A few years ago, I wrote about navigating the boundaries of a friendship with a married man. My first guest contributor, The Single Married Man shared a firsthand account of the confusion of being in transition from ‘married’ to ‘divorced’.
I am finding divorce in every by lane of my social circle these days. Over the years, I’ve bemoaned relationship breakdowns with girlfriends and together we have learnt to deal with it. For some reason, when I was in my 20s, we tended to seek solace from others of our own sex. But these days I find myself in more conversations with men about their failing/failed marriages.
Perhaps it’s because the boundaries between the sexes are blurring. Maybe it’s because marriage is a complex universe involving families, landlords and the law so one can’t afford to be picky about where one finds one’s support. Or maybe like I once predicted would happen, the men of my generation are just finding it harder to cope with the realities than women.
They are all men in transition. They have been independent and intelligent, they’ve believed in gender equality and love and commitment. Now with their worlds tattered, they’re rebuilding how they see the world, life, the opposite sex and themselves. I can see them struggling to fit me into relationship models familiar to them.
One of them propositioned me. I deflected him gently so it wouldn’t bruise his ego. “But you’re the one who told me to get out and have some fun!” he said. I meant it would be good for him to loosen up and experience the lighter side of interactions with the opposite sex. That could include casual sex. But I didn’t like his taking it for granted that I was offering myself up.
Married people, especially those who were not single for very long, often tend to take a superior stance on the single life. Marriage is a lot of work, they tell us. What they don’t realise is that being single is a different kind of battlefield. It’s not all days of How I Met Your Mother/Sex and The City style apartments, hitting the town each night and regular Tinder hookups. It’s constant loneliness and never being sure, it’s eating for one, knowing total strangers have the ability to hurt you and constantly evaluating how lonely you are versus how little your options appeal to you. Recently divorced people have a lot to learn, this is true. Welcome to the world of ONE.
One friend threw a tantrum last month because he felt like meeting me for dinner and I said I was busy. I had to be firm, patient but also subtle in conveying to him that I was not obligated to meet all his needs. It really hit me even more painfully then.
Many of these men, even the most independent, thoughtful ones, by virtue of our Great Indian Family Culture have never been allowed to deal with difficulty on their own. They have been mollycoddled from disappointment and insulated from Nos. They have no reference for what to do in a world that does not have time to meet their every demand. Their families are older and possibly less able to be their shields. Often, the families are showing their humanness in bringing in their own prejudices. What is this boychild in a man’s body to do?
I am also noticing some of them lapsing into cynicism and active hatred of women. It’s a scary thing to be around. Most women know that a man who doesn’t get what he wants, is a dangerous man. At what point do I stop being supportive and decide to walk away? When does one decide that this person, this friend of so many years is more dangerous beast than friend?
Take socially sanctioned male entitlement, sprinkle in a vague flavour of independent thinking, throw in some outraged sense of betrayal and mix liberally with confused East/West value systems — that is the brain of today’s recently divorced Indian male.
I do not intend to fall into the common trap of playing mommy to any one of them. Life and the system has extracted its own pound of flesh from me. But they are becoming different people because of their divorces and our relationships are changing too. I guess I’m afraid of what that could mean for them, for us and ultimately, for me.
— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —
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.
Death is an experience that shakes your faith. Mine, never a sturdy one, constantly wavering in the storm of my questions, is being sorely battered. But not for the usual reasons. Every family hides its dirty secrets that get a forced airing on such occasions. Mine, to my utter shame, is having to acknowledge a relationship, even allegiance to vehement chauvinism. But this is a blog about relationships and what relationship is more complex than the one with family – unless it’s the one with God? Both have been severely tested for me this week.
My maternal grandmother, last grandparent, died after a battle with Parkinson’s this week. Last week I told my father that mothers and daughters have complicated relationships that men rarely understand. I guess that holds true for grandmothers & granddaughters too. I don’t think we ever saw eye to eye. We clashed, not in open, direct confrontation as I’d have liked but in hidden, snippy ways that were her forte. Even our choices of battlegrounds reflected ourselves, polar opposites and she won on that count. On the other hand, she was a strong, powerful woman, used to and enjoying control. Sound familiar? Yes, that’s the person I see everyday in the mirror.
It’s too early to tell how the social structures that she was a part of, indeed with much power, will shift or collapse in her absence. Now is for the rituals & practices of grieving, bereavement and letting go. The Indian/Hindu tradition is practically made for feminist rants. Some things I’ve seen and heard this week that’ve made my blood boil. Two women, both diabetic slaving away in the kitchen to provide a la carte meals and saying,
“If there is enough for the men, that’s all that matters.”
