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XXFactored Feb2013: Complicated Relationships, Dating Tests & Stereotypes

This wasn’t a perfect Valentine’s month. But then, last February was and look how that turned out. Still, I got through it (this one and last year). The journey back to life is neither neat nor straight. At least it wasn’t boring. Here’s what kept me company along the way:

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Ain’t Nobody Like A Desi Boy

This Telegraph article made me laugh. I quote:

“You have beautiful eyes” was by far the most used compliment, picked by almost a quarter of all men, but only the third most successful.

The least used line was “You have beautiful ears”, which was also the second least effective line … except in the Netherlands and Portugal, where it proved the most popular.

I also winced through every item in this list on The Frisky of the worst pick-up lines ever. Then I got to thinking about the notion of pick-up lines. Is it an entirely Western concept? But no….our desi boys have their own version of it and it’s the only one they have! Guess what it is?

Motherhood – The Great Indian Relationship & The Only One

I was watching ‘Wake Up Sid’ yesterday (ah, the joys of being master of your own time…a Monday afternoon movie with a friend!) when this thought occurred to me. I’ve complained long and hard about the Indian man being a perpetual mama’s boy. I also believe that this ingrained emasculated dependency comes from scores and scores of mothers who bring their boys up in the Mera Raja Beta (my son, the little lord) tradition. And hence I concluded that women have a lot of blame to carry for the inherent insufficiency of men in this society.

But yesterday I suddenly realised something else. The Indian woman is also brought up in a particular way, no matter what kind of family or social strata she comes from. She is groomed, trained and refined to be a mother. Motherhood is the one relationship that we are tutored in, right from an early age and educated by theory and by example. We are taught to mother our siblings, our friends and even our fathers and uncles.

Think about it. We watch our mums manage the entire gamut of activities concering something as basic as clothing for the men. Shopping, washing, drying, ironing, darning, sewing, discarding and replenishment. They even construct the ‘look’ for the men in the family.

Growing up in a liberal family as I did, I was still taught to make beds and clean when I was about 9 and cook when I was 13. I was also taught to watch for the moods of daddy (and grandfather on those native vacations) and be mindful of them. I wasn’t discriminated against or restricted in any way. But in addition to my education in maths, science, social etiquette and life skills, I was also taught to accommodate and take care of men. This was also down to the fact that I may not always be appreciated for my good work, since ‘it didn’t occur to them’ or ‘he’s busy right now’ and such other things. I was resentful of this for awhile but in hindsight I realize it was a sturdy survival kit for the hard knocks of disappointment and indifference that would inevitably come in life.

Contrast that with a boy who is praised for every achievement, fawned over for doing things as per normal and most importantly soothed and pacified when faced with disappointment or difficulty. No wonder he ends up a la Sid in the movie, bewildered and clueless when faced with rejection or failure.

I was particularly struck by one scene in the movie where Sid goes to live with his slightly older friend Aisha for awhile after walking out of his house in a huff. At the end of the first day, she comes home from work to find the neat little flat that she works hard to maintain, all in a mess. With no little irritation, she nevertheless gets to cleaning it herself. And then on learning that Sid hasn’t eaten all day because he doesn’t know cooking, she cooks for him as well.

I understand that doing nice things for each other and being supportive are an integral part of every relationship. But it just seems to me like as Indian women, we are brainwashed into doing too much. The movie may have intended to be about the coming of age of a young man, the maturity of a different relationship. But I found myself thinking, that all Sid did was to substitute one mother figure for another. As for Aisha, even while she worked hard to establish herself as a modern, independent woman, all she ended up doing was being a surrogate wife/mother character to yet another man. Her independence and value as a human being was finally expressed only by her satisfactory fulfilment of one task – taking care of a little boy.

I’m coming to think that we don’t really know any other way to treat men. Motherhood is the only relationship we understand. So beyond the frivolity of socialising, we end up being surrogate mothers for our men, even ones that we are not romantically involved with.

I don’t mean to sound condescending to men; indeed I find myself guilty of this kind of behaviour. When I was in a relationship with a Delhi guy who was in Mumbai to study, I remember being astonished at how little he knew, how handicapped he was by his lack of basic survival skills or even social etiquette. I’d organise meals for him, manage the maid (in conjunction with the girlfriends of the other guys who shared his flat), wake him up for interviews and lectures, figure out his clothes and even pack for him on his visits home.

