This is my response to a touching article titled ‘Open Letter to Rape Apologists’ written by Ms Paloma Sharma on 19th April. The article went viral as thousands Facebook-ing, Tweeting about it etc, and hundreds debating on Udaipurtimes.com itself.
The spunky eighteen year old’s fuming emotions echoed well with our own angst and frustration over such inhumane incidents. Superb!!
Particularly reassuring for someone like me who gave up his comfortable and convenient Sydney life for an overpriced, overstuffed garbage bin called Mumbai. Kudos to Ms Paloma Sharma and Udaipurtimes.com!
Like Ms Paloma and many millions, I too strongly condone the incident and have some serious emotions, concerns and questions around crime against women. But I won’t detail them here. There is already enough serious discussion happening on this topic. My drop to the ocean won’t really matter!
On the contrary, I am taking the liberty of using Ms Paloma’s burning critique to humorously highlight the actual potency enjoyed by a section of today’s men vis-à-vis the levels often assumed by feminists, including Ms Paloma.
Man-bashing. Something becoming so alarmingly relevant today, it is bordering towards becoming a fashion. Anything happens to anyone anywhere, my gender is unanimously condemned. Not fair. Just like not every woman is a Sunny Leone, not every man is a rapist.
Let me start with an example. To many, Taj Mahal is the symbol of epic love, between an emperor and his queen. The ultimate romance. The glorious love story. Some useless trivial around the same Taj Mahal.
After reading the above points, do you still feel that same for Shahjahan? Maybe not. Likewise, maybe after reading some factual points about the group of men I belong to, some feminists would soften their stance. I hope so.
Ms Paloma. I, someone almost double your age, fold my hands and humbly bow in front of you with an earnest request – Please be kind on one category of men: 35 – 40 years old. Educated. Married. Father of toddlers. Working in mid-level positions of MNCs. Hardly on Facebook. Always on Linkedin. Appraised every year at work, everyday at home.
Why be kind? Because simply, rapes or no rapes, we have a harsh life out there.
Maybe, you are too young to understand us ‘uncles’ and we all men come across as the same to you. But just like every Thai girl is not a prostitute and every American is not rich … every man out there on the street is not an eve teaser or rapist.
Let me attempt here to give you some insights in our life.
We fall into two categories – the ones who have ‘made it’ and the ones who ‘haven’t made it’.
I won’t delve into the former category. They are not many in number and are already much talked about. Every relationship, service and product in this world is meant for them. Ms Paloma, please continue to reprimand them. It makes me feel better.
It is the second category that I am speaking about. Overall an insignificant number in this anarchy of billions called India, our sum nonetheless is in millions and each one of us has a heart that beats.
Like I mentioned, our regular life is tough. So tough that there is nothing MANLY about it. We are like those Tigers in circus. Even with their stripes and snarls, do they look like kings of the jungle?
Here are some factual points about us:
Point 1: There is nothing glorious about being a Man at Home.
Domestically, the combined heat of following 3 Ms has completely evaporated our Mojos: Machines, Marriage and Maids.
Man invented machines. Then Machines made men worthwhile. Remember those Sundays when your father would open the back of television sets or spend most of his evening cleaning the spark plug of this scooter.
Or at least getting the air cooler (not conditioner) motor repaired during summers. How your mother used to lovingly serve him a cup of tea or a mango shake in the end? How he looked with his swelled chest and bloated pride? How she looked at him with starry eyes besotted by his tool box skills and greasy charm? Nothing like that ever happens at my home. Why? Because nowadays the gadgets never fail. Car, fridge, microwave, iPad, iPhone… you name it and the god damn thing works. And if it does fail, it’s too complicated for me to repair.
Seldom at home, diminishingly useless… I fear someday Apple will come up with something known as an iMan and that will officially begin our extinction as a gender.
