Monthly Archives: April 2007
Oedipus and Electra read the same books. Their playlists are very similar, just categorized and played differently. In fact they grew up a few miles from each other. And their parents may have met…they belong to the same circles. They’re both talkers and listeners. They are successful, friendly, well-liked by their peers and have full lives. They are also both single. And looking. Then they find each other.
Eyes meet from across a room and the words fly like sparks. They’ve both been schooled in the art of making impressions by using their minds. And they were both good students. Besides…Electra is wearing Oedipus’ favorite colour (actually it’s the one he’s grown up seeing most often on a certain other woman) while Electra finds his well-ironed shirt topped by a messy mop…most endearing. (Uh…he’d probably fit exactly into that shirt she bought last Sunday for dad).
Electra makes the first move. It’s the new millennium after all! She doesn’t of course realize that Oedipus’ momma would never have done something like that. Besides pa always taught her to go for what she wanted. What’s more…its high time she got away from the bad boys (actually she never really liked them that much….they were just a fun way to annoy mum when she was in her strict “be home by 8” phase)
Oedipus, for his part, jolted by the vision of loveliness turned strangely unclassifiable in his eyes since she doesn’t behave like a woman (like mama!)…pauses and accepts. Intrigued and hooked by the thrill of the chase….there must be some glory in capturing the brightly-coloured loud-voiced bird too after all!! (Oh and dad, you were wrong, pretty girls can be smart….you had some in your heyday didn’t you? Try topping this one…she’d be too smart to fall for your lines but she liked me!)
Electra smiles in delight and a mistaken sense of her own triumph over old-fashioned standards. After all, papa is always proud of the girl who’s as good as the boys. Uh oh….how come she doesn’t realize that’s because papa isn’t one of those boys?
So they dine. And wine. And laugh. And talk.
Oedipus is having fun but he can’t quite figure out where to place his playmate now. What to do with a woman he can’t take home to mama? And umm….there are those moments when he isn’t sure of the ground he’s standing on at all which makes him feel quite ridiculous. Pop never had that problem, after all mum and he understood each other so well. But Electra….silly woman runs away from those gestures he thought were so romantic, she doesn’t blush coyly the way mum did.
Electra wonders what’s happening too. Oedipus was so promising. Smart, unshaken by her energy, strong in his own sense of himself. She’d actually come to think she might feel safe with him. But suddenly he lapses into moody silences. He doesn’t seem to approve of her behavior but he doesn’t bother telling her why. And one day he vanishes. Or walks off with another woman. Or just explodes in a sudden tantrum that both disgusts and frightens her. A real man isn’t supposed to behave that way, she reasons. And hardens her heart and herself to the next Oedipus.
Then she asks herself the age-old question.
How come no man ever measures up to dad?
Oedipus was a Greek king whose grave misfortune it was, to kill his father and marry his own mother, thus bringing on a curse on the people of his land.
Electra had the soap-operaish family story of a father who sacrificed his eldest daughter for glory and a mother who plotted revenge for her dead daughter by taking on a lover and with his help, murdering her husband when he returned victorious from war. Would we then, sympathise with the girl and forgive her for her future actions that were brought on by trauma? Electra added her own bit to the family drama by goading her brother on to kill their mother in revenge thus condemning him to the terrible fate of being caught between the conflicting forces of Apollo (patriarchal law) and the Furies (mother above all). It is believed that Electra was in love with her father, owing perhaps to her unwavering desire to avenge his death, even at the cost of killing her mother and making her brother a murder.
These two much troubled characters in Greek mythology give their names to two of popular psychology’s pet theories – the Oedipal syndrome and the Electra complex. The reason this bit of pop psychology finds a mention here is that they deal with mating choices of human beings.
Apparently all of us exhibit the Oedipus/Electra trait in some manner. After all, our first impression of the opposite sex is our parent. We define what makes a man (or woman) by how our father (or mother) is…behaviorally, physically and their relationship with us. And we are creatures of habit….just like we tend to replay and re-create situations familiar to us, we gravitate to people who replicate the kind of characters we are familiar with. In friendship, in love…even at work….who we end up has to do with what we are used to.