I also remember an official trip I took to another country, with a colleague. He sat next to me at work and we were pretty pally. As we checked in and waited for the departure announcement, he handed over an assortment of papers and said,

You take care of these. You know how to. I’ll just make a mess of it!

I grumbled of course but I realised he’d just end up misplacing his passport or converting his money into wrong currency. So I arranged his papers by the dates he’d need them, filed the rest away carefully and put them away. Then I organised his money into different sets, told him how much to convert, how much to retain and in the end took over some part of it so he wouldn’t misplace it. At the end of the week, I also had a detailed account of what he had spent and what he would need to convert back. Considering he was an MBA, who had lived away from home for over 6 years, I really think he should have learnt to do all this. But by his own admission, girlfriends had always taken care of such things for him. In retrospect I wonder what would have happened if I had just left him to flounder.

I’ve spent enough of time raving about the inadequacy of men but I wonder now whether I’m part of the other half that actually facilitates this. We’re both mass products of a great social machinery that churns out only one relationship between a man and a woman – motherhood. We seem to be unable to treat men as equal human beings with their own minds so we end up either mollycoddling them or being fearful of them; either way it is a relationship of bullying or resentful servitude. Instead of kicking men for not being able to do things that they weren’t anyway trained for anyway, I’m wondering how do we break out of this behaviour? Is it possible for women to learn new ways to treat a man? And do so without being disgusted of men or giving up on them?

The Indian Man

I remember reading a review of Honeymoon Travels which described KK Menon’s character as thus:

He isn’t quite a male chauvinist, just an Indian man.

I didn’t quite get that at the time. Then I saw the movie and thought I understood a bit of what the reviewer was trying to say. KK Menon’s Partho is a stiff-necked prude with very propah notions of behaviour (of the Indian woman). He is quite unfortunately (for him) married to a vivacious Milly who tests his patience, shocks him with her uninhibitedness and generally keeps him quite jumpy. Change in the known order and spontaneity are not things that Partho symbolizing the Indian man, is comfortable with.

Recently, I was having a conversation with a friend, about the situation of ‘going too far and too fast’. He shared a personal experience of that type saying,

We were on our second date and things happened. That was really too fast. But she didn’t protest at all so I went ahead.

I had to stop him because I didn’t think he realised what he was saying. That perhaps it wasn’t ‘too fast’ for her. And that if it was ‘too fast’ for him, he didn’t have to wait for her to stop; he could pull a stop sign himself. He looked at me as if the very thought had never occurred to him.

Oh well, Indian men. We deplore their ways, we roll our eyes at their habits but we love and live with them. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that ‘Mama’s boy’ is not only a fitting description for every  man of this species but also that most of them consider it a supreme honour higher than the President’s medal.

The Indian man can be sweetly (and not so sweetly) ignorant of the female anatomy. Or he can be a regular Don Juan. But either way, he’ll still be extremely startled when the woman climbs atop him and demands more. The Indian man, no matter how educated, liberated or metrosexual…is completely unfamiliar with the concept of female sexuality.

A lot of Indian men are prudes. Oh right, they may make their lascivious remarks, their lecherous jokes and their elbow-nudging antics may drive us up the wall. But all of that is just bravado, a need to fit in with the peer group, no matter how old they are. At heart, it seems like they’ve all got issues with their own bodies which might be one reason they approach their partner’s body the way a teenager might – tentatively, furtively, clumsily and quickly.

So now that I’ve derided the Indian man’s approach to sex, let me tell you what I do find likeable about him.

The Indian women is definitely the driving force even if she isn’t exactly in the driver’s seat. After all the feminist sirens from Bengal, the women auto-rickshaw drivers in Tamil Nadu, the demure-but-independent nurses from Kerala, the ‘homely’/shrewd Gujju girls all live with Indian men. They have fathers, brothers, husbands and sons. Sometimes I think feminism and women empowerment just manifest themselves in unique ways in India, but exist they do. We’ve perfected the art of backseat driving in a lot of other areas of our lives.

