I’m finding that there’s something extremely transactional in nature, about the Indian man’s love. Let me explain ‘transactional’. Indian men can be loving and supportive. They can be romantic, soulful, understanding, patient. They’re protective, chivalrous, generous even. They can be all of these as long as it is within a defined universe, to a very specific kind of woman.
As Indians, we live in very tightly defined social structures, even today. It doesn’t actively occur to us in our daily lives but we are governed by a complex maze of social norms, conditioning and rules. I realize this fully only because I question and defy a lot of them. Doing this is a fulltime job, practically a lifetime, an identity by itself.
How do other people react to someone who doesn’t live by their rules? That’s the oldest story in human behaviour, of course. The thing is Indian society is mired in a labyrinth of heavy, conflicting, sometimes obsolete rules. It’s like being caught in a house full of naked wires, broken steps and crumbling ceilings. A single misstep could be fatal and there are so many possible that the living is no more than survival, just barely.
Snapping out of that gristly metaphor, how does this translate in everyday life? People do not treat you well if you do not follow the strict rules. Deviations are seen as aberrations.You get treated badly, not because you have behaved badly (lying, cheating, being mean or rude to, being selfish). You may treat people around you with respect, gentleness and affection. But none of that is considered if you do this while breaking a social rule.
It is considered perfectly acceptable to be mean or rude to someone who has defied a social convention (“What does she think of herself, dressing that way?”). It is fine to treat a woman less than respectfully if she does not dress and behave the way a ‘good Indian woman’ should behave. It’s not that a woman who makes different choices about her life, does not need affection, love, support and yes, protection from unsavory elements. But since she chooses to flout those rules, all of these get increasingly restricted to her. Affections and respect are paid out in direct proportion to the adherence to social norms. That is what I mean by transactional.
This may be as seemingly minor as the major she pursues in college, never mind that she is getting an education, a conventional one at that. It may be as inconsequential as choosing to keep her hair short in a family/community where women usually keep their hair long.
It may be a little more complex such as refusing to sit in a certain seat or room because of her gender. Doesn’t this last one sound ludicrous? After all, the Indian law does not see us as a gender segregated country. But family functions, even wedding banquets appear to be places that you must only socialize with people of your gender. Down to today’s modern-day get-togethers and dinners, notice how the women crowd into the kitchen or into bedrooms while the men sit in the living room and discuss politics, sports, business and work? I’m talking about Mumbai in 2013, not Madurai in the 1800s.
It may be something as personal as her own beliefs, not even as major as the religion she follows but that she chooses to not let religion get in the way of her political views or her friendships. How do you think an agnostic woman who believes that Muslims are being mistreated, is treated in a religious family? Or if she is vocally supportive of gay rights, why does that affect her prospects of being in a (straight) relationship?
Now certainly both sexes are equally guilty of this kind of a rabid reaction to defiance of convention. Female cliques are alive and kicking and the terror mother-in-law remains very much a key character in Indian drama. However, I am thinking about an emotion that goes beyond logical distinctions, defined rules and intellectual discourse. We love people for who they are, for who we become when we are with them, for that unique something that they and they alone bring to the universe. It may be harder to love someone who is different from your notions of what a human being should be, but it’s not impossible. What’s more, those notions being so tightly, suffocatingly defined, are any of us likely to find real love?
In the many patterns I see in the men around me, there is this. I’ve experienced love and loyalty and friendship, all my life. But they’re all contained in these tiny spaces of time when I’m being who they expect me to be. Put one foot out of place and all these things appear to vanish. They are supportive (extremely so) when they see me falter and fail. But they are nowhere around when things are fine and I am not a tender creature that they need to protect. They are there to chastise me when I slip up but almost never to bounce ideas off as equals and hardly ever to applaud me when I’m successful.
There’s the praise that comes my way when it is in a setting that follows convention. An academic achievement in a traditional school/college, a promotion in a steady job – these things are celebrated. But a more unconventional achievement that nevertheless brings joy is not seen as something that deserves acclaim. The new age Indian man may be openly proud of a very educated woman in his life, who has a high-flying corporate job. How often do you catch him boasting about a woman in his life writing a book, going on a car rally or starting up an e-business of her own?
