Thursday, May 10, 2012

Default setting: Lout

A girlfriend recounted a recent experience that is so telling. Flying from Delhi, she landed at Mumbai airport and awaited her baggage at the carousel. A tall, young man stood in front of her trolley, between her and the carousel. When she spotted her bag, out of dreary habit in dealing with Delhi men, she sternly asked him to please step aside so she could access it. He responded simply with 'why don't you let me get it for you.' She had to lift her jaw off the ground, was (understandably) flabbergasted and stuttered, 'No... its okay... I can get it... just ...' And he continued, 'No, I insist, please let me.' He plucked it off the carousel, placed it on her trolley and that was it.

Note and celebrate the amazing events here:
First, the young man offered.
Second, he carried through with his offer.
And third, there was no winking, no leering, no extra chatting.
A case of plain gentlemanly behaviour.

Shouldn't this be standard, default setting? But it's not!

Such a rare pleasant encounter gets rarer by the day.

I know I am in Delhi or the NCR region when men walk straight into me in malls, shopping complexes.  They never, ever hold open a door out of courtesy - even if its a ginormous glass one that takes half my weight to push forward. I'm not asking to be given a chance to pass through the doorway first - not at all. But if you've walked ahead and know there's a woman behind you, at least hold the bulk of the glass back for an extra moment. But no - each time, it comes swinging into me, headlong. On the other hand, a puny woman like me, holds doors open behind me regardless of whether the person immediately to the rear is male, female, aged, or infant. This is not rocket science - it is human social interaction 101.

The 'Delhi boy' walk can be spotted by an Indian woman from miles away. It's the 'my-back-arm-and-chest-muscles-are-so-huge-that-they-impede-my-movement-ape-style' walk. Then there's the side glance, the smack of lips, or intake of breath with a loud hissing sound and most commonly, a vulgar comment called out even in the most upmarket streets of the NCR. This is the average uncouth man's way of expressing his appreciation for the Indian woman's beauty, femininity and existence.

Every Indian woman I know is not only disgusted, but most definitely repulsed by this routine display of 'appreciation.' Unfortunately, the idea of uncouthness being repulsive is fast becoming a faded myth in the minds of young Indian men.

Bollywood endorses uncouthness with it's glamour stamp in fantasy ink. An alarmingly standard movie scene has the hero sing a positively vulgar song to woo an unknown woman on the street, often barring her path, stalking her, sometimes even making physical contact to tease her. This incredible Indian woman in Bolly-la-la-land enjoys the 'game' and often participates in it with hip-shaking glee.

Take the example of the recent film Vicky Donor. Great comedy, lots of laughs. But let's look at the common love plot and how it unfolds. The protagonist Vicky, in my opinion, harasses a bank officer Ashima across her desk every day. This is not glib, smooth gentlemanly wooing. This is not even decent, respectful conversation with a 'possibility of meeting up later' hanging in the air. Crude speech coupled with undisguised predatory stares in broad daylight in a professional set up in official premises, and Ashima breathes deep and smiles back at him, continuing to assist him or answer his queries. If women watching the movie don't want to snap back at Vicky for that instant,  or even slap or taser him or cause him physical pain of some sort, then clearly I am a relic from an ancient past. 

In the real world, if I were at that desk, I would not reply kindly  to behaviour that in my world is undisguisedly indecent. If he continued to harass me, I would call the bank's security to warn him and escort him out. In fact, I would advise my daughter, colleague, sister and niece to call security were they in a similar situation.

How much is enough? When does a woman say 'No. You have crossed the boundary.' When women are brainwashed to 'be nice' no matter what, (as we are in this culture), they eventually lose the ability to even recognise when a boundary is being crossed. 

Sophisticated 'bad boys' with smooth suaveness, cross boundaries too. There are those who deceive, intimidate and visually undress women with such charm and innocence, that some women don't recognise when the boundary was crossed. This is especially true of young girls and adolescents, when 'uncles' and 'cousins' get more 'friendly' than necessary. Young women should be able to recognise even such events and feel empowered to react to them. However, when even uncouth advances are labelled harmless, and not to be treated as an invasion of private space, (as modern Indian media suggests) where does that leave a woman's instinct for self-protection? 

Crippled and worthless with disuse.

A culture that makes uncouth and boorish behaviour acceptable will turn its existing women into instinct-injured prey that cannot tell what is unsafe any more. They will be treated as prey and will live as prey. (In northern India, many women already do live like this.) They will then give birth to a race of hard and cold young women who will never feel comfortable being vulnerable, gentle, tender and openly loving. We will lose the soft beauty of the Feminine that we have (at a high price, no doubt), managed to retain in this culture. When the women are no longer women, we have lost the balance of life itself. A country with only yang and no yin will be a nightmare.

A cold, wintry world with no warmth, light and life.

We might as well live on Mars then.