The Indian man, he’s quite green in this whole modern-world thing….but he can be taught. Yes, beneath the sombre pinstripes and the flashy gizmos, our desi Neanderthal man lurks, but with some firm, tactful handling this man can actually be trained to be a worthwhile human being. I think I’d be right in saying that a lot of times our men hold us back. But in some ways, they are our safety valves, our terra firma. After all, they are also our papas who stay distant all through our childhood then run away to sob in silence when we get married, our protective bade-bhaiyyas who will just never learn that little sister grew up a long time back and doesn’t always need a bodyguard, our mischievious but fond chote devvars and well the patis if not parmeshwar.

Quite tellingly, at the end of Honeymoon Travels, Partho in a rare bare-all moment tells Milly that he is intimidated by her, afraid of losing her to her spontaneity, afraid of letting go of terra firma. Hmm, quite touching and sweet actually.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that the Indian man…he isn’t at the forefront of his kind but maybe we, the Indian women, don’t need him to be.

Much About The Mouch

There are men who look good with facial hair. Greek gods walk in our midst after all.

Milind Soman, Kabir Bedi

Milind Soman, Kabir Bedi

Then there are those who’re passably nice looking and on whom the facial fuzz can act like the proverbial Fairy Godmother (oh okay, magic potion a la Shrek) completely transforming their faces into something else altogether!

Of course every once in awhile we do come up against a case of the mustache making the man (and not vice versa). These are those speciMENs that are ordinary, even laughable clean-shaven (remember Lamhe?) but add some fuzz and voila – a star is born!

Anil Kapoor, Kunal Kapoor

Anil Kapoor, Kunal Kapoor

And then there are all those images one has, leftovers from too many childhood stories, of Chinese gentlemen in floor-sweeping rebonded-straight mustaches. Are those supposed to be shampooed? 🙂

Back in land of idlis and software, where I come from, a mouch is considered a sign of manliness so you’ll rarely spot a clean upper lip. Facial fungus rules! Oh ewww I shudder and tell my family…..

Much about the mouch

Why am I so acerbic? I’ve lived all my life with a mustachioed man after all. But then again there’s no one quite like Dad. Besides I have nasty memories of horrid punishments that involved the moochie. When I was extra naughty, dad would grab me and rub his cheek on mine. Far more effective than spanking, it was like being sandpapered. So now when it comes to gentlemen professing l’amour for me, smooth faces get brownie points…I have no intention of thinking of childhood punishments and dad in the midst of such activity.

The mustache is so much more than a line (or jungle) of hair. It’s a style statement, an extremely sexual one at that! It’s probably the oldest icon of male vanity (not to mention the oldest excuse men use to gain our sympathies in the ‘how painful to scrape one’s face everyday’ school of thought).

The goatee or French beard (I can’t tell the difference – is there one?) straddles the machismo of the mustache as well as the dandiness of vanity – the perfect accessory for a Metrosexual Man (which is probably the only reason I resist it). Then again, faces can look quite appealing with the mini-mouch (muhahaha..) except for the ones with too much of baby-fat (but there’s very little to improve those, one supposes!)

So finally, how do you like your men? Mustachioed, in-between or not at all?

A Voice That Shatters Glass…The Glass Ceiling!

Music is an integral part of every youth festival, highlighted by the crowds at Antakshari, and Music Quiz events. The music competition is usually the grand highlight of at least one evening. That we are home to the biggest film industry in the world shows in the fact that the event almost always features exclusive Bollywood songs.

I was an amateur singer in college…jamming, impromptu background scores in classroom capers, singing the national anthem on Republic Day and invocation prayers during college events gave me aspirations towards musical stardom on campus.

Any regular will tell you that there is a collection of 5-6 favorites that are rendered by the participants. There are normally an equal number of male and female singers since the competition (quite fairly) assesses musical ability regardless of gender. Audience response is a key determinant in judging performance so seasoned participants pick songs that suit their temperament and sing them in a way that is proven to move the audience. A good singer can expect a collective sigh over Tadap Tadap ke and only conclude Saara zamana haseenon ka deewana successfully if at least a few whistles have been heard. My male counterparts spanned the gamut of musical Bollywood from comedy (Pag ghungroo bandh Meera naachi – Namak Halal) to melancholy (Tanhaai Dil Chahta hai), classical (Laga chunari mein daag) and romance (Kabhi kabhi mere dil mein khayal aata hai).

