Gender (e)quality

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?

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Unloving you

I know there is no emoji for Unlove. Maybe one is supposed to click repeatedly on Love till it goes sour & blue like Roquefort cheese? In any case, Unlove would be an emoji that women would use more often than men, since women seem to fall out of love faster’n men fall in love.

I’m waiting for the trolling.

And still I shall dare to claim that men are sensitive creatures.

May I continue? Have you stopped laughing? As I know you will, because this is a serious matter. Back in 1968 Tom Jones sang a song by the title of Delilah and the world went gaga. The song was about a crime passionnel, a crime of passion. A man kills a woman in a fit of jealousy – how that is any less deplorable than honour killing, I shall never know. As regards the song, I find the text too chilling for me to quote from it at any length, just google it and you’ll get the case history. She is spending the night with a lover while he watches the ‘flickering shadow of love’ on her blind from the street outside. The lover leaves at dawn and our Samson agonistes – which has nothing to do with agony, by the way, but simply means “a contestant in the public games” – well, this particular contestant goes and puts an end to the whole shindig with his knife.

Well, that’s how ‘sensitive’ men can/could be, since the stone age, to be exact, or from the stone age till today, or till last Tuesday, to be even more exact, when a 27 year old man went into a haircutting saloon in Düren, Germany, and shot his wife in the head before putting the nozzle to his own temple and blowing his brains out. The wife survived, thank God.

Had the wife pressed the Unlove button? Had she simply told him, “I don’t love you any more”? No, apparently the Samson in the song didn’t have a clue until he was walking past Delilah’s window – just out for a stroll and not stalking, mind you – when he saw the infernal light. So Delilah was being unfaithful and had been caught in flagrante delicto, as they say. But I very much doubt this version of the events – as related by Samson – because Kasia, who is a psychotherapist, once told me that women usually start looking for a new partner after they’ve left the old one, whereas men leave their old partner because they’ve found a new one. And the ‘old’ and the ‘new’ take on a very different hue in the case of men when we consider the male predilection for women half their age.

Kasia doubts, in short, the whole ‘happening to walk past her window’ business and maintains that Delilah had already jilted Samson, which is why he was stalking Delilah, as simple as that. That is when I tried to tell Kasia about male sensitivity, making her laugh till the tears came, as the Germans say. The Germans – the men – also drink till the doctor comes, but that is neither here nor there. Whereas it is not often that I can make Kasia laugh, or cry, let alone both at the same time, so we’ll let it stand at that – but the point is that we men do not have an Unlove button, as I was trying to tell Kasia, God or Mark Zuckerberg having forgotten to give us one. We do not have too many emojis either. Like dogs, we have to express all our sentiments by growling, or barking, or whining, or snarling, or wagging our tail – have I left out anything? Oh, and we cannot sweat, that is why we pant, which women often mistake for passion.

Kasia, like all women, has around a thousand emojis to talk to her husband (that’s me!) without saying one word. The ultimate emoji is the woman’s face, I declare. It’s like a logogram, as with chinese or japanese characters – and about as readable to us men. It’s not just that women make faces about as numerous as Han characters, what they say – the audible emojis – may have a completely different meaning depending on the tone. It’s like Kasia saying, “Yes, yes, you are right”, which means that I am wrong.

Otherwise ask any zoo keeper. Are lions sensitive? Are tigers sensitive? All large and dangerous animals, animals who can hurt you if rubbed the wrong way – are they sensitive? They are short-tempered – apart from being short-sighted – and irascible and unpredictable. But are they sensitive? I claim that they are and the best proof of it is the missing Unlove button – or even the double click on the Love button? Must try that one out.

All in all, women remember their old loves, men never forget them. Men cannot unlove. They carry their old flames in the dark dungeons of their heart till their dying day: the girl who used to walk barefoot from room to room with the grace of a kathak dancer (which she was learning); the girl who used to walk up to the crowded bus stop like Cleopatra looking for Mark Antony among the camel drivers at the Cheops pyramid while Caesar lay cold and lifeless in his Temple at the Forum in Rome – otherwise there might have been another crime passionnel! And then the girl ogled steadfastly from afar for a whole undergraduate year who carries the blush, together with the ogler, to this day; lastly, the girl who used to wait for the worst kind of verbiage – I’m talking about the love letters of an ongoing novelist or what my mother used to call my ‘epistolary literature’ – in any case, ‘she’ used to wait for them as if for rain. It’s that waiting emoji that has survived. The letters have gone where they should.

And does Kasia mind? Not in the least. She is not jealous of all those ‘foreign’ princesses and queens who held sway before her reign. It’s hardly a kingdom, more of a duchy, I’d say – but nothing is grander for a woman than to hold sway over a man’s heart, which is like the Vatican filled with not just two popes but any number of popes and all of them women.

There is no Unsex button for the man either, it seems, otherwise why should W. Somerset Maugham write in his autobiography “The Summing Up” (1938) that sex was about the best thing he had experienced in his earthly existence (not his exact words)? He was 64. Gabriel García Márquez wrote his “Memories of My Melancholy Whores” (2004) when he was 77. The story? A 90 year old journalist seeks sex from a young prostitute who’s selling her virginity to help her family. In any case, the nonegenarian finds not sex but love. Sensitive, eh? Sensible, too. See, men don’t think of anything but –

Love, what else? Even when they are ninety.