Why then is it surprising that mama or daddy dearest have a great deal to do with our choices of mate? It isn’t rocket science. I’m not talking about the mama’s boy syndrome….that’s a man who has outsourced his brain and life’s decisions to mama. I’m talking about the fact that we end up with people who remind us strongly or faintly of our parents.
Ever wondered why the same problems keep repeating over and over again? Or how everyone in the world seems to have that one annoying trait? Or how all your friends turn out to be ‘one type’? Or boyfriends or girlfriends even? Yup. That’s the old Oedipus/Electra syndrome at work.
Much as I hate clubbing people under one common umbrella, I have to say everyone I’ve dated or been close to has had these things in common. It isn’t easy to discern at first but after awhile you realize the root of it…that one thing that draws you….is exactly the same.
Does it seem slightly sick to bring your parents into the dynamics of attraction and sexuality? All of us exhibit it.
I’m drawn to men (and actually women too) who are intelligent and driven. Just like dad. And eventually I hate the fact that they’re not right (where I can’t look up to them anymore…the dad figure has vanished). This all while I absolutely abhor being ‘talked down to’, patronized or treated like a kid. I’ve said more than once,
I don’ t need a father figure, thanks a lot. I have one father and that’s quite enough.
Not so true I suppose, considering I gravitate to men who are bound to treat me the way my father treats me.
The best of them was liberal-minded enough for every conversation to be (and continue being) a real pleasure, even years later. The worst of the lot was a control-freak to the point of being abrasive and abusive. Small wonder then, that the first gets along famously with dad while the second one shared a mutual loathing with the pater. We love the best in ourselves and hate the worst in us, manifold when we encounter it in other people.
And by the same token, I usually get along quite well with the fathers of men I date….after all they married a woman just like me. The boyfriend usually hates that….dad seems to have it easy always. Ah, Oedipus remains forever jealous of his father.
My friend met her ex-boyfriend last week. The one she broke up with a year back. And she said,
Six years I spent with the man. And now, I suddenly don’t feel anything at all. In fact I wonder what I ever saw in him. Has that ever happened to you?
I gave her my usual line of not ever recycling boyfriends. She then asked me,
If one of them ever came back to you, would you be willing to give them another chance?
That’s a hard question to answer. Mainly because I wonder about this giving chances to people. You can give a stranger a chance to show his or her real self to you. The two of you can take a chance together that something might happen that could change both your lives for the better. You can take a chance on friendship, on love, on a job, in business. But you don’t give people chances. You’re not sitting on a golden throne handing out improbable chances like charity to people.
Let me elaborate. Every relationship has its dynamics, its own unique power equation. One person is invariably holds the reins of power, subtly, slightly or in a big way. That person may be the ‘voice’ in the relationship, originating each milestone conversation and event. However, a relationship still is between two people and no matter how mild-mannered, indifferent, subtle or gentle a person is, they bring their own brand of that something to the relationship. If not, the other person could very well be in a relationship with a wall. Or someone else, for that matter.
People part ways for a multitude of reasons, not all bad, unpleasant ones. Sometimes people just grow apart and sometimes….well, we’ve all heard “It wasn’t meant to be” at some point of time. How about the fact that maybe the relationship, short-lived and finite, was the way it was meant to be? And hence prolonging it or trying to turn it into something else is a needless endeavor that is only going to sour an at least nice memory.
When I part ways with a person, either by breaking up a romantic relationship or falling out with a friend or just moving away to other places, other people and other lives….it takes me awhile to adjust to the person not being a part of my life. I’ve come to think of this as the time I’m getting over the habit of the other person. After that, somewhere subtly I realize that I’ve been living and nearly just as complete a life without the person. It is the point where I don’t need the person anymore. If I’m still missing them, then it is the period where I have to start getting over the emotions felt for and shared with them. And sometimes beyond that, there’s still something empty….that’s really the toughest bit….getting over the concept of the other person….which I suppose never does happen since it involves erasing a never-to-be-forgotten memory. After all if the person’s impact on you has lasted this far, it has to be an unforgettable memory. It is fortunate and also probably unfortunate that such memories are far and few in a person’s life.
