Sociology of Flatulence



Farting

Written  by A. Avtans
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In Deepa Mehta’s movie ‘1947: Earth’ (1998), a Muslim Character tells his Hindu Friend:

“अरे तुम हिन्दू इतनी फलियाँ और गोबी खाते हो, कोई हैरानी की बात नहीं कि तुम्हारे योगी हवा में उड़ते हैं. किसी दिन पादते-पादते कहीं जन्नत ही ना पहुँच जाएँ “

Are tum Hindu Itni faliyan aur gobi Khate ho, koi hairani ki baat nahi ki tumhare Yogi hawa me udte hain. Kisi din paadte-paadte kahin jannat hi na pahunch jayen ……(You Hindus eat so many beans and cabbage, it’s not surprising your Yogis levitate; they will probably fart away to heaven).

In many societies, flatulence (breaking wind or more commonly known as farting) in public is regarded as embarrassing but, depending on context, can also be considered humorous. In many cultures, people will often strain to hold in the passing of gas when in polite company, or position themselves to conceal the noise and odor. In some other cultures, it may be no more embarrassing than coughing. The social acceptability of flatulence-based humor varies over the course of time and between cultures. For Example in Japan, farting is included in human nature; and during early years of marriage most married men and women engage in flatulence in front of their spouses in order to reinforce their relationships. In ancient Japan, public contests were held to see who in a town could fart the loudest and longest. The Winners of the contest were awarded many prizes and received great recognition. Donald Richie notes in ‘Discover Japan vol.2 Words, Customs and Concepts’, Kodansha, 1983, p.192-193) that the fart (he or onara) – is omnipresent in Japanese literature and the arts: From Edo-period scroll paintings to Ozu Yasujiro’s Ohayou (1959). It is not at all embarrassing.

In some Arab societies, flatulence by the guest after a good meal is considered a sign of fulfillment and gratitude.

On the contrary, in Baluchistan and Pashtunistan (the region encompassing Afghanistan and Pakistan), flatulence is considered quite a bad habit. There were folk-tales where people had to leave their villages because they farted in public. Two brothers were so embarrassed after farting during the game of volley-ball, that they committed suicide.  On a different note, US marines stationed in Afghanistan are advised by their commander to refrain from engaging in bodily acts of flatulence in public.

In an Interesting fable from Akbar-Birbal Series, there is an instance of social outcasting after engaging in the act of flatulence in public. Once Birbal farted loudly in the the court of emperor Akbar. According to prevalent practice, Birbal was asked to leave the capital for engaging in this embarrassing act.  Birbal went away to countryside. Since Birbal was a great friend and a counsel to Akbar, he missed him dearly. So after a few months, he asked Birbal to come back to capital. When Birbal returned, Akbar asked him  for his work during last  few months. Birbal told him that he was growing pearls in the field. Akbar was surprised. He asked him to the show his crop of pearls. So Birbal took him to his fields, and when asked to show the pearls. Birbal said, only that person can pluck the pearls from the plants who has never farted in his life, or the pearls will turn into water. Akbar queried all present to say whether anybody is there who has never farted.  There was no one who had never farted. Akbar realized his mistake and said sorry to his friend Birbal.

In a little know African country named Malawi, the government had proposed a bill prohibiting farting in public, which led to huge public ‘backlash’ and the government had to roll back the bill.

There is a story of a man in Iran regarding his flatulence in public. He was so much tormented for being called a padela (a farter), that he decided to leave the country. Similarly farting is considered a serious incivility by Russians and in some cases, it has resulted in divorces and fighting among the couples.

Flatulence in general by children is usually considered an object of amusement and is joked upon in many cultures including India, Mongolia and America.   

In the translated version of Penguin’s 1001 Arabian Nights Tales, a story entitled “The Historic Fart” tells of a man who flees his country from the sheer embarrassment of farting at his wedding, only to return ten years later to discover that his fart had become so famous, that people used the anniversary of its occurrence to date other events. Upon learning this he exclaimed, “Verily, my fart has become a date! I shall be remembered forever and ever.”

It is not surprising that flatulence has evoked varied interests in people leading to creation of various flatulence related humor shows on TV and literature. But there is more than what goes with the wind…:-)

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