Saturday, 27 December 2014

Men Don't Cry

They can. They do. They may. And you know what you and I ought to do, we should let them. We as a society have been so engrossed in taking up the cause of women, of their oppression and their neglected rights that we became oblivious to the problems faced by men. 

As a kid, the fairy tales that were narrated to me painted two very distinct pictures of men and women in my head. The stories more or less circled around “A strong macho man sweeping the pretty princess off her feet, wiping her tears, making her smile, solving her problems and being a constant support system for her. The princess never did that for him; she never needed to, because the prince was never low, distressed or in pain. Even if he was, he kept it to himself and dealt with it like a man and never, ever did he cry because apparently ‘men don’t cry’.”

I grew up with this picture of men and women. It didn’t seem flawed to me in the initial growing years of my life; the only thing that was within my understanding back then was that I get to wear the beautiful princess gowns, and oh, I liked that! However, as I grew up it started to seem slightly odd to me when my parents and teachers would exclaim, ’Oh, she’s a boy’ every time I acted slightly violent, athletic, bold or brave. I did not completely understand it when my friend was asked to not act like a little girl when he came back misty eyed and bruised one day from school and narrated the incident of being beaten up by the senior boys. I saw his hands and face severely bruised another day; this time on being asked what happened, he told his parents that he had scraped his hands and face while playing football. I knew he was lying. He knew it too. He just learnt that day that it was not manly enough to succumb to tears and no matter how much it pains him he was supposed to keep it to himself and never vent it out or else he would be less of a man. I, on the other hand learnt that everything that has got to do with strength and valour fell in the category of men, and everything that has got to do with weakness, sympathy and fear fell in the category of women. Did I like the definition that the world was giving me? Oh! I abhorred it; but did I start accepting it, yes, bit by bit huge parts of me started accepting it.

As I grew up with this mentality, often in flashes of immaturity I have remarked and mocked many of my guy friends rather unapologetically ‘to not act like a whiny little girl’, when they have expressed emotions over trivial issues which they were ideally supposed to act all macho about. I did not know back then about the severity of damage that my words were capable of causing. Only when I grew up I realized what I did back then and what we as a society have been doing to men, not just to men, but also to little boys with our rigid ideas of machismo and masculinity.

I remember having a conversation with a friend notorious for his stoicism when I asked him if he has ever cried in the recent past. He took a deep breath and warned me that he might sound like a male chauvinist in his reply. He said, “When a girl cries, you can sense genuine concern in people’s eyes who feel like going to her and comforting her. When a guy cries on the other hand, people feel like mocking him. It’s disgraceful and shameful for a guy to cry, to express his emotions out loud. I am human, I have emotions and I do break down at times, but I keep it to myself because I cannot take it out.” I was quiet for a long time. I felt deeply, almost painfully sympathetic towards men. While we’re out there demanding women’s rights and liberation, I wonder how independent men are when they do not have the freedom to feel as strongly as a woman, when they are denied the freedom to express their emotions, when they are denied to expose their vulnerabilities for once and cry without being labelled as effeminate and weak! Oh, it saddens me, almost pinches me!

One of the major reasons why sexual and physical offenses against men and young boys go unreported is because we as a society refuse to see men as being vulnerable, victimized or weak. The victims of such violence suffer silently because we never gave them the outlet to express their susceptibility. A young kid bullied in school could not complain to his teacher because it was not manly enough to do so. A twelve year could not walk up to his mother and speak out about being sexually abused by his servant because it was shameful for a guy to go through sexual abuse. They chose to suffer in silence because they had to keep up the ideals of their gender above themselves. Yes, these are extreme cases that I mentioned, but it reached this stage because they were not for once allowed to be weak by the society.

We need to view and perceive gender as a spectrum and not just two distinct shades. We need to understand that the distinction in our physicality is the only definite difference, let us not impose restrictions on our soul. Our souls are free and liberated, they probably do not understand the specifics of gender and let us not force them to. We all have a soft side, a cruel side, an indifferent side, a strong side, a vulnerable side and a brave side; a few of these sides may be more marked in some of us as compared to others but it doesn't have everything to do, in fact it might have nothing to do with our gender. We need to accept that it is perfectly alright for a man to rest his head on a shoulder which could be a woman’s (pardon me for the blasphemy), shed a few tears and expose his weaknesses. At the same time, we need to understand that it does not make a woman any less feminine if she does not feel or express emotions as strongly as women are naturally expected to. A man cannot and need not be firm, strong, courageous and unwavering at all times, a woman cannot and need not be emotional, fragile, gentle and coy at all times or at any time, for that matter. Let us give each other the freedom to be ourselves and not be burdened by gender.