Once I’ve gotten over needing a person, I find I’m inertiatic about making or even maintaining contact with them. It isn’t so much bitterness…it’s probably a mix of laziness and complacent arrogance. I mean….I don’t need him/her to be happy so why should I call/mail/talk? With me, it really is over when its over.
In most cases, I don’t have an active problem with a person I don’t need but well….it just seems like a waste, especially if I’ve found that I also don’t have much in common with them or anything interesting to talk about. In my mind, it just keeps my life clean. People and relationships take time and effort. I have enough of people in my over-cluttered life without having to think of the luxury of maintaining relationships that have outlived their purpose.
I’ve been accused of being ruthless, of getting over people ‘too quickly’. And alternately of also being too bitter. I don’t know. All I can see is, time and life move forward. And I have to as well. I have no more choice in the matter than I have of granting people chances. Life is after all, an experience to be shared with some, not a prized possession to be handed over to the winner.
The biggest propagators of male chauvinism are women. Yes, read that again. Why do a lot of men behave like they’re God’s gift to the world? Why do they live their lives in self-absorbed, unbelievably deluded over-confidence completely unrestrained by conscience or empathy for the opposite sex? Why indeed? Because they’ve grown up believing that they were crown princes destined to inherit the world.
Darling beta will forever remain the apple of his doting mama’s eyes, shielded from discipline by her, encouraged and ego-boosted to unbelievable proportions all his life. Bolstering a child’s ego is great but where do mamas get off, giving their boys a wholly unrealistic sense of self-worth?
Okay, hold on to that thought. Now here’s something I found…and it’s appaling. Motherhood has fallen off its sacred pedestal and lies in shattered fragments around our feet.
Mother do you think they’ll drop the bomb
Mother do you think they’ll like this song
Mother do you think they’ll try to break my balls
Oo-ah, Mother should I build a wall
Mother should I run for president
Mother should I trust the government
Mother will they put me in the firing line
Oo-ah, is it just a waste of time
Hush now baby, baby don’t you cry
Mama’s gonna make all of your nightmares come true
Mama’s gonna put all of her fears into you
Mama’s gonna keep you right here under her wing
She won’t let you fly but she might let you sing
Mama’s gonna keep baby cozy and warm
Oo, babe, oo babe, oo babe
Of course mama’s gonna help build the wall
Mother do you think she’s good enough for me
Mother do you think she’s dangerous to me
Mother will she tear your little boy apart
Oo-ah, Mother will she break my heart
Hush now baby, baby don’t you cry
Mama’s gonna check out all your girlfriends for you
Mama won’t let anyone dirty get through
Mama’s gonna wait up till you get in
Mama will always find out where you’ve been
Mama’s gonna keep baby healthy and clean
Oo, babe, oo babe oo babe
You’ll always be a baby to me
Mother, did it need to be so high
When I was about 17, I was suddenly fascinated by salwaar-kameezes. My mom, delighted with my sudden interest helped me build a collection of fabrics from around the country. Fab India, Nalli and the local markets helped. And the local darzi was a genius with the needle. So my lovely designs saw the light and I reveled in my made-to-order wardrobe.
The darzi was a local institution, practically every woman in that 2-km radius swore by his talent. I’d been going to him for a long time, accompanied by mum…mostly reluctantly dragging my feet to get fitted for the ‘decent Chennai wardrobe’ for the mandatory summer vacation visit. Later though, as she observed my own interest, she stopped going with me. I became a regular customer, spending upto an hour every few months discussing a few more new designs. And I took my friends too.
The darzi’s apprentice was around my age, a quiet, diligent guy who listened patiently to my detailed descriptions of embroidery, necklines, side-tucks, sleeves etc and turned out beautiful creations.
