Sampath G

Archive for the ‘Trends’ Category

That Narendra Modi joke you’ve never heard

In Celebs, Culture and Society, Politics, Trends, Uncategorized on April 22, 2013 at 2:46 pm

There is a famous scene in the Coen brothers’ film adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men, where Llewelyn Moss (played by Josh Brolin) is recovering in a hospital after being seriously wounded in a gun fight with the hitman, Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem in the role of a life time).

A bed-ridden Moss is visited by another hitman, Carson Wells (Woody Harrelson), who is surprised to find Moss alive after his encounter with Chigurh.
“What’s this guy supposed to be, the ultimate badass?” asks an irritated Moss.
“No, I wouldn’t describe him as that,” says Wells.
“How would you describe him?” Moss wants to know.
Chigurh is a remorseless killer, the most dangerous man imaginable. But Wells doesn’t say any of that. Instead, this is how he describes Chigurh: “I guess I would say he doesn’t have a sense of humour.”
Like lightning that illuminates an entire landscape in a single flash, this one line is all we need to see Chigurh for the kind of man he is. He sounds more terrifying in this sentence spoken by a fictional character than in all those other scenes where he actually goes around killing people. And we find it chilling precisely because McCarthy here hints at the Chigurh lurking in each one of us, waiting to be summoned by the right cause, the right ideology, or the right man on a white horse.
Narendra Modi is scary for the same reason that Chigurh is scary: on publicly available evidence, he does not have a sense of humour. And neither do his legion of fans, who are less his fans than aspirational clones, as attested by the popularity of the Modi mask.
As Sandipan Deb observed in an article hereNo one jokes about Narendra Modi. In the whole vast limitless universe of the World Wide Web, there is not a single joke about Modi—at least none that are searchable. But there are tons of gags about Rahul GandhiManmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi; entire websites and facebook pages dedicated to having a laugh at their expense. Is it because the latter three are inherently funny people while there is nothing at all funny about Modi? Or is it that there are only two kinds of people in the world: those who worship Modi, and those afraid to joke about him?
Humour, like some chemical elements do when brought near a white flame, acquires a strange new property when brought into the force field of power: it turns subversive. If you’re not living in an oppressive or totalitarian state, humour flows freely around the nodes of power and public discourse retains its civility under pressure. The moment the weight of power falls heavily upon those governed by it, humour disappears. And when it reappears, as it eventually will, it does so as a weapon that punctures the self-righteous piety which envelops power; it deflates the puffed-up sanctimoniousness that tyranny wears to shield itself from being interrogated by the kind of free and fearless speech that makes any democracy worthy of being called one.
Therefore, a sense of humour, defined as a willingness to laugh at oneself, is a fundamental value in a democracy and a non-negotiable quality for anyone who would aspire to a leadership position in politics. That people are not comfortable cracking jokes about Modi is a big minus for the PM wannabe. However, it is consistent with his history of bigotry, and fully in keeping with the allegations of his political opponents, who accuse him of possessing a fascist mindset. Indeed, humour does not mix with extremism, and if Modi wants to leave his extremist past behind, he must learn to lighten up—and that doesn’t mean joking about other people. For instance, if only he’d had a sense of humour, he would have done better than to run away from hard questions like he did in his interview with Karan Thapar.
Of course, one can argue that Modi’s public persona of a humourless authoritarian is just an act. But it is that act which wields power and takes decisions as well, and it is the nature of such power to seek control. And because humour cannot be controlled, power hates it. To take a recent example, West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee, another humourless authoritarian, arrested a Jadavpur University professor last year just for sharing an email that poked fun at her.
Today, when Modi is only a PM aspirant, and that too notionally, and not officially, his acolytes can barely stand jokes about him. I honestly would like to know if there’s anybody out there who believes that in a scenario where Modi is PM, Modi jokes would be tolerated in public discourse the way Manmohan or Rahul jokes are today. If you are that anybody, let’s see if you can walk your talk by sharing a joke about Modi (not by him) in the Comment section below.
Modi and his followers are too much in love with the image of the grim visionary who will lead India from the chaos of adolescence to the macho-rity of adulthood—obviously, for when you fall in love, you always do so with an image. What distinguishes an authentic individual (more commonly known as a human being) from an image is vulnerability. In so far as Modi is a human being just like the rest of us, just like Rahul Gandhi or Manmohan Singh or even Arnab Goswami, he is vulnerable.
But the hard visage of Modi’s leadership persona has no room for anything as ‘soft’ as vulnerability, which is why he is a dangerous man for democracy. There are no jokes about Modi because Modi is first and foremost an image, and images are too worried about cracking up to crack up themselves. Modi’s India is no country for irreverent men—and that’s no laughing matter.