Aren’t love, support and loyalty 100% things? There’s the support you need when you’re down but there’s another kind of support you want from your people when you’re just fine and when you’re great too. I find that severely lacking in the world around. And I think, my world loves me only when I’m miserable and down and begging for help. It’s transactional, indeed.
I said I’d be a mother someday.
He said I needed a man.
I didn’t say I’d be pregnant.
I said I’d be a mother.
You don’t need anyone
But a child for that.
*Earlier posted here.
A colleague said to me,
You don’t seem to be scared of me.
I’m not scared of anybody.
And I spent the rest of the day pondering that.
You never quite realize how much you live under fear until you break free of it. Afraid of your bosses, afraid of the government, afraid of your loved ones, afraid of losing face, afraid of being taken advantage of.
It’s true. I used to be scared of a lot of people. Even if I never admitted it, fear sat like a solid line above my head. It’s not that I’ve learnt courage. It’s that the fear has seeped out or evaporated. Like every experience riddled a tiny hole inside me, through which fear leaked & eventually ran out.
If you’re a woman, you’ve grown up steeped in so much of fear, fear, fear – fear of confrontation, fear of opposition, fear of disapproval, fear of abandonment, fear of a bad reputation, fear of judgement, fear of men, fear of women – this lack of fear is quite exhilarating.
I think the biggest fear most women have, is of something irreversible happening. Loss-of-virginity, marriage to the wrong man, childbirth (or not, since you’ll never be that age again and the bio clock is ticking) all fall under this. The fear looms huge like a monster, keeping you from making a decision. And back to the biological clock thing, there’s the fear that not making a decision will turn out to be just as bad a decision and just as irreversible.
There’s a conversation in Gone with the wind where an older lady observes that Scarlett has lost her fear. She also says that it is not a good thing for a woman to lose her fear. Women’s fears are the foundation of our social order. What when they are lost?
I’m just coming to realize that brashness is a result of this loss of fear. I thought about my last serious relationship. If I had feared hurting him just a little more and cared a little less about things like truth and fairness, things may have been different. Head over heart and all that. Still, that’s bygones.
The upside of fearlessness is really all that. Tremendous power and the energy that comes with it. Fatigue, boredom and ennui are indications of powerlessness. I experienced a rush of power and I think that’s fueled by (and adds to) being able to say just what I want, when I want, to who I want.
When the heady high dies down, however a hollowness returns. Hello fear, old companion, you’re back. It feels different though. This is fear of the world changing, of nothing seeming the way I thought it would be. But losing fear is an irreversible process, one that embeds itself in you. Once you’ve broken through, you know you’ll always be able to, again.
Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose, right? And that includes fear.
This April, I’m trying out XXFactored as a weekly instead of a monthly feature. Drop me your comments or Tweet to @ideasmithy, letting me know what you think. Also, if you see something you think should be XXFactored, let me know and I’ll post it with due credit to you. You can also post a link to XXFactor’s Facebook Page.
Here’s what I saw this week:
- BuyMeCondom is an Indian eCommerce portal dedicated to condoms and contraceptive sales only. Connected India is certainly coming of age. And no, this is not an April Fool joke. (via BuyMeCondom)
- Things like this make me question the sanity of whoever invented marriage in the first place.: ‘Man seeks to divorce wife for refusing to make love to a snake‘ (via AfricanSeer)
- This is an anonymous reply to a post that got featured as a follow-up post. It was written by someone I know and echoes the unacknowledged sentiments of a lot of other wonderful people in my life. Here’s to honoring the spirit of those that charge bravely where angels fear to tread – new ideas.: ‘Here’s Why You Should Date An Entrepreneur‘ (via YourStory)
- When the difference between boys bikes and girls bikes is purely accessorial, why do we propagate gender segregation?: ‘Insisting on Boys & Girls Bikes‘ (via The Society Pages)