One time, a friend joined me for a tailor visit. I detailed my ideas and stood for the fitting, chattering with her. Then, suddenly I froze. Did I imagine that? She noticed and she froze as it happened again. Mute, I stood like a statue till the fitting was done and walked out with her. We were both silent for a few minutes before she said,
He touched your breast, didn’t he? It wasn’t an accident, he just put his hand on you. Did he need to do that for the measurement?
I didn’t answer. I was too humiliated, shocked, scared and confused….I wasn’t sure. I didn’t wear salwar-kameezes for sometime and then I stopped buying new fabrics. Then came the summer that I had to visit Chennai for work and I needed a ‘new decent wardrobe’. With much reluctance and much pushing from my mother, we set off to the tailor. The darzi exclaimed that I hadn’t been around for a long time. I parotted out the simple instructions for the most basic outfit I could think of and got out of there in 10 minutes. He did it again. Mum didn’t notice and I never told her.
As Indians, Indian women, we grow up with something of an education deprivation in the area of touching. What’s permissible, how far is okay, what’s right and what’s not….we’re caught in a labyrinth of confusion. I grew up in a predominantly Catholic school environment where it was the norm to kiss and hug others during festivals and holidays. And came home to a well-educated but very much touch-shy South Indian Hindu family. I’ve had a few run-ins with my parents over ‘inappropriate behaviour’. Over time I’ve evolved my own code of what’s “okay” and what’s not. As well as an instinctive sense over what the intent behind the touch is. It hasn’t been simple.
While on one hand there’s the education deprivation of an Indian girl, think of how many people actually do touch us. Doctors, tailors, cobblers, shoe salespeople, clothes salesperson, dentists, orthodontists, beauticians, hair-dressers, bangle-sellers. And then, living in a crowded city and travelling by public transport means you’re often pushed up, brushed, banged into, sandwiched, fallen on, tripped over and felt up…intentionally or not.
Last year I was travelling in a crowded bus. There was one seat left, next to a teenager sitting by the window, lost in the music emanating from her MP3 player. I usually hate the idea of ‘women’s seats’ since it goes against my idea of equality. But I noticed there were about 3 men crowded in the aisle, hanging over…a little too much. I threw them a withering look and sat down next to her. The look on my face (and my sharp elbows) kept them at bay. The kid got off a few stops later and walked off, seemingly oblivious to what she had been inadvertently subjected to.
I once visited a gynecologist for a routine examination. I hated the experience. This was a lady doctor, well-reputed in her field. But she was cold, intrusive and disrespectful of my body. It was a humiliating experience to say the least. Oddly enough, some women I know with more experience say that male doctors are better, gentler…perhaps because they are aware that they can’t completely empathize with a body so different from theirs.
One of the most wonderful physical experiences I’ve ever had was an Ayurvedic Kerala massage. My masseuse was a sweet, young Keralite woman who couldn’t speak a word of Hindi but could decipher some Tamil. She dimmed the lights and set some some instrumental music to play. There was a certain dignity in her movements that put me at ease with my own body and let me relax into the massage.
Touch. How little attention we pay to this fifth sense. We are able to conceptualise and discuss the pleasures of the body. But no one ever talks about the basics of feeling comfortable with your body and about sharing it with others. Not necessarily sexually….a handshake is a touch you’re sharing with another human being, after all.
I don’t quite know where to go with this post. I’m still groping about in the darkness of confusion. Well. Groping isn’t quite the right word for it I suppose.
Sometimes I think the only reason women have a problem at all, is because of the fairytales that are fed to us as children, all ending predictably in
..and they lived happily ever after.
So who knows what “happily ever after” really means? I’m just finding out. Nope, I haven’t run off and gotten secretly hitched (not as yet). But after the rush of husband-hunting and weddings, I’m getting a earful of what the other side of ‘wedded bliss’ really looks like.
