For a man of my age & origins it takes a lot of courage – and a blog – to comment on the gender issue. All I can say in my defence is that I left one of the best jobs going in India for the sake of the woman I love/d and we’ve been bickering for well-nigh three-and-a-half decades by now as to which one of us was the bigger fool. We are still married btw, officially and otherwise, though we live in a country, mind, where every third marriage ends in a divorce and marriages last for 14 years and 8 months on an average.
I come from an environment about as innocent as the Garden of Eden: I still remember my first visit to the house of a childless couple, colleague of my mother’s and her, the colleague’s, spouse – this was near Lansdowne Road, in Calcutta. I thought they were living in sin! Later I had joined the Foreign Service and we were in training in Delhi when this absolutely ravishing girl walked into one of the rooms at the External Affairs Hostel and I was told to stop gaping: she was divorced, my first divorcee. Were they allowed to run around free endangering public morals?
Talk of retribution, I ended up marrying a divorcee with a child five years later. Back in Germany, our daughter was born and we still did not know any divorced couples – though some remarried ones. Our daughter – not the blonde and blue-eyed one I’d always wanted to have and had conned my way into getting one for free by marrying a white Circassian divorcee complete with daughter, as if on a special offer! But that’s not the daughter we’re talking about right now, we’re talking about our biological (egad!) daughter, who’d soon be going to the kindergarten and to the primary school and so on. Where was I?
Oh yes, I was in Germany – still am! – and the parents of our daughter’s KG and primary school friends were just beginning to get the seven-year itch and getting divorced. The mothers, being young and comely and intelligent, were finding other partners, not to speak of the fathers, most of whom were getting divorced because they’d found new partners, as is the male custom. To cut a long story short, most of our daughter’s friends were having two sets of parents, two fathers and two mothers, and were getting four presents for Christmas and being taken to the seaside for their summer holidays twice in the season and so on. Didn’t she feel ashamed because she had the same ole’ set of parents every year and got just that one present (she got many more!)? I used to tease our poor fille, making her thoughtful. I fear that I almost led her to believe that no other woman wanted her father and no other man wanted her mum and that’s why they were together, as leftovers, so to speak.
We’ve all grown up since then and now I know that it’s no shame to have remained married to the same woman for as long as I have. Again I’ll say in my defence that I have eyed my share of passing beauties with thoughts too deep for tears – but not too deep for Kasia, it seems, who is very much aware of this universal male frailty. I’ve been noticing other things too, such as how norms change and how it’s the man, these days, who says ‘yes’ to a relationship after the couple have been through all the stages and phrases from ‘Shall we go grab some coffee?’ to ‘What are you doing for the weekend?’ to ‘Your place or mine?’
In other words, I find women saying ‘no’ to any number of ineligible partners while waiting for the right one. And then when the right one has put in an appearance and the woman has been giving every signal that she’s ready for consumer durables – the man seems to have a problem saying ‘yes’. The woman feels like hitting the man on the head with the umbrella every time he says ‘I don’t know…’, or ‘I’m so busy right now, there’s so much work…’, or ‘Let’s go somewhere! What about Morocco?’ or ‘I’ll come and fix that geyser of yours and then we’ll go for a bite, okay?’ No, it is not okay, since not saying yes is the man’s way of saying no.
All I know about the modern woman is that she still seems to be nurturing the same age-old dream of ‘someone just for myself’, and the friend who also happens to be one’s lover, and someone to share one’s migraine with, and someone who can do all the oily and smelly things about the car and be rewarded with something as simple as – unless the children are around. He earns good money and brushes his teeth before and after – in short, the epitome of bliss and domesticity whom one can leave for more than five minutes with one’s BFF without him behaving like Donald Trump – or like Bill Clinton, for that matter. You’ve looked for him on Amazon, until they told you to try e-bay, sigh. He is nowhere to be found. Men are like snowflakes, they melt in your hand and on your tongue. Whereas you didn’t even know that you were so old-fashioned and would be yearning for a breast as shaggy as Dad’s or the Retriever’s in your single mother, single-wanting-to-be-a-mother existence.
Did Mother and Granny and Auntie really have it better? Didn’t have to worry about the bread-earner who came to bed late and started snoring early, whereas romance was the bird in the tamarind tree which called and called and called, to no purpose. Nobody went hungry with those women around: they treated all males as animals to be fed, first and foremost. Feeding the male took the edge off his libido. Feeding the dog made it less ferocious. These were women from well-to-do, middle class families. They had hordes of servants and maidservants to order around, any number of younger brothers of the lord and master to send on errands outside the house.
They had no choice, of course. They couldn’t have an affair with Abinash-kaku or run away with Jyotirmoy-meso if they liked. They had been buried alive in a marriage and were then busy keeping their mausoleum of a household nice and clean and tidy. Children were born and grew up playing in and around that mausoleum getting hardly any more attention than the goats father had insisted on keeping because goat’s milk was good for the children and made them more intelligent – intelligent?
I have not understood to this day whether the women have been punked over this New Deal or not. It’s like heads I win, tails you lose. ‘Danger! Men at Work’ has been replaced by ‘Gender! Women at Play’, while men are declaring themselves to be an ‘engendered species’. Meanwhile, the Working Woman is coming back from work and checking the mails and the msgs, all from stray males she’s attracted over the past fortnight. One look at the typos and she decides to watch a film all alone by herself in her boyfriend jeans.
She doesn’t want to have any one of them around right now, after a hard day at work. Isn’t that freedom too?