My parents have been married for over thirty years now, and their parents celebrated their golden anniversary five years ago. My great-grandfather too, I am told, looked much relieved and eager in a strange sort of way by the mere possibility of joining his companion after his death which also happened of heart-break soon after great grandma passed away. And here I am, Tito, barely into five years of my marriage (and four affairs that did not work out before marriage), already toying with the idea of running away to some place really far, where this alliance could not find me.
The reason I have started questioning this allegedly ‘holy union’ (of man, woman, the man’s mother, the woman’s mother, et all) is because this seems like the only thing that can possibly yield to my power without killing me of apparent guilt, since the rest of my relationships remain seemingly sacrosanct and sympathy-prone and protected. There comes a point where a man’s sense of guilt seems taller than his own sorrows. I’d selfishly allow Paro, my feisty and vocal half, to disown me than suffer the cruel verdict of being pronounced a bad son, a role that I have had to prove quite frequently of late. Paro would perhaps testify to this thought since she knows me reasonably well or perhaps since she is exhausted of dating my whole family to prove her love for me every day without the luxury of getting on with it gradually. Though I must add here that my Paro is no soft missy, which actually fuels my misery in the most conventional ways.
Apart from fearing the two women in my life – ma and Paro – I am also a god-fearing person though the logical side of me has been researching a reasonable bit on Hindu mythology these days. As it turns out, a mother and son relationship has been duly depicted and glorified by Krishna and his mother Yashoda. Looking for a mother and daughter relationship within these mythological parameters would be pointless; besides that’s a separate story for my wife Paro to rant about. Then there is the famous husband-wife duo, Shiv and Parvati, among others. This revered pair is complete on its own. And in spite of there being innumerable tales of a zillion gods and goddesses, I wonder why there is not a single mythological trace that leaves any social evidence on the concept of Shiv, Parvati and their parents living under the same roof!
What I gather from all this is that the concept of a nuclear family prevailed much earlier than we knew –an impressive and highly scientific practice, I must add. So, basically, there are two neat categories of family structures: the perfectly joint ones, like the ones our grandparents grew up in, and the perfectly nuclear ones that our Hindu gods and goddesses like Shiv and Parvati enjoyed. I am still wondering which category I should place Paro and me in, since the concept of individuality of a nuclear family, in our case, is only restricted to the mere physicality of the word. Rest all is driven by an innate sense of compulsive-duty-disorder and guilt that ties us with a building full of people, sans our consent.
I consider myself a reasonably rational and patient man most of the times. Paro says that is what leads one to most of the wrong answers in a marriage. However, with habitual poised rationality I revise the series of events in my life so I can place my finger finally on the correct vein, feel the pulse, and declare the exact problem. I am obsessed with working things out ‘amicably’, where that last word before the comma is my greatest weakness sometimes. Unpleasantness or being upfront is Paro’s forte and I secretly admire and hate her for that.
So, here’s a rough chronology of how my life has unfolded until now:
- Left Delhi (home) after high school for my Masters in Bombay –all good.
- Spoke to ma and pa over the phone every Tuesday from Bombay – all good.
- Visited home once a year as a student but ma and pa understand – all good.
- Met Paro at a college literary fest in Pune – all good.
- Dated Paro for three years while in college (Bombay-Pune) – all good.
- Secured a job in Chennai – Paro in Pune – parents in Delhi – all good.
- Connected to Paro via chats, whatsapp and unplanned visits – all good.
- Called ma and pa every Tuesday like earlier – all good.
- Introduced Paro to ma and pa – all good.
- Got married and settled in Chennai with Paro and a hectic work life – all good.
- Called ma and pa every Tuesday like before – suddenly, not enough.
- Visited home more frequently than before –suddenly, not enough.
- Now get Paro to call ma and pa every Tuesday at least – seems impossible!
- Also, call Paro’s parents to prove my point above to Paro – highly irregular myself.
- Also, visit Paro’s parents – barely accomplishable with mounting work and ma’s remorse.
So, Paro unhappy with my attempts to train her, ma disappointed to see untrained Paro, ma suddenly disappointed with the same old me too! And I, frantically waiting for Paro to play along a little more discretely. Well, perhaps I am frantically waiting for one of the women to take the burden off me, since I wasn’t trained to handle one. Would it seem kind if I asked ma to let go of me (Paro would gladly do the honours here) or is it fair or sustainable to ask Paro to play along with the mounting motherly love and attachment? Whatever I say or do invariably wins me a tag from both the women of my being ‘typically insensitive’ and it’s time I worked this out in my head before I began to believe the same.
I am told how mothers always advise their daughters before their wedding day, and how their sisters and friends patiently hear their doubts in the middle of the night. In certain parts of India and the world, even today, girls are trained since childhood by parents or finishing schools so they make better wives; utterly offensive from the female perspective but from where I look at it, such guidance would only mean unrealistically helpful for a man like me to understand the depth of the waters that he is about to blissfully swim into.
Instead, in our childhood, we men learn that food will be served to us, the house will be taken care of even in our absence, and that our timely studies and sleep constitute the centre of the universe. In return we just need to know that our single-most nerve-wracking aim in life is to secure a job that can help us pay for our house, our meals and our family.
Only sometimes will we have to run a few errands or play the ‘safety amulet’ for my mother and sisters as we unknowingly protect them against invisible scavengers. And then, we are suddenly pushed into a marriage-arrangement that seems quite the opposite, even worse, if the girl isn’t trained since childhood how to take care of her husband. Could it be possible that the rising numbers of broken homes are the real reasons why developed countries demand that a man be sent for National Service where they are taught to cook and clean too?
