Through Gold-Tinted Eyes

We are shallow because we have become enslaved by gross materialism, the glitter of gold and its equivalents, for which reason we think that only the material goods of this earth can satisfy us and we must therefore grab as much as can while we are able. ~ F. Sionil Jose

   I sigh as I think about society. Deeply, with a little disappointment, and a little understanding. The comprehension of the utter reality that society will not change.  Consider a wedding for example, these are some of the subjects discussed when the bride and groom enter the stage.

“Did you hear? Its a love marriage! The parents must be so disappointed.” – Why? Love isn’t a crime. Stealing however, is. So is rape, abuse, and adultery – a fair amount of which also occur hidden behind closed doors.

“Did you hear? She’s finally getting married, poor girl. Luckily for her at the age of 31 they were able to find her a groom.” – Maybe she was settling down in her career. Maybe she wasn’t ready to get married. Marriage is a commitment and a responsibility; if you’re not ready for it, you shouldn’t be forced into it.

“Oh dear! The groom is far more fair than the bride. What a shame for the family. Ah well, at least she’s got decent features.” – Mmmm…

“She’s wearing too much gold! Why are her parents trying to objectify her?” – Because if she doesn’t wear enough gold the following scenario will happen:

“She’s not wearing enough gold. Her parents probably can’t afford it, tch!”

   These are only several of the whispers amongst the audience on a wedding day. Yet, one subject particular to Kerala is the one of gold, where its still very much a custom concept to wear a large amount of gold. If this a new idea to you, trust me, its quite an interesting debate to be having.

  In Kerala, gold is weighed in grams or sovereigns, where 8 grams of gold is equivalent to 1 sovereign. And this 1 sovereign is equivalent to 25,000 Indian Rupees. A bride “fashionably” is draped with approximately 100 ‘sovereigns’ of gold, and that’s on average; some wear less, a fair number wear more. Yet instead of all of these numbers, let me put this information in easier terms for you.

An estimated $38,000 is spent for the bride on gold on the wedding day.

Or 25-30 Lakh Rupees.

Its a debate I’ve had with my family and more, and I still can’t understand why you would spend so much on such a materialistic article. So as I go through this write-up of mine, as well as to be informative and to have a fair discourse, I’m trying to get an inch closer into understanding this old-fashioned concept.

Pallavi Eyes Gold
‘Gold-Tinted Eyes’ © Pallavi Radhakrishnan

   From Egyptian pharaohs, to the Aztec civilisation in Mexico, to even the myth of ‘El Dorado’ – The Lost City of Gold in South America – the ownership of gold was appreciated for its extravagance and high value  (Larmer, 2009). In Kerala specifically, it was during the era of the Roman empire, where Europeans would come to the port of Cochin to trade gold coins in exchange for cinnamon, cardamon and pepper (Larmer, 2009). Consequently it had been implemented in those merchandising days that those who had gold, were traders and therefore were the affluent of the society, giving them an elevated social ranking (Larmer, 2009).

That still hasn’t changed.

The association of gold and a prominent social standing is still very much prevalent within the Kerala society, and perhaps in other parts of India too.

Being the most literate state, and contributing to 3% of the population of India, about 7-8% of the gold industry is taken up by the Kerala community (Larmer, 2009). If you take one drive across the any city in Kerala, you’ll see at least 15 billboards and adverts illustrating gold franchises, from Joy Alukkas, to Malabar Gold, to Bhima Jewellers, amongst many others. Interestingly enough, according to a recent article “Muthoot Finance, Manappuram Finance and Muthoot Fincorp jointly hold nearly 263 tonnes of gold jewellery, which is higher than the gold reserves of Belgium, Singapore, Sweden or Australia” (Karun, 2016). So forget Kerala’s part in India for a moment, these companies have got a higher reserve amount compared to some of the wealthier regions across Europe and Australasia!

   Given the belief that there exists a higher social ranking with the more gold you wear, its common to see that a bride will be draped across her body with the same, in the form of necklaces, bangles, earrings and more. Hence when a daughter is born into the family, it is embedded in the Father’s mind that he has to raise and save money for her wedding day, so that he can hold himself in pride. Just for that one day.

But why?

Why do Keralites invest so much in gold?

Social standing is only one of the reasons.

Another is the feeling of security. Gold is the one article that can provide you with immediate financial returns, in the sense where you can go to any gold or pawn shop and exchange it for money immediately. Hence individuals have a secure feeling if they have enough of this commodity.

My little snippet: My brother recently got married in December. I had fought with my parents to the core that I would not wear gold on that day, not because my Father can’t afford it, but because I simply didn’t want to. Yet I was still recommended that I should. And although everyone commented on how pretty I looked, and fawned over the piece of jewellery, just with the one necklace I felt overdressed and uncomfortable. It was not my wedding day, and even if it was, that one necklace (which I’m not used to even wearing on a normal basis) was like a burden to me. I felt like it was a burden because of its association with social standing. Because it went against my values, where social standing is not a conceptualisation I believe in, and even something I haven’t grown up with! I’ve grown up with being a good person at heart, in understanding the power of generosity that my Father has invested in me, the power of love and kindness that my Mother has imparted to me – not social standing. 

I’ve now given back the necklace to my Mother and suggested that instead of keeping it in the bank locker for it to collect dust she can exchange it. Also, if I had $38,000, I could have traveled to Malawi and back at least 25-30 times, or even just completed a whole trip across Europe, plus saved. Suffice to say, don’t be surprised by my attire or articles on my wedding day – just saying. 

This article isn’t about me (although it includes my snippet and my beliefs). Its not to say that people should wear less gold, or more gold – each to their own. But its about addressing society, as this whole month has been an attempt to do – to diminish the judgement of people by their wealth or their social standing. You want to understand people? Watch how they interact with others, anyone, not just business associates or family. It tells you a lot about who they are.

Note: I read a very fascinating article on the history, current mining of gold across the world, and the environmental damages caused by the same, written by Brook Larmer for the National Geographic Magazine, titled “The Real Price of Gold”. You can find it on Google Scholar, if any of what I’ve written has caught your eye. 🙂

Side note: Did you know that for every gram of gold mined, approximately two to five grams of mercury is released into the air as the gold goes through its chemical process to  achieve the shine that you see it as in the shops (Larmer, 2009). Mercury poisoning isn’t only hazardous to the environment and the ecological systems, but is also considered to be extremely poisonous to the human body as well (Larmer, 2009). So gold isn’t only emotionally and financially draining, but health-wise its dangerous too.