Thursday, May 23, 2013

The tragedy of India’s romeos

Dating in India is never as straightforward as finding the right person, exchanging numbers, meeting up for coffee, then drinks, then dinner, then dinner again, then getting married and finally having kids. Indeed, in a country of romeos looking for love we are often beholden to ‘The Rules’.
Pic: The Opoponax / Flickr CC Attribution
In India, men are attracted to women, just like women are attracted to men. Yes, it is a fact that Indian men and women are no exception to the international rule of mutual attraction despite what you might have heard. Much like in Boston, where you’d ask a woman out to see Skyfall or in Paris or London, when you’d mutually agree to meet up for drinks after work, in India, there is no national substitute to these western norms. But that is not to deny the existence of ‘The Rules’, so before getting to know “how” they work, let’s start with “why” they exist.
It is of pre-eminent importance that the family work towards guarding the chastity of the girl and ensuring that the boy discovers all the answers to his sexuality after he is married. As a result, our parents refuse to teach us how to approach and interact respectfully with the opposite sex. In school, once we come of age and find ourselves attracted to someone of the opposite sex, hurling compliments to endear ourselves to them as opposed to insults, we often find ourselves lost in a sea of questions and contradictions. It is worth noting, however, that this tender age is constantly being revised downwards in many of Delhi’s most progressive schools with innocent and often misconceived discussions of sex taking place between classes in the hallways amongst 10-year-olds, thanks to the internet and the availability of porn. Suffice it to say, they know how it works. But this is not to say that sex education has finally found a safe space to exist within the school curriculum. As Basavaraj Horaati, a Minister from Karnataka, recently argued, “There is no need for sex education in our ‘great’ Indian culture”[1]. The advantages of sex education in schools, with explicitness varying by age and accurate information being conveyed, are evident.
Eventually we become adults and are able to embark on our college lives brimming with hope and anticipation of the unknown. In India, we can vote at the age of 18, but are required to turn 25 to order a drink, so the definition of what constitutes an “adult” is a nebulous affair. Our years of college hibernation often include the first time we discover our sexuality, but we are still never presented with a clear road map. As men, are we supposed to “hunt” after the women we are attracted to? Women are directly and indirectly instructed never to exhibit their attraction towards men for the well-known fact that to do so in the modern world will have you branded as a “slut”, and will undermine the honour of your family. For the sake of particularly primitive patriarchal sources on the matter, women are not entitled to have opinions and therefore are in no position to be opining on their tastes, dislikes or fondness for someone. So growing up with even one of these underlying notions would force any girl to turn down a guy who asked her out. In addition, we can thank Mr. Shah Rukh Khan and Mr. Karan Johar for scripting our Bollywood aspirations so “good girls don’t date”, “boys and girls can never be friends (unless she is perceived to be ugly)” and “a future husband will never want you if you’ve had a boyfriend”.
Nevertheless, a glimmer of hope was recently observed, undermining all of these notions, with a young person managing to express his or her interest in another young person healthily, positively and without fear. And yes, I said HER as it should be stressed that women are entitled to express their interests in men, and while we’re at it, I totally support India’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender citizens to rise up and claim this right as well.
“The Rules”
So you’ve asked someone out, they meet up and after a few dates both of you want to get physically close, want to explore each other physically. It’s a natural feeling but as Indians we are exclusively guided, and limited, to Bollywood and porn, the two schools of thought on this topic. With no parental guidance or adequate sex education at school, we rely on these two establishments to teach us what to do physically with one another, for lack of a better phrase. It would be an understatement to say that both Bollywood and porn are lacklustre sources on the subject matter. With the traditional 3.5 hour romantic saga, right before our main protagonists engage in intercourse, they are serenaded by a full orchestra, experience a change of the four seasons (in the Swiss Alps for that matter) and manage to undergo half a dozen wardrobe changes. Post year 2000, studio executives decided to introduce movie-goers to the beautiful female lead that gets drunk, ends up hooking up with an amusing male sidekick leaving us to believe that women don’t want to have sex when they are sober. The other school of thought tells us, that within seconds of being alone, either the guy or girl will rip their clothes off in one seamless move, jump into bed and have intercourse.
The date at the bus-stop. Pic: Rita Banerji / Flickr CC Attribution
Not knowing how to make the first move, it’s usually a mix of chaotic movements, odd silences and nervous smiles. With the fear of certain failure running through our minds added to a general inability to communicate our feelings, we inevitably fall short of our Bollywood idols who always know what to do, have all the best moves and never seem to break into a sweat.
Faced with such an evening, we often feel the need to engage in post-date analysis with our friends. However, instead of revealing our doubts and anxieties about the evening’s events, we weave together an intricate web of mythical stories destined to make our friends envious of us. After all, it is never cool to admit defeat. And so we find ourselves with our third source of information, mythical stories told by friends who are as naïve as us, and equally as inexperienced.
What a tragedy, the most natural of feelings and yet, sex is rendered into such a mysterious mix of high expectations, mutual confusion and disappointment. Often forgotten is the fact that, it is natural to be sexually attracted to another person (guy, girl, transgender). It is amazing to live out your sexuality, though there is a lot to be learned. It is tragic that we in India cannot talk about this natural feeling, not at home, not in school and not even with our friends. When we do express our feelings, sometimes crudely, we often find ourselves scaring our person of interest, with stalking, blank calls or staring. I am not defending this type of behaviour by any means, but arguing that many of us are unable to express our attraction in a healthy and respectful manner.
Moreover, based on our primary sources of information, rejection is either non-existent or dealt with in idiotic ways. Most Bollywood movies revolve around a well-coiffed man chasing a woman over 210 minutes until she finally falls in love with him. It is an amazing feeling when one is attracted to someone, but it is essential that the other person shares the same feeling as well. Saying “no” is a definite, non-negotiable way of expressing disinterest and sex has to be consensual, no matter what. Consequently, it is important for us to accept rejection and understand that although it may not be easy to process, it’s an essential part of growing up, especially so in India as it underlines both a man and a woman’s right to raise their voice and express their opinion.
The heinous rape that took place in the evening of the 16th of December 2012, sparked many debates many of them regarding the hypocritical notions that guide our society. In this vein, I hope we will all step forward to talk about sex, inform our young ones about this very natural feeling and perhaps even set a healthy tone so they will come to us with their questions, fears and misconceptions.
We can start by breaking free of “The Rules” and by introducing a framework of informed sex education in schools which teach our children self-appreciation, self-esteem and respect for the opposite sex. No it’s not westernization and it’s not for anyone else; this change is for us, for our lives.
Join us for a tweetchat on ‘consent in relationships’ at 12 pm (IST) today on Twitter using the hastag #PyaarKiPungi with @_thealternative, @MustBol, @GotStared and @isfsd_csr
Pics: The Opopanax and Rita Banerji

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