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The Neanderthal In The Nice Guy

I was watching ‘How I Met Your Mother’ (HIMYM) yesterday (and may I add what a tremendous improvement it is on the clichéd, hackneyed ‘Friends’?). Barney, (commitment-phobic bad boy) convinces Marshal (married, nice guy) to ‘stand up for his manhood’, which translates to refusing to help in the house and make sexist cracks at his wife’s expense. As expected, a fight ensues between the couple, peppered with the sort of humour that makes this show very relatable and watchable.

What struck me was the thought that otherwise normal, decent, nice guys are probably going along in with their blameless lives, when they suddenly get distracted by a misnomer like Barney. It doesn’t matter how intelligent, evolved, caring or thoughtful the guys are, an idiotic jerk-boy can suddenly bring out similar behavior in them, just like that. Does that mean that every man has a jerk-boy in him but some just hide it really effectively until it answers to that primal call from the more ‘out’ jerk-boy?

I thought about the boy (like that was a surprise). He’s the one who got me hooked onto this show in the first place. He likes the character of Barney and thinks Ted Mosby (the ‘normal’ one) is a whiny wuss. He loves Shrek and Homer Simpson. He cheers very loudly at exactly the kind of jokes as the one I detailed above, on HIMYM. And last night we watched ‘The Green Hornet’ where he hooted through every sexist crack, every ‘I’m-a-brat-and-proud-of-it’ dialogue spewed by the lead character.

Hmm. In each of those cases, I glare at him, which only spurs him on to even greater hooting, laughing and applause. On occasion, I narrow my eyes, start to breathe fire and then, launch the offensive. Women’s rights, male chauvinism, the faults of the Indian man, herd mentality, cowardice, foetal survival rates, tolerance to pain and emotional fortitude are some of the weapons in my arsenal. No sireee, I don’t play clean, not when I’m challenged.

Yesterday since he wasn’t around during HIMYM, I had to substitute his laughter in my head and argue with an imaginary him. Of course, I won. Well, I do, even otherwise. But then I got to thinking about why he continues to uphold that gutterslime philosophy. He isn’t a male chauvinist. He’s actually not a spoilt mama’s boy. He actively stands for the independence and emancipation of women. And this I have to say honestly, he is proud of, rather than resentful of, his girlfriend’s successes. Then where is the source of Mr.Neanderthal in my Mr.Everyday?

Then it hit me:

Neanderthalism is to men, what shopaholism is to women.

It isn’t true of the majority of the gender. Most people see the idiocy of it and avoid such behavior, without excessive effort. But one practitioner comes along and makes it seem oh-so-cool and the rest of us ‘normal’ sorts feel like losers. The practitioner in question has to be in an innately weak state of mind to succumb to such behavior. And hence of course, he/she seeks to convert others to feel better about that fact that he/she isn’t alone. They’re obviously so convincing in it that the rest of us feel compelled to drop our otherwise intelligent/normal thought and face a momentary lapse of reason.

I am not a shopaholic, never have been. I know an excessive hoarding of possessions has to be an unhealthy symptom of something else going wrong. And of course, I’ve indulged in it more than once. Hey, everyone slips up sometime! It’s sort of like…falling sick. But I recover with time. I’m not a chronic spender, just a prudent women subject to occasional bouts of mad shopping.

And similarly, my Mr. Everyday and hundreds of other such ‘normal’ men are just regular guys, who’re occasionally seized with the desire to be Neanderthals. I could live with that. Even Neanderthals are scared of fire-breathing females.

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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.

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