So friends, forgive me my transgressions while I take a sneak peek into your versions of ‘happily ever after’ (and for those who take offence….no more entertaining snippets from my love-life for you!!!)
Bringing up the lead, is my wicked friend Sensorcaine. Please note that reactions to her announcement of getting hitched were met by varied reactions from her friends…..one guffawed, another checked her calendar to see if it was April and I fell off my chair (literally). All of us tried (in vain) to tell the angelic-faced sweet man about the creature he was marrying. Ah, but men never listen…not even the sweet ones. Now, four years later…here’s Mrs. and Mr.Sensorcaine in their state of ‘Nappily ever after’.
Okay, I won’t be cynical. There’s always the Barbie and Ken couple who’ve settled down to a nice home in the suburbs. He works hard, she cooks, cleans and bakes hard (no, soft spongy cakes actually). They cootchie-coo and wear colour co-ordinated black tee and kurti to the Roger Waters concert. Oh and they bought each other matching iPods as wedding gifts. Sappily ever after does happen after all.
And of course there’s also the newly-weds at office. There’s been a spate of weddings among my colleagues, all within a month of each other. As they all troop back, tanned from the beach-resort-honeymoons, laden with jewellery (women) and a few extra kilos (eat, beta!), my cynical self wonders just how long the blissful smiles are going to last. For the timebeing however, we are greeted by their bleary-eyed, blushing faces in the mornings with an occasional sigh from the married-longer ones. The mood right now is definitely ‘Chappily ever after’ 😉
Then there’s my dear high-strung/Ice maiden friend who’s succumbed to the matrimonial overtures of Mr.FastTrack. At the wedding he told me, “Her life’s going to go spinning like she doesn’t know. Life with me, tends to be that way.” Ah, my poor friend. I couldn’t tell him a perfect match would mean an equally volatile temperament, could I? We don’t rat on our friends, we shield our eyes and watch for the fireworks resulting from Snappily ever after.
Suffice to say, I’m just glad everyone isn’t ending up like my poor classmate who found her husband cheating on her 2 months into the marriage. Instead of settling for Crappily ever after, she turned to divorce. Better for the guy too, methinx, remembering a certain Ms.Bobbit.
“What are all the towels doing behind the door?” I asked him.
“Breeding,” came the prompt reply.
“Breeding?” Quite used to getting such answers by now, I thought quickly, “I see, but how do they breed when there’s only one towel to begin with?”
Then this morning P on our daily morning update call says that her new husband (oh, stop laughing when I say that…they’ve been married 2 months, doesn’t that make him a ‘new’ husband and her, a ‘new’ wife?)..coming back, she informs me that new husband isn’t well and has been ordered (by her) to stay in bed today.
I cluck sympathetically
She says firmly.
So is this what “happily ever after” looks like?
Okay, now I get it.
My independence scares you because you think I’ll let you go.
My clinginess scares you because you think I’ll never let you go.
My sureness (?) in what I think scares you because you don’t know where you want to go.
My confusion scares you because you think I won’t choose to go where you want to.
And at the end of it all we hear,
Women can bear to have a layer of boiling hot wax poured on their bodies and yanked off. But they can’t stand the sight of a cockroach?
Yeah, we’re very logical too.
Click on the image to see the full strip.
Yes, I am back. Enough with the betting, I’m not a race-horse. But I don’t have to stop talking because of a few gamblers. I am fairly upset with the kind of behaviour I’ve had to deal with, as a result of this blog. I had a thought this evening though….I’m not (as some of my perceptive women friends say) a woman who loves men. I’m simply optimistic enough to keep looking for a man who’ll prove me wrong on all of my well-established-and-based-on-concrete-observations theories on men. So likewise, I’ve decided to stay an optimist and keep writing hoping that at least some of my readers won’t use this blog to torment me. If you’re reading this (which I am sure you will, eventually), you know I’m referring to you. Have the good grace to leave me alone and find your entertainment elsewhere.
On that fiery note, I’ll end this morose post. I’ll be back later this week with my brand of female fire.