Working from home sucks: Why Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer is right

In Culture and Society, Lifestyle, Management, Trends, Uncategorized on April 22, 2013 at 2:34 pm

In a decision that is certain to cause heated debates in HR circles, not to mention office cafeterias and water cooler hangouts, Yahoo chief Marissa Mayer has banned working from home for all her employees. As per a memo sent out last Friday to Yahoo employees, those who have been working ‘remotely’ now either have to move to the nearest Yahoo office by 1 June or put in their papers.

This won’t go down well with the world’s digital evangelists, who would have you believe that everything – from meetings to matings to partings – is best done via the internet. And as the CEO of an iconic digital company, Mayer deserves to be applauded for demonstrating the courage needed to take an unpopular, counter-intuitive decision.

A lot of nonsense has been written about stuff like ‘telecommuting’ and how organisations can ‘leverage’ technology to cut costs and improve productivity. So yes, having a chunk of your staff work from home will trim your overheads. And yes, if they are self-driven and reliable and sincere and their astral bodies roam the corridors of your office during working hours, hovering benevolently in conference rooms when strategies are being thrashed out, by all means get them to work from home.

AP

Marissa Mayer in this file photo. AP

But most companies don’t require only individual contributions from individual employees. A lot of value is derived from team interactions – from top-down, at the same level, and from downward-up. And a lot of fruitful team interactions are informal, serendipitous, and unplanned – something you simply cannot have with remote employees. And this dimension of value and employee contribution that can only come from being physically in the same space is completely lost when employees begin to operate from home.

Mayer is too smart not to have figured this out. She took over as Yahoo CEO in July 2012. In October, she had a baby. She could have easily taken maternity leave – and for as long as she wanted, a privilege she would obviously enjoy as the new CEO. But she skipped maternity leave and chose to come back to work immediately after having the baby – and with this new directive, she is evidently preaching something she believes in and already practiced.

The memo announcing this new regulation asserts, “…to become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side. That is why it is critical that we are all present in our offices.”

It remains to be seen how Yahoo’s 11,500 employees take to this diktat. But Mayer makes a strong case. The leaked memo is quoted as saying in AllThingsD, “Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings … Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home.” You can’t but agree with Mayer here. Nothing can beat walking up to someone for an input, as opposed to laboriously composing email or text messages for something that could be resolved by walking across a corridor.

Of course, working from home does have its rightful place in the professional world. It is ideal for consultants, for mom-and-pop outfits that have two or three employees and cannot invest in office space. It works well for businesses that need to have just one representative each in multiple geographical locations – say, a media house that needs to have a correspondent in every continent or major commercial capital.

Some work-from-home flexibility should always be on the agenda when it comes to managing talent you cannot otherwise tap into. The smartest of tech companies – Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, HP – don’t have a fixed policy on this. They have neither banned it or nor do the particularly encourage it, preferring to go on a case-to-case basis, to be decided by the concerned manager.