But don’t worry, Apple won’t ever succeed in the iHusband area. Why? Because you can make the world swirl at the touch of your finger but can’t invent something that makes your wife and mother get along.. Ouch, that hurt! Trust me, it pains even more on this side of the table (read gender). Nine years into marriage, I am still convincing my mother that I haven’t changed after marriage and my wife that I have actually changed after marriage. Both remain skeptical. The concept of manliness, Ms Paloma, has long gone flying out of the window.
Next comes the real ‘man’ of the house – the maid. The real Power circuit, Shanti ji’s mere entry brings peace, smiles and relaxation to our home. My wife’s face beams the same way it used to during our college dates. Helper, Vendor, Counselor, Newsbearer… Shantiji is so integral to our household operations; my wife seldom asks about my loyalty but is always worried about the neighbor’s prying eyes on her cherished maid.
I won’t go sardonic on the starry tantrums of Shantiji etc and my obvious ‘lack of power’ in front of her. Maids have been treasured for centuries. However, it is only in this generation that the concept of fearing them has taken birth.
Thirty years ago, my father was revered and feared in the house. Today, I revere and fear Shantiji. More so since a gentlemen named Shiney Ahuja had ‘consensual’ sex with his domestic help. The so far ‘war for talent’ in the neighborhood took a totally new dimension wherein a maid’s word in front of law, spouse and society was deemed truthful in matters relating to the ‘man’ of the house. Would the same law, spouse and society have a similar view in a vice versa case? Say, driver versus lady of the house? Obviously not.
We lead an enviable life, isn’t it?
On top of it, Ms Paloma says we shouldn’t even bother advising women on what to wear, where to go etc. Okay ma’am. I swear I had good intentions. But never mind.
Point 2: There is nothing glorious about being a Man on the way to work.
Every morning when I get up, the newspaper greets me like a horrific scene from ‘Ek thi daayan’ or ‘Bhoot’. I leave home fearing for the safety of those left behind.
On the road, I spend hours maneuvering through filthy overcrowded potholed lanes (officially called ‘highways’), helplessly watch malodorous, unclean, uneducated and hopelessly poor families living below the half-built bridges that seem to epitomize both the infinite corruption and potential of India.
Knock! Knock! A handicapped toddler tabs everyday on my window for few rupees. It’s a difficult world outside the car. The toddler has to not only bear the urine-d, betel-expectorated stench of the ground, the scorching raining heat rays and the cacophony of abusive, honking, noisy stressed accelerators but also beat the eunuch, balloon salesman, pirated books salesman, sympathy-seeking pregnant-looking widow and of course the quintessential constable.
Dhinka Chika! Chinta ta! Balam pichkari! The radio jockey doesn’t let me look out, he is busy protesting against rapes, updating you on IPL scores and interviewing the actors of the latest movie that just got released. The only allowance I have is to check the endless emails and messages arriving on my iPhone every few seconds. Most from my bosses, customers, bank or wife reminding me of my ineptitudes.
I am so immune to what I see outside or hear inside… forget being a man, I doubt if there is any human left within me.
Point 3: There is nothing glorious about being a Man at work.
3 M’s have screwed up this area of our life: Manager, Mortgage and Manmohan Singh.
MNCs are funny places. The owner is most likely a billionaire half your age. He doesn’t care anymore. Yet your manager makes you beg, crawl and sweat for that next Purchase Order. A decade in sales, I have realized one thing – targets, customers, managers and processes – kill any human being. Brain dead, heartless… the only time I remember my pants in office is when I have to take a leak.
But we slog for MNCs. Rather, we happily do so. Why? For the second M. Mortgage. Remember those cheesy villains in yesteryear movies who used to make videos of the hero’s sister and then blackmail her endlessly. Most of the housing loans are like those traps. Is there really anything manly or macho in ensuring those post dated cheques won’t bounce? Yes, your matchbox house has doubled or tripled in value. But are you really rich? Forget retirement, Can you even afford a sabbatical? That’s the financial story of most men in my age group.