You might ask me how I plan to achieve it, I do have a certain idea in mind. I wrote about it, to start with. I hope it resonates with the thoughts of a couple of you and I hope you will imbibe some of it and carry it forward with you. I will make sure that the men and women I come across are not burdened by gender and do not have to be too aggressive or too meek to fulfill their conventional gender demands and will hope that you’d do the same. I will make sure that when I have a child and strongly hope that when you have one, we don’t teach him/ her what it means to be a guy or a girl, let us not impose gender upon them. Let us give them the freedom to choose the qualities they wish to develop and choices they wish to make. That way, we could move towards a more progressive and liberated society. I may be painting too rosy a picture, but then, it all starts with one stroke. It’s stifling to be restrained by gender, I want to be liberated, I’m sure you want to be too.

Monday, 15 December 2014

That Cat

I hate cats. I've always hated them. No, not always. I loved this one particular cat once. White and brown fur. She was beautiful. Not just beautiful, she was enchanting! Hazel green eyes, stunning yet frightening and claws so sharp that it could rip you off. She would come every day to our little cottage house in Nainital. I would give her milk and chapattis regularly. I know it is not the best food for a cat; but staunch vegetarian that my grandmother was, we did not have much choice. She did not seem to mind the vegetarian diet anyway. The bowl would be licked clean by her, not the tiniest bit of chapatti or smallest drop of milk sticking around anywhere.

She used to come over in the afternoons sometimes, sometimes in the evening. How I’d wait for her every day! I’d look forward to petting her, getting her a bowl of milk and chapatti, hearing her meow as she would walk around the house defiantly and making her sit on my lap (sometimes forcibly, because she disliked bondage even if it came out of love) as I caress my hands on her rich brown and white fur. Before I knew it, I was in love with her! The agile walks, the magnificently fearless jumps she would make and traverse several meters with just one giant leap of hers and those eyes, although I admit they could scare me immensely but I had never come across anything more stunningly beautiful! I would wait longingly, every day for her to come; sometimes I went as far as going to the neighborhood to check on her when she would not turn up until late evening.

I saw her hunt a rat once, a harmless little thing wriggling about playfully near the drains.  She approached it cunningly, not making the slightest noise as it cautiously walked towards it and when she was close enough to grab it, she thumped it with her claws which made it squeak out in pain. As the little thing was trying with all its might to free itself from her grab, she hit it for the second time and when it ceased to breathe, she tore it with her canines and chewed it away with the utmost ferocity. I saw evil in her eyes that day! A soft heart, I had. I was an animal lover too. However, that day for some reason I could feel no remorse for the rat. I almost reveled at the cat’s victory, took pleasure in the satisfaction that she got out of hunting the rat. Love, I tell you, is a tricky thing! It can make beasts out of us humans.

My admiration for the cat grew with every passing day. She continued coming over to play with me each evening. One day after feeding her, I was trying to pull her into my lap to pet her. She wriggled out of my hands one time, I tried harder and pulled her more lovingly towards me for the second time. She turned her head wildly towards me, clawed me sharply on the hands, gave me the fiercest look ever and jumped away. She went far off my cottage in leaps and bounds and was out of sight in a few seconds. I was left in devastating shock! How could she do this to me! I was just trying to hold her for a while to caress her lovingly. How could she claw me and give me that devilish look; I thought it was meant for the enemies, but she met me with the same look. How could she!

‘I would not play with her, I will just give her food and then she can go back from wherever she came’, I thought. It was 5 o’clock. She was supposed to come by now. Maybe, she would come a little late. 6 PM, 7PM , 8PM ,9PM… hours passed by, the cat never came. I was hopeful that she would come the next day. The next day passed by, and the next, and the next. The cat never returned. I went looking for her in the neighborhood where she used to hunt about, but no luck. I gave up the search in a few days, but every time I sighted a cat, I would get reminded of her.

One fine evening, I was playing Hide and Seek at my friends place where I was hiding at the backdoor and there, I saw her! She was there! I was not mistaken. The same brown and white fur, thinning slightly at the skull and how could I forget her eyes!  She was out there for a hunt, I presumed. She was approaching the kitchen door with the same cautiousness I witnessed long back when I saw her hunt for the first time. I was right. She grabbed the rat with its sharp canines and ate it off mercilessly. After having finished her meal, she walked back and then, our eyes met. I could sense an air of recognition. She walked towards me and stroked my legs amiably with her head. A moment later she jumped athletically on a tree and was gone! My friend told me later that the cat recently started coming to her place every day and she feeds it milk and biscuits. ‘Such a beauty, isn't it?’ she remarked!

I felt a sharp pang of betrayal for some reason. I sensed at that moment that she did not hate me, but she did not love me either. She was not bonded by emotions. She belonged to no one. She was wild, free and independent. She was probably capable of love too, but not attached. She was incapable of getting attached to people, things or places. I guess that is why I started hating them, because I got too attached to that cat, only to get to know later that I was replaceable, easily replaceable. It was not hatred, I guess. Probably envy, I envied their free spirit. I envied their independence, the way they are completely on their own, the way they can never truly belong to anyone, the way they refuse to be owned and bonded, even in love. I guess somewhere in a tiny corner of my heart I long to be like them-free, independent and wild!