I tested the waters and quickly stumbled onto hot favorites like Mann kyon beheka (Utsav), Morni bagha ma (Lamhe) and Dil ne kaha chupke se (1942-A Love Story). But as a performer, these songs always left me feeling somewhat…incomplete. I longed for a real, full-bodied song that would let me snatch up the audience like the boy’s songs did. It took awhile to build a repertoire of songs that could get the audience shaking.

Then a male friend inquired,

Why do you always sing songs like this? It’s either cabaret or item numbers!

I protested,

What? I sang Dil Cheez Kya hai last time! It has a classical base.

Pat came the reply,

And it is a mujra.

And that’s when it hit me. There just aren’t powerful solos for women in Bollywood music! The most memorable songs are genteel lovestruck ballads of the sort that depict a delicate damsel awaiting her shehzada on safed ghoda riding to her rescue. Or the semi-soulful/mournful sort of the Na koi umang hai variety alternated by the haunting Kahin deep jale kaheen dil tunes.

And what of duets? For those acquainted with music, even a duet has a leader and a follower. Male and female voices work in different ranges of pitch and it is almost always the female voice that is arranged around the male voice. Symbolically, a typical Hindi duet usually has the male voice as the main, solid body with the female voice as a decorative motif twining around it, hitting the high notes occasionally. It is beautiful in its own way. It is art after all, and we’ve enjoyed it for decades.

But art is also about challenging boundaries and building something new, in thought and in expression. I defy you to name one Bollywood duet that has a female lead. I’m not counting such airs as Chura Liya hai which, while an undoubtedly spectacular classic, certainly does not make a case for powerful female expression.

I managed to find only one song – Hai Rama (Rangeela) which won us a first prize (and a fair bit of male attention coming my way…ha!). I’ll never forget the sheer headiness of singing this song, which my partner could not have shared. It was my song after all and all he was, was the gracious support voice. I got to set the pitch, the rhythm and the tone of the song. And most of all, it was my responsibility to convey the mood of the song. That’s what powerful expression is all about!

But for most part, in duets I had to settle for playing second fiddle (or voice) to such tunes as Humko hamhi se chura lo (Mohabbatein), Dekha ek khwab to yeh silsilay hue (Silsila) and Ek main aur ek tu (Khel khel mein).

There was some leeway in the solos and thank God for the magic of Asha and R.D.Burman! Quite unexpectedly, in my quest to wear the pants in the musical family, I had wandered into Asha Bhosale territory. Her success formula worked for me as well. While Lata didi was ruling the AIR roost with her ‘good little girl’ melodies, Asha entered the only domain left to her –saucy cabaret songs, scintillating dance numbers and generally the kind of songs that Helen and Bindu danced to but would never be picturised on the heroine. I took the stage with Yeh mera dil pyaar ka deewana (Don) and Piya tu ab to aaja (Moneeekka my darling, notwithstanding!). Sauciness was the only recourse left to Asha and it was the only way I could find, to make my kind of music. It just would take Madhubala’s verve to carry off a Jab pyaar kiya to darna kya. But for most part, even in music, the bad girl was the only one who got to taste power.

Popular hindi music hasn’t changed all that much. The few powerful female solos are still camouflaged in melodrama, raunch or abstraction. Think Zinda hoon main, Beedi jalaile, Pari hoon main.

Singing for the opposite sex would be another high. We enjoyed Kailash Kher’s soulful

Tune kya kar dala, mar gayee main, mit gayee main, ho gayee main teri deewani..

But I somehow can’t see Sunidhi Chauhan or Shreya Ghoshal getting the same reaction to a very spirited rendition

Gum shuda…

 

Even assuming that the male-female roles are still rather rigidly defined in Indian cinema, we find even gender-neutral emotions like inspiration voiced by male singers. While Baar baar haan (Lagaan) and Chak de (Chak de) may be too strongly sports-testosterone linked, what of Yeh tara, woh tara (Swades) and Bulla ke jaana main kaun (Rabbi Shergill)? I would have loved to have done a Bas itna sa khwab hai (Yes Boss) but I was vetoed by my team on account of it being a ‘male song’. I still don’t get it…women have dreams and ambitions too! And all we have to speak for it is Dil hai chota sa, choti si aasha (Roja)!