Mayer’s directive will reportedly only affect a few hundred employees, but it would also cover those who have a work-from-home arrangement only one or two days a week. A disgruntled ex-Yahoo employee commented on this news at the digital media website AllthingsD, arguing that working from home was more productive than being in the office: “Why? I didn’t have to put up with numbskull self-important programmers constantly yakking to each other LOUDLY from the next set of cubicles about non-work-related stuff, and I wasn’t being distracted every 20 minutes by some bored soul coming over to my desk to go for coffee or foosball, or just to talk about the spreading ennui of knowing we were working for a company who’s (sic) glory days were long over…”

But then, the home environment is hardly insulated from distractions. As someone who tried working from home for a few months, I can vouch for the fact that, in the absence of the structure offered by the office routine, you need highly evolved self-management skills to be able to manage distractions and work at optimal efficiency.

Also, if you are in a phase where you are trying to rebuild the organisational culture and team spirit, which is presumably what Mayer is trying to do, then it would be difficult to get through to staff who are hardly ever there on your premises.

Incidentally, the strange phrasing of the directive has also led to much mirth on tech websites. “We need to be one Yahoo!, and that starts with physically being together,” says the memo. Well, for those Yahoo employees used to only being spiritually together, not being “physically being together” will not be an option anymore from 1 June. And it would be interesting to see how this Mayer’s edict impacts work-from-home policies in other companies.

Why Google Glass might be creepiest gadget ever invented

In Culture and Society, Popular Culture, Technology, Trends, Uncategorized on April 22, 2013 at 2:33 pm

‘Don’t be evil’ is supposedly the corporate motto of Google. With their latest ‘game changer’/‘revolutionary new technology’/‘every nerd’s virtual wet dream’, Google will be hard put to live up to its motto.

So what is Google Glass? It is basically a device that you wear on your face – a device that wraps around your brow with a spectacle frame-like rim, and a display screen above the right eye. Unlike a smartphone, which you rub with your fingers (something that according to Google founder Sergey Brin is ‘emasculating’), Glass presumably turbo-charges your manhood by responding to voice commands.

Using Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, the Glass can receive video and audio signals from other devices, record videos and audios of everything you see, send and receive emails, make and receive phone calls, ask Google Maps for directions, get phrases translated – just do everything that a computer can. And it doesn’t need your hands for any of it – so, from touch, the input/output interface has moved to voice and vision.

To a get grip on the human and social dimension of Google Glass (as opposed to obsessing solely over the geeky, technological dimension of it), it might be instructive to take a look at this video at petapixel.com, where a stranger goes around recording random people without permission.

AP

Sergey Brin in this file photo with Google Glass. AP

Most people, of course, react strongly to being recorded without permission – even though there are surveillance cameras already in public places. But what Glass seeks to do – or would have to do if it has to take off – is normalise the recording of anyone and everyone, anywhere and everywhere, by anyone and everyone else. This makes the proverbial dystopian scenario of the Big Brother obsolete. Rather, Glass is Panopticon made real.

Panopticon was originally an architectural model for a prison conceptualised by the English utilitarian philosopher, Jeremy Bentham. Its unique design feature, in the words of Wikipedia, was to “allow a watchman to observe (opticon) all (pan) inmates of an institution without them being able to tell whether or not they are being watched.”

Glass is an ambitious technological innovation that can turn the whole world into Bentham’s dream prison — and all of us into its inmates. It doesn’t matter what political system you might nominally be living under — democracy, communism, dictatorship, or, as in India, a majoritarian plutocracy — if you’re going to be watched all the time, and you can’t even tell whether you are being watched/recorded or not at any given time, then you are effectively living in a prison.

So any discussion about Google Glass needs to address what further ‘prisonification’ will do to a citizenry that is always already under suspicion of being a criminal/terrorist threat, and is at the receiving end of body searches and other assorted indignities every day. (Since when did it become ‘normal’ for strangers to touch/fee/ squeeze parts of your body? But today we all accept it without a murmur.)

