, there are exceptions where the mitochondrial DNA IS transmitted paternally – i.e. from father to son to son to son etc, etc. But only in a few species - like honey bees, mussels and a variety of cicadas. 

Almost never in humans. Nor in dung beetles.

 Which means that if Richard III’s mum didn't have daughters who in turn didn't have daughters who in turn didn't have daughters all along the last 615 years, that skeleton in the car park would have had to remain a bag of bones that we think might have once been Richard III, but we couldn't say for sure.

 So, it is the woman who passes on the history of her ancestors and her own genetic legacy to her children. Unchanged, unedited; just as it was hundreds and hundreds of years ago. Hence the concept of the Mitochondrial Eve – but that’s a whole other can of DNA.

 In other words, it’s not the Deepaks or the Chirags that carry forward the bloodline of a khandaan/vamsh into future generations, but the Deepikas. And the Chiraginis. And the Roshinis. And the Diyas. And the Shamas.

And I dunno about you but finding out about this has got me so chuffed that now, I can no longer stop myself. From stomping out that triumphal march and joyously waving my….oh, I’ll find something to wave, don’t you snigger.
 And it might just be my mitochondrial DNA