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BALANCING ACT Much has changed; but the conservative streak in the Indian male continues to be there
BALANCING ACT Much has changed; but the conservative streak in the Indian male continues to be there

Indian men are an odd mix of the deeply conservative and the half-hearted liberal

The saas-bahu serials, with their painted women who deliver painfully long sermons on emancipation continue to draw eyeballs.

Multiplex films dealing with prickly issues such as wife swapping, living together and love in the times of intolerance, draw their own crowds too. Stars are chastised for wearing what someone decrees is scanty clothing even as our beauty queens land Hollywood films.

For every advertisement that shows women to be objects of gratification, there are ads that show them as feisty creatures. That is one angle.

The other one is rather more skewed. Girls talking to boys from ‘other communities’ are humiliated in public. Girls going to pubs are molested. Girls walking down ill-lit roads are harassed.

Athletes, sportspeople, if they happen to be girls, are constantly derided for the length of their skirts. The going really seems to be tough for the women.

However, the girls/women aren’t taking it lying down. They are out protesting, silently and loudly, using just about anything they can for props, be it rolling pins or items of underwear. They have their men’s support, they claim. But, do they?

Subservient position?

Myth, history and religion have all allotted to women a subservient position and make it clear that a ‘good woman’ must observe and respect that position.

It is decreed that a good woman knows her position in the scheme of things. Which makes women who think and act outside the box something of a rarity.

Traditionally, too, Indian men have, by and large, settled for wives chosen by their mothers. Later generations would play the field, but go home and marry mom’s choice.

That, avers Shiva, in his mid-twenties and working in an IT firm, is no longer so. “Now we date and marry who we want. Our parents may not be happy, but mostly, they accept our choice.

And, our girlfriends and wives have all the freedom they can possibly desire. It is an equal world, and men would be stupid to think otherwise. In fact, if it was up to me, both my sisters would go out and do their own thing. But it is not up to me, unfortunately. And, though my father is liberal, my mother isn’t.” Shiva goes out with a crowd of men and women, and informs that the men don’t always pick up the tab for the films, drinks and dinners. “If it’s not a specific treat by someone, all of us divide the tab and pay our share. If it is late, we see to it that the women are safely escorted home.”

Two women in his crowd smoke, and that doesn’t bother anyone. “Some of the more earnest types lecture them, and we all laugh,” he grins.

Then there is Dev, a chartered accountant, in his late twenties. Dev is as clear as Shiva about women and their place in the scheme of things. Dev had a girlfriend who walked out on him a couple of years ago; it was not a serious relationship, he hastens to clarify, just a handful of dates, mainly coffees.

And Dev’s parents are matching horoscope and looking out for a bride for him, which he is happy to go along with. “Too much effort to go the dating-wooing-marrying route,” he says with a rueful smile. Dev is the ‘old-fashioned’ type and proud of it. He says he would never let a woman pick up the tab for film tickets or a meal. He sometimes drops a woman colleague on her doorstep, after work. Dev attends salsa classes and watches with disapproval the occasional romances that flower on the dance floor.

Probe a little and he confesses that it makes him uncomfortable to see women so ‘free’. As in, hanging out with male friends, laughing aloud, ordering drinks at pubs, drawing attention to themselves with their behaviour. Dev hits his stride. “Indian women have special talents. They are nurturing, caring people who would do anything to ensure the wellbeing of their family. Becoming modern fashion plates (his terminology!) detracts from the very core of what they are.”

Yes, Dev would like his future wife to be a good cook since he cannot cook.

And no, he does not see himself doing half the household chores; “I will work (I prefer that she doesn’t) and keep my family comfortable.” Which brings us to the conclusion that Indian men are, half-and-half types. There’s some cast in the conservative mould, some in the liberal one. As long as the balance continues, things oughtn’t to be so bad for Indian women.

SHEILA KUMAR

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