Monday, July 2, 2007

Of stalagmites and prophylactics

You have to believe that the headline writer for News Corp. in Australia had a lot of fun with this story.

'Melting phallus icicle saddens pilgrims'

The Shiva Lingam, an object of veneration for the Hindu faithful

Every year, hundreds of thousands of pilgrims trek through treacherous mountains in revolt-torn Kashmir, along icy streams, glacier-fed lakes and frozen passes, to reach the Amarnath cave, located at an altitude of 3800m.

The phallus-shaped stalagmite is believed to be a symbol of Lord Shiva, the Hindu god of destruction and regeneration.

The pilgrimage, one of Hinduism's holiest, is due to begin officially this year tomorrow, although thousands have already visited the shrine.

Parts of the story read like ad copy from a Cialis commercial.

“It is melting very fast,” N K Raina, director of the Amarnath Shrine Board, said, adding that when the stalagmite was last measured on May 25 it was 3.5m tall and its circumference was 2.5m.

“Now, it has reduced to almost one-tenth of its original size,” he said, without elaborating on the reasons....

Many Hindus consider the melting as a bad omen.

“Last year, it did not appear, and this year there are reports it is melting fast,” said Rajni Goswami, a 55-year-old housewife, who is due to start for Amarnath tomorrow.

"I think Lord Shiva is angry with us.

“I will still travel to the holy cave and pray for peace in Kashmir.”

Shiv Kumar, a pilgrim from the northern Indian city of Lucknow who visited the cave this week, said he was “deeply saddened” by the “very small size” of the stalagmite.

For a guy, this Shiv Kumar has an amazing empathy with the women who've had virtually identical experiences on dates and wedding nights.

That said, this should be an opportunity for solving another problem facing India.

India, struggling to promote greater condom use among its population, is looking to hire its own "condom man" to follow the example of a former Thai cabinet minister who successfully pushed for safer sex, the Times of India reported.

National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO) chief Sujatha Rao said that India needed to find someone like Mechai Viravaidya, famous for getting Thais to talk about sex, condoms and AIDs.

"We are serious about finding India's very own Mr Condom," Rao was quoted as saying after visiting Thailand to study its dramatic increase in condom use over the past decade, which contributed to a sharp fall in new HIV infections.

"He has to feel passionately about the cause as Mechai does ... have a dynamic personality to change both government policy and public perceptions about HIV/AIDS, sex and condoms," Rao said.

Viravaidya became famous in Thailand as the "Condom King" for actions such as taking condoms to World Bank talks as well as for the name of his Bangkok restaurant "Cabbages and Condoms," where condoms are a major part of the decor.

Authorities in India, where many people are hesitant to talk about sex and condoms openly, are trying to push condom use through television, radio and newspapers and by targeting high-risk groups.

Let me get this straight. You can risk your lives on dangerous and arduous religious pilgrimage to see an ice penis, but you can't talk openly about sex and condoms? Come on, people! I see the opportunity for a line of Shiva Lingam condoms, possibly with commercial tie-ins to Thermos ice chests and maybe even Popsicles.

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