And then there is this Sardarji in particular who is hell bent on making our life even more difficult. Manmohan Singh. Ironically, for someone who has the word ‘man’ in his own name, to me he aptly symbolizes the status of being a man in today’s India.
How? Here is the logic – It is obvious that a lot is happening around our beloved Prime Minister that he has no power, control, opinion or even clue of. Yet, somehow he is blamed, scolded and punched for everything. Ditto of what happens to me and many of my friends in their respective lives on an everyday basis.
I somehow reach office. The economy has tanked. I sell to a few Telecom organizations. Government has raped them so badly; their executives are often seen handing over pink slips than POs. Thank you Mr Manmohan Singh.
I laugh at our country. I laugh at our lives.
Point Number 4: There is nothing glorious about being a Man in thirties anyway.
Biology too starts taking digs on you in the thirties.
My head and my mind seem to have found a sudden connect. The more I worry, the more I lose my hair. Or is it the other way? First thing in the morning, the mirror isn’t a pleasant sight anymore.
But a more worrying trend has come up off late. The hormones have started disappearing too. Read this carefully. Just the hormones. Not the urge. So parts that used to have a life of their own seem to be losing their sheen. A mighty frustrating, embarrassing and outrageously shocking development that men are so secretive about, they never even mention it.
And if this is not enough, the society continues to label you as a MAN. Blaming you for every crassy and foolish act.
Forget rapes, I am even scolded in family for the cheesy item songs that are nowadays the trend in Bollywood flicks. As if good lucks, oodles of cash & fame and being paid for letting nymphets gyrate around your pelvis wasn’t envious enough for John Abraham, now I have to bear my wife’s reprimand whenever the sickening Shootout at Wadala song is played on television.
After all, these things are meant for men only! She says. For me? Darling out here the only thing getting hard is my life! My mind argues back.
We are also expected to strictly behave ourselves. Just a few examples around the thin moral ground we trod on:
If I look at girls I am a letch, if I look at guys I am gay
If I initiate intimacy, I am a demanding, demeaning and selfish. As if the day’s grind wasn’t enough, I want to ‘use’ her for my ‘animal needs’ as well. If I restrain myself in bed then either I am having an affair or I have lost interest in her?
If I come late from work, I am a workaholic. If she comes late from work, how the office folks are victimizing her for being a woman.
If I comment about her ‘revealing’ clothes I am regressive. If I open the buttons of my shirt then I am pervert.
If a woman jokes in office she is one of us. If we joke with her, HR can send a mail on sexual policy.
If I am becoming fat then it’s because I am a typical Indian man taking my wife for granted. If she gains weight then it’s because after running after ‘my’ mother, ‘my’ children and managing ‘my’ house she doesn’t have the energy and time for ‘herself’
To conclude, Ms Paloma. What is happening to women, girls and babies across India is horrible. I am truly ashamed and condemn it. However, please do not blame all men for it. There are some of us, like you, living in this difficult India and trying to make something out of it.
If you want to change India, involve us in this cause. For no politician has ever brought about a revolution. They are only executives working or running family owned organizations that are in the business of being in power. Real change will come from a heady mix of your youthful zest and our intense silence.
Yes, just like anger bursts and erupts in the young, it simmers in the old. We are angry too. Being enraged does not necessarily only mean being vocal, violent or riotous. Silent people can be angry too. Rather, life has taught me, those are the most perishable and riskiest forms of expressing discontent. Married people should agree with me on this. J.
Be it Lord Krishna or Rama, M S Dhoni or Roger Federer, Gandhi or Mother Teresa… real change or revolution can only be bought by those who are able to maintain their calm, think through the situation and channelize their anger into something practical, actionable and tangible. Anger is an emotion. Emotions are energy. It’s up to us on how we consume this energy.
Willing to let go of the gender divide and join hands with us ‘uncles’ in this movement?
Ketan Bhagat’s debut novel ‘Complete/Convenient: There is more to men than bromance’ is releasing on 15 May. For more details, you can visit www.ketanbhagat.com