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A version is also posted on Yahoo! Real Beauty.

Hair raising on the tube

I’m practically de-sensitized to the trash overload from the television set. After all..

Got thirteen channels of shit on the TV to choose from…

But every now and then there comes along something that makes me sit up and take notice.

It would have been a normal, frenzied rush-hour day just like another. And a TV schedule of saans-bahu soaps jostling with fudge-eality shows, squeezed in between commercials for insurance policies, shampoos and perfume-smelling detergents. And then it happened.

60% of women call in sick from work on a bad hair day!

…the colourful screen proudly proclaimed to me. Followed by a flood of digi-enhanced, branded-director-signature-style glossy images before you could say SEXIST!!

And the commercial signed off with a serene-faced, funky hair-styled Habib telling you not to worry about your hair anymore.

*Sigh*

I don’t. After all I’m apparantly so stupid that I fall for that and pay for it as well. So now you can come and insult me on my face.

What, me worry? I just think, chronically.

60%…that’s nearly two-thirds of all the working women I know – friends, colleagues, bosses, peers, clients, teachers, doctors, air-hostesses, news readers, nurses, shop assistants, call center workers, hotel staff, salesgirls, women security guards, policewomen….shall I go on? So Habib tells us that more than half of this lot calls in sick when they don’t think their hair looks right.

Well never mind. I’ll just end with asking if a man thinks you are so frivolous, would you let him touch your hair?

Note: I’ve seen this ad aired just once. It would be good to know if anyone else caught it as well.

Sambar masala

My dear friends, my poor dear friends that suffer the agony of matrimonial match-making! Aside from the usual agonizing boy-meet-girl-over-tea/coffee ritual, there’s the incessent pressure pressure PRESSURE from the rest of the world.

The prospect’s education (pedigree), employment, family background, hobbies and friends are examined in great detail. And if 3 of these fit then voila!! We have a match!!!!

Attraction has no place in this discussion. Like the father of one of my friends once said,

Arre beta, yeh sab kuch nahin hota! When I was your age, I wanted to marry Hema Malini but see, I married your mother instead!

Ah well, and how does one argue with logic of that sort?

My most recent friend-victim sniffs,

Attraction??!! Try telling that to them. A good family and education is more than 90% of it and then even if there is even 5% attraction…WHAM! Close the deal!

Awww…in consolation I replied,

Like the perfect receipe for onion sambar? Ah, but sambar isn’t sambar without the sambar masala powder!

I think I’ll use that in one of my own arguments next time. Sounds a helluva lot better than…

I won’t marry someone I can’t imagine sleeping next to (and with) every night (and some days)!

…and it might actually work the next time mum tries to shove a mustachioed Mani Idli-Iyer at me.

The Dangers Of Being A Man

DNA carried a news article titled ‘Adolescent boys, not girls, are bigger victims of forced sex ‘ which said,

“According to a study conducted by researchers at Johns Hopkins University of the US, 15% of boys and 3% of girls reported that someone forcibly tried to have a physical relationship with them.”

The numbers look suspect to me which may be because female respondents have been more reluctant to talk than males, thus skewing the statistics the other way. However, it raises an important point.

Men are the victims of sexual crimes as well. That’s obvious at an intellectual level. But take a minute to think of the gamut of horrors that are encompassed in this: child abuse, date rape, harassment at work, non-consensual marital sex. I’ve been very vocal about the tragedies of being a woman and vulnerable to all sorts of dangers. On the other hand, men aren’t completely insured to these same dangers, are they?

What’s most chilling is the thought that these dangers exist without a comparable level of support. If a guy broke up with his girlfriend, citing ‘too much of pressure for sex’ as a reason, how many of us would take him seriously? If a husband were to report trauma caused by marital abuse and non-consensual sex, who would believe him?