The men going out to discuss such important matters as which rituals to carry out & what to do – most foisted on women, all based on the slaving of women. But of course an entire houseful of women can’t be expected to take care of a simple pick-up of the coffin, afterwards.
“The ladies are alone in the house. I don’t want them to do that.”
I’v been ordered around, dismissed and condescended to in ways that would earn its perpetrators a swift kick in their precious jewels were they not older, related to me and this wasn’t a funeral. I’m bristling.
I had the unique privilege (and make no mistakes, that’s what it is) of going to the crematorium. 20years ago, when my other grandmother died, my father insisted on taking me along, against strong opposition from the rest of the family. Two years later, my grandfather followed her after having lived in his daughter’s care for that time. It was believed that his wife’s death represented the crumbling of all that he had power over, and without her, he had practically nothing left to give him his power, his identity. I was at the crematorium then too. 12yrs ago, my other grandfather passed away and I carried logs of wood to place on his pyre, along with the men.
I wondered this morning if I should. I’m not a child to be led by my father. I’m not even young enough to need to prove my strength & independence to the family. The one thing that drives my faith is truth & respect. Participating in a ritual I did not believe in, felt like dishonesty. Staying back would feel like deliberate disrespect to her, since I’d attended all other cremations. Either way I’d lose.
I’d been pushed enough to such uncharitable thought like I could go along, just to spite the male chauvinist pigs. There’d be nothing they could do about it and it would serve their porkish attitudes just right. But I refrained, I did, I escaped falling into that vicious place. When my father asked me if I was coming along, I shook my head. I watched them walk away to the car. Then, I bolted home to grab a jacket and raced back to get into the car.
It was a long, circuitous journey, doubtless benefitting the tout parading as Pandit/Funeral Emcee. I didn’t know if I’d done the right thing, was chilled then hot & bothered, hungry, guilty for feeling do, angry for the guilt and a confused mess. I had an interesting (and undoubtedly what she’d call inappropriate) conversation with the others on the state of the country, work & the generation gap in 2012. Armchair ranting is a good distraction.
Nearly an hour later, we arrived and she was waiting for us, laid out next to the electric crematorium. I shied away from any last minute rituals. Then, they lifted her onto the pyre. Her favorite kanjeevaram saree that mum bought her, she had specifically asked to be draped in, for her final journey. I made a mental note to tell mum that they did let her go through with it. The flowers were brushed away and then they wheeled her in and slammed the door shut.
I’ve seen this before but the shock of it didn’t leave me for awhile. She’s gone. She really, truly is gone. Once strong body that overcame paralysis 30yrs ago, the sheer grit that made that possible, the mind that continued to hold the strings of her family long after her body was being cared for by them, the hands that nursed my mother back to life, from her devastating illness in the 90s, the life that weathered losing a husband to cancer and then, even more shatteringly, her son to the same illness. Gone.
In the end, I think I did it for us both. For her and for me. Go in peace, Patti. You’ve won the right to it fair and square. My hurdles are yet to be overcome before I win that ultimate victory. You never stopped wanting, never stopped fighting and that’s how I’d like to remember you. Go in peace.
I didn’t post an XXFactored update in February because the month was so busy that I barely had the time to scout for links. Other people however, did share links and I really wanted to showcase them. While on this, allow me a brief crib about the new Facebook page format. It shows the page admin’s links on the main page but other members links in a tiny box. Not cool, I say. It totally kills the spirit of community that link-sharing used to do.
Now on to the links.
