Today a reader suggested that I should write a story on the lines of those of Shivani and Mitali but in which the man is a victim. "I'd like to see a similarly infuriating and well-written story about the modern woman harassing the hell out her husband, making him lose confidence, demoralising his existence. Women can do that, yes? Or is the writer unable to find the embarrassed women who'd reveal such a thing," the reader commented.
A couple of readers had left similar comments for the Shivani post. They had pointed out -- if I remember it right -- that even a man can be a victim of circumstances. The thing is, I know Shivani and Mitali personally, and they had shared their stories with me. I narrated them in the first person, instead of the third person, so that the emotion remained undiluted. But which woman would ever volunteer a story in which she is the villain? And which man, given his ego, would volunteer a story in which he is the victim?
In any case, 'villain' and 'victim' are relative terms. The news agency Reuters, for example, does not use the word 'terrorist' in its copies: they believe one man's terrorist can be another man's freedom fighter. The same principle, I believe, applies in the man-woman relationship. A woman can always say she is acting in a villainish way because she is the real victim. The man can make a similar claim. Who's the real villain and who's the real victim, no one ever gets to know.
Generally speaking, I will always be on the woman's side. For the simple reason that she is hardly given any choices in life. The choices shrink right from the moment of her birth and her fate is tied to that of a man who she would probably meet a quarter of a century later. Look at the tragedy: when she gets married, she is the one to give up her career and move to the city of her husband. When she has a kid, she is the one who gives up her job and stays home. When she resumes her career, if at all, she starts almost from scratch -- seniority be damned -- but she does not mind. Even if she minds, she has no choice.
And I am talking about city-bred, educated women. Women in rural India, especially north India, are an entirely different story, enjoying a status that is marginally better than that accorded to the cattle: only when they are nearing or are past menopause that they earn some of their rights -- most of them misused on the hapless daughter-in-law.
Coming back to the urban setting, there are exceptions of course. But by and large, an Indian woman's destiny is decided collectively by her parents, by her husband, by her in-laws, by her children and, above all, by the society. She never really gets to do what she really wants to do. She is merely a participant -- either enthusiastic or unwilling -- in someone else's life. A man can tell his family, wife or parents, even at 10 in the night, "I'll just be back in an hour." Can a woman do that? A casual outing that a man takes for granted can put a question mark on the character of a woman. And: why is the girl expected to be traditionally attired when her prospective in-laws come to see her along with their son -- even though the son maybe wearing a pair of jeans? Why should the burden of holding the tradition aloft lie on the soft shoulders of the woman alone?
Things are changing, but only in limited circles that don't consider earning lofty degrees as being educated. Really, a degree has nothing to do with education. A Harvard-returnee can still be pretty narrow-minded when it comes to the do's and don'ts concerning his wife -- ah, tell me all about it -- even though he lusts for classmates or co-workers who are bold. What to do: most Indian men are programmed that way: education might light the lamps of their minds, but they rarely ever see the light. Education, on the other hand, does wonders to a woman's personality.
Coming back to the reader's comment that inspired this post: "I'd like to see a similarly infuriating and well-written story about the modern woman harassing the hell out her husband, making him lose confidence, demoralising his existence." Well, all I can say is, if a man loses his confidence or is demoralised because of his wife, whatever happened to his balls? Come on, man, arise, awake and rest not till you have done so well in life that women fall over you and your wife feels jealous and comes around. If she still doesn't, dump her.
But I know it isn't that easy. Men, too, have certain rules to live by, even though the rules governing them are more flexible than those governing the women. But rules are rules. I know of a man who got married just because the elders in his family wanted him to. So one evening, he went to see the girl. The meeting was fixed in the local temple, where the girl came with a host of relatives and friends. He hardly got to have a proper look at the girl -- talking was out of the question -- but he had to say yes under pressure from the family. The family had already decided on his behalf. It was only on the night of the wedding that he discovered that the girl was -- well, she was certainly not his kind of woman. But the priest had already gone home and he had no choice but to live, happily ever after, for the next several decades. He spent his entire life salivating for other women -- which, I think, was not his fault at all.
I know of another couple. I have known them since childhood and they are my parent's age now. I can't reveal too many details because, thanks to Facebook and Orkut, people who I wouldn't otherwise want to read Ganga Mail have access to this blog. So I shall stick to the basics: the man was short and thin, while the wife voluptuous and gorgeous. They are a Bengali couple. I would often watch them walk past my house: the man would always be talking very loudly, as if making a point, as if he was a firebrand Bengali Marxist. But back home, it was a different 'fire' story -- at least according to my Malayali classmate who happened to be their neighbour. At home, whenever the wife got pissed off with her husband, she would beat him up. And when she got extremely pissed, she would light up the gas stove and drag the hapless man by his hair and threaten to dunk his head into the fire. My Malayali classmate knew all this because the poor Bengali man, otherwise a fiery speaker, would be screaming for help.
Last winter, when I went to Kanpur, I noticed the couple at the neighbourhood supermarket. I was glad he was still alive. The wife looked as voluptuous as ever. They were surveying the bottles of various pickles. I surveyed them. I did not know whether to feel sorry for him, or for her.