Let’s get closer home. Say you know a couple. And let’s say one of them meets a third person of the opposite sex who starts paying them a lot of attention. These affections may not be reciprocated and there is bound to be some strain in the couple’s relations as a result of the third person. Now if it is the girl who is party to unwelcome affection, a brisk, “No thanks. I’m not interested” usually sorts the problem out, failing which there’s always, “Get lost, creep! I have a boyfriend”. However, if it is a guy who is the object of a new girl’s attention…..ah, didn’t you just stop and think, “Lucky dog!”? Hmm, I did too. And that is exactly the point. Since we assume that any kind of female attention is an enjoyable experience for a man, we can’t conceive the idea that it could be unwelcome and even traumatizing.

Don’t get me wrong, attention is la-di-da for all of us, but most of us are practical enough to realize that it could jeopardize other aspects of our lives. So a girl can easily shrug off the attention…it is the ‘right’ thing for her to do after all. But what does a guy do? Being rude to a woman makes him look caddish, spurning affection makes him seem cold. And heaven help him if girlfriend is the jealous, non-understanding type.

Now the above has actually happened to a couple I know. As it turned out the woman in the couple ended up taking matters into her hands and going out to war with the other woman. The man breathed a sigh of relief. But the couple has also started avoiding certain places and occasions where they are sure to meet the other woman. The other woman hasn’t been deterred in her activities however, and proceeds on smoothly with her life like nothing happened. This is one time I do not sympathize with my sex.

This has still been a fairly safe situation, with one woman playing the perpetrator and another woman riding to the rescue, in the proverbial knight-in-shining-armour manner. However, what of situations where this isn’t possible?

At schools and hostels, who is taking care of little boys from the ‘inappropriate’ advances of adults and….would you believe…their own peers?

Within marriages, is there a way for the husband to seek help in case he needs it? I’m hardly surprised now that men seemed to more and more petrified of commitment than ever.

At adolescence, boys are learning to drive, to drink, to try and get girls into bed. Someone may also be teaching them safety regulations, how to deal with hangovers and seduction techniques. How about self-defense?

Women are no less corruptible than their male counterparts. In the cubicle space of shattered glass ceilings, who is ensuring a safe, harassment-free workplace for male newcomers?

While these times may be long in coming, they’re headed our way, for sure. If women aren’t sex-objects, playthings, showpieces, trophies and dumb bimbettes, we aren’t all paragons of virtue either. The very same temptations to evil lie before us as well and who is to tell…when faced with an opportunity and virtually no chance of being caught, if we wouldn’t take it up ourselves? The average woman is no more an angel than a man. All we all are, is human.

Of note, I’m not minimizing the risks faced by women, indeed not. All I’m doing is pointing out that men are vulnerable to some of these too and in some ways the risks are higher since they have even less of our sympathy than the female victims. While we raise our voices to protest the crimes against women, we speak for empowerment and independence, are we doing so at the cost of making men ‘the weaker sex’? I don’t like the thought of that either. And worst of all, I realize that this is little more than idle intellectualizing since womenpower is the way the tide is turning, even if drowns out some basic rights for men in the process.

If any of my readers are surprised by this post, well, don’t be. There are men I love and care for, after all. And I fear for their safety and peace of mind, just as I do for my own. I’ve often thought that it would be more practical to have a son since being a girl is fraught with so much of agony. But then…I think….I can teach my daughter to take care of herself, and where I don’t, the world will provide ways to support her. If nothing else, I can bring her into a world where she will be heard. I am not sure I can say the same for a son.

Who says Indians aren’t having fun?

And right after writing this, today’s newspaper tells me that Indians have the third-most exciting sex lives in the world. And that we are also the most open lovers in the world when it comes to talking to our partners about sex. Strangely contradictory species, we are, are we not?

A certain little doggie (his description, not mine!) who on request, shall remain unnamed, asks me if there is a matching ‘Indian woman’ stereotype to counter the not-as-typical Indian man. See the news article above sir, someone in the couple has to be doing the initiating right? I wonder what the stats say about the initiative of Indian women. I saw Honeymoon Travels on the weekend and I’m thinking of Raima Sen and KK Menon, right now! 😉 

Shweta, on the other hand, smiles at my post and sends me the the following story that was featured on Global Village and which I found online here. Khee khee khee…

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