- Someone’s idea of what happens to people of either gender when they fail their exams. It sparked off a heated debate. (via Lakshmi Jagad)
- HOWL-a-rious! ‘- 14 Realities of Romantic Relationships in chart form‘ (via Cracked)
- In memory of a remarkable woman and a talented musician laid to waste – ‘I’m Every Woman‘
- I’m sure a whole lot of us will be silently thanking the makers for this handy tool! – ‘5 Signs You’ve Been Stalking Your Ex Online Too Much‘ (via How About We)
- Harsh, hard-hitting….dare I say…true? The undeniably justified cause of gay rights, seems to have become no more than a free ride of attention and entertainment for those so privileged. ‘The Queer Movement is dead; Long Live the Queer Movement!‘ (via DNA Newspaper, link courtesy Dhamini Ratnam)
- A hilarious set of charts – check out the ones mapping people who use Twitter daily versus others. – ‘10 Charts about Sex‘ (via OkCupid)
- ‘Why Indian Men are still boys‘ (via Tehelka, link courtesy Gautam Ghosh)
- ‘No, Catcalling is not a compliment and here’s why’ (via Hello Giggles, link courtesy Ashwini Mishra)
- If this 60s show has sparked off your fancy, here’s a look at some of the female stereotypes of the time by how Don Draper sees them. ‘4 Types Of Women Don Draper has Dated.‘ (via YourTango)
- ‘What Your Favorite Mad Men Lady Says About You‘ (via TheGloss)
- This is totally off the edge – ‘Marketing Xenosexuality: Women & the Sex Robot taboo?‘ (via Future of Sex, link courtesy Gautam Ghosh)
- “Lighten up” can be the most passive-aggressive chauvinistic phrase ever! ‘The Million Little Barbs of Lighten Up!‘ (via BuzzFeed)
- ‘Where Have All The Young Men Gone?‘ (via HR Blogs, links courtesy Gautam Ghosh)
- This is true of any movement – rabidity only works against you in the long run. ‘How Pro-Lifers made me a Pro-Choice Activist.‘ (via TheGloss)
- ‘5 Warnings to go with 5 Types of Men who make great husbands‘ (via From Outside The Mall, link courtesy Gautam Ghosh)
You can catch the links as they come in and even post your own to The XX Factor Facebook Page.
The boy and I were sampling the Southern delights of Matunga the other day. I was all aflame with excitement at the opportunity to show off some traditional Tamilian fare to the boy.
After an earlier visit to the famed Madras Cafe, this time we made our way to the other famous eating joint around the corner – Ramakrishna hotel.
The restaurant isn’t even remotely fancy or ‘nice’. It’s grimy & dingy. But the food, I remembered from childhood visits, was good. When the waiter finally came up, I summoned up my best Tamizh (continuing to show off to boy, of course) to order up a storm of special delights that a non-Tamilian would not be expected to know of. To my utter dismay, the waiter practically shrugged and wandered off even as I was talking.
This continued for the better part of 10 minutes and the only way our order went through was when the boy placed it (in Hindi). To add insult to injury, when my plate finally arrived, the waiter put it down in front of the boy, even though I’d clearly shouted at least five times about wanting that dish and even asked the waiter about its various accompaniments.
We finished up what was put on the table in record time, most of our appetite drained by this gross inhospitality. When the bill arrived (placed in front of the boy, of course), I meaningfully extracted the money from my wallet and dropped it on the table & sauntered out. Cheap thrill but a small victory, that. I think he got the significance of that and perhaps he’ll be nice to the next woman who places an order, if he thinks she’ll be the one tipping him. That woman, though, won’t be me.
No daily service provider seems to think that a woman’s job needs to be taken seriously. Ergo, random reschedules, blatant lies & the worst of all – gentle dismissal of any complaints. This includes maidservants, fridge repair technicians, electricians, gas mechanics and anyone else you might be able to think of. I’ve been jerked around by an electrician with a genteel,
“I’m at a friend’s place now. Yeah, yeah, I’ll call you.”
This man’s turned up 2 days later, then claimed that ‘the lady just got confused and didn’t understand what it was all about.’
As with every other facet of chauvinism, this one is fully supported by the ladies too. The maid turns up half an hour late, then laughs it off saying that she thought I didn’t have anywhere to go, despite being categorically told that I had a meeting that morning. Oddly, enough the same woman speaks with pride of her children going to a good school and what careers they’re going to have. The senior citizen neighbors want to know what I’ve cooked and where I’m going. Funny, these questions really wouldn’t be asked if I were a guy. And why assume that I’m going to cook, just because I’m female?
This is the passive-aggressive side of the male chauvinism of this country. The words don’t say ‘a woman’s place is in the kitchen’ but the actions try to nudge you right back into that role. The men in all these cases will not meet my eyes and in most cases, don’t appear to even hear what I’m saying. It’s like because they don’t like the fact that I exist (with my obvious ‘modern woman‘ outlook), they pretend I don’t.
There is a growing sentiment among the educated men in this country, against what they think of as ‘rabid feminism’. Sure, I want to be moderate too and believe that the genders are equal and that it all comes down to individual attitudes & values. But pray tell me, how am I supposed to be be dignified when the world doesn’t even want to acknowledge that I exist? This passive-aggressive stance more than anything else is what pushes a normal, sane woman towards excessive aggression, anger & angst.
The next service provider to give me attitude is going to have it coming to him, right between his legs and sucks to anybody who thinks that it’s hitting below the belt.
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?