Paro often jokes that this expectation-disparity is intentional, so we men would always crave for our mothers even as we enjoy the new set of liberties with a younger woman, and our wives wouldn’t stand a chance in giving us the life we used to have in our childhoods. Now who would have thought of that! And how naively people believe it to be chauvinism where all there is to it is a pawn in a ploy for power. Doesn’t this qualify me instead for feeling like a piece of property that any one woman must own? These thoughts in my mind most often culminate into a feeling of deceit and anger for my dad, grand dad and his dad for not revealing the real story or teaching us the tricks of the trade since the only blessed guy who swims across these torrid waters among all of us is pa! The ever-quiet pa.
I don’t quite recollect noticing my father’s opinions, as he perpetually remained planted in his study, still reliving his world of crime and punishment as a retired judge of the Delhi High Court. He never rolled his eyes nor sighed in disappointment. He never complained about my selfless mother nor did he seem overwhelmed with gratitude. He never mentioned to me how his life had taken a complete turn after marriage.
Today, the possibility of his seeming as satisfied and untroubled doesn’t quite seem as feasible in the real world. Yes, he did get extremely angry when I would not show any interest in studies, or when mother always forgot to take her blood-pressure medicines on time, or when she forced him to stay up post his bed- time to entertain guests at home (even worse if he was asked to drive them home after that). But that was it. With father, it was always a war of logic, discipline and rationality, whose wounds recover well within twenty-four hours. For the remaining matters, I am assuming, he battled them in his head as he remained in his typical quiet demeanour. But unfortunately I hadn’t got much time with him as a kid.
I grew up predominantly in my mother’s company where there existed a completely separate universe of emotions, intentions and opinions. What I inferred from that interaction was that:
‘Men are happy, women aren’t.’
‘Men are happy because they seek their own needs and comforts first. They do what they like’
‘Women are unhappy because they seek the needs and comforts of the men in their lives at the cost of their own space and needs. They cannot do everything they like’.
These paradigms almost like a magic river flowed into a string of beliefs:
‘Securing one’s own needs and comfort means being selfish’.
So, ‘men are selfish but happy, women are selfless and unhappy (well most of them)’.
And then to complicate that twisted analogy further there are apparently self-explanatory words that are often announced with a sigh and a frown – customs, traditions, male-dominated practices, and patriarchal societies, among others. And there I’d be, as a young boy, swallowing all of those pre-digested fodder for growing my own opinions.
Who asked these women to be selfless? Do the women want to be happy? Who are the guardians and patrons of these ideologies within every family? Are they the older women, the mothers, the widows? Or the husbands, the old widowers, or the fathers? I’m not referring to male-dominated panchayats or societies, I am referring to the tiniest fragment of it, which in its collective, lends character to every panchayat and society – a family; what a parent teaches a child before the latter builds a society. That, just that.
Men have, since time immemorial, been consistently accused of two things that, when placed beside each other, seem like a major paradox to me. Men, on one hand, are constantly reminded of how utterly incapable they are as emotional and social beings, leave aside their simple culinary or other similar soft skills, and on the other hand they are constantly accused of conniving and constructing the most robust chauvinistic society! Well, if we made this man’s world, then who made these beasts like men? Who made us chauvinistic? The answer is pretty obvious, but my ‘upbringing’ doesn’t give me the liberty to announce it or spell it out. Just that it always takes two to tango!
I am yet to fathom the most abused remarks made by women, most frivolously – “Men are not emotional. Men don’t feel, understand, or express feelings.” Well, guess what, if you step out of those dramatic outpourings that define an emotional exchange, there are simple subtle ways in which men like to communicate. Besides, by the time I was meant to leave home, I knew well that I was not meant to cry like a girl. It is almost as obvious and assumed as is the most stereotypical mindset in one’s sexual preference.
I knew, I was meant to fend for a living – that’s a man’s job! Where did I learn that? When did I learn all that? Clearly, my school didn’t teach me so. My wife believes in the exact opposite, which makes my struggle with my own self, my beliefs, and my upbringing even more unbearable! Then who taught me all that? By the time I took up my job as the primary bread earner, the women in my life had a different problem with me – why wasn’t I emotional? A million bucks for guessing that answer.
These days, I see a number of optimists and feminists and others ‘-ists’ who tell me that times are changing. Then why am I brooding over feeling torn between the unyielding powers of two of the most stubborn women? A few days ago, I did sit with my father for a couple of beers to trick him into spilling some tricks. After sitting keenly before pa for almost twenty minutes while he continued reading his newspaper like always, I started a general conversation that I would later have to maneuver.
We spoke of politics; we spoke of my stressful job environment, profitable investment opportunities, post-retirement career plans for father. And we finally concluded with a customary chat on health, spirituality, unending wants, overambitious attitudes, food habits, dog poop near father’s car, lack of sleep, football, and spirituality again, before being summoned inside for lunch.
With father, conversations were as real as this. I wonder if either of us even imagined the probability of talking anything else. Or was this one of the ancient techniques of staying sane and seeming stable? Since childhood, it had been the same route we’d take; though ‘spirituality’ had been a new addition. But that man-to-man time did kind of feel like a relief, a breath of fresh air!
I remembered suddenly how I always teased Paro with my whimsical aspirations of wanting to be a househusband and seeing her as a working-wife!
© Madhurima Duttagupta 2013