As the on-again-off-again ‘MMS scandals’ and ‘stings’ testify, we are yet to come to grips with the social dynamic of the smartphone where, at least if you are alert, you can spot it if someone is recording you without your permission. But in a roomful or streetful of Google Glass-wearers, you cannot be sure when and whether your words and gestures are being recorded, and worse, uploaded on a cloud server and stored for all eternity – or as long as the state or Google’s marketing clients find use for it.

In what must qualify as one of the spookiest sci-fi scenes ever, there is a sequence inMinority Report where Tom Cruise, as he is walking down a street, looks up at a billboard, and the billboard, recognising him, greets him with a custom advertising message – a message that nobody else but him will see, through his implanted Google Glass, as it were.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has already promised to develop apps for Glass. Facial recognition software is already in use, and Glass already uses highly evolved voice-to-text software. Combine all these with Google’s other software tools and applications – and Google Glass can simultaneously convert every human being on the planet into a non-stop input device and a captive target audience for customised, high quality marketing and advertising content.

Over the past few days, as I heard about Google’s plans to sell ‘Explorer’ Google Glasses to winners of a tweeting contest, I tried hard to think of one good reason why I would need this gadget – and I could not come up with any. For starters, I already wear glasses – and I had a hard time in school, forever being teased as a choukha or ‘four-eyed’. Now, at this late stage in life, do I really need to turn ‘six-eyed’? In my humble opinion, no, and neither do most people who still remember that the offline world came before, and not after, the online one.

Unlike what you see in Google’s promos for Glass, most people are not sky divers or runway models or ballet dancers – at least not most of the time. They lead comparatively boring lives (by ‘boring’, I mean from the content point of view), where they go to work and sit in front of a screen for most of the day, or sit in conference rooms and yak away with other interesting but boring people. Then they go home or go to a pub or go to a mall or wherever they go, to de-stress and spend the rest of the day socialising via a screen of some sort.

With the adoption of the Google Glass (and the departure of the smartphone), your connection with reality will not, as one would expect, become more direct – far from it. In fact, your own experience of reality will become ever more mediated – first, by the realisation that other Glasses are observing you; secondly, by the ever-present opportunity (and thence urge) to record everything you see or hear (have you ever come back from a holiday wishing you’d seen more and photographed less?)’; and thirdly, the presence of your Glass will affect how other elements in the reality field (such as humans) react to you (reactions of said humans towards you may be very different depending on whether or not you are wearing a Glass), thereby altering the trajectory of life experience independent of your own Glass-modulated orientation toward reality.

Glass will push you to mine the real world to feed the virtual one; it will push you to outsource your memories to a cloud server; it will train you to devalue unmediated reality in such a way that you will find real reality deficient as compared to reality ‘augmented’ by Google-tinted Glasses.

We need only look at what ‘being under perpetual observation’ has done to those for whom this is not an option. Already, we can’t bear to look at a photograph of an actor or a model — and the actor/model cannot bear to let it get printed either — that is not ‘augmented’ by Photoshop. Forget photographs. On a red carpet occasion like the Oscars, real, flesh-and-blood celebrities cannot afford to be seen in their real bodies, in bodies unaugmented by Botox and other cosmetic enhancements. This is a given in a global celebrity culture that lives under the tyranny of the all-seeing paparazzi eye.

What Glass will do, inevitably, is to bring everyone under the tyranny of the eye, and turn everyone into paparazzi. In this brave new world, there will be no one Big Brother. We will all be little big brothers and little big sisters. The world as seen through the Google Glass can only be a techno-dystopia where algorithms will take human decisions, humans will merely be a part of the digital supply chain, and real life, reduced to an impoverished, ‘aspirational’ avatar of the virtual one, will dwindle into a source of ‘rich content’ for the ‘Googleable’ world.

Glass bears the same technological genotype as Skynet and the Umbrella Corporation. If you are reading this and you are a human being, reconcile yourself to becoming a machine, sooner or later. If you are a machine, well, rejoice – you will soon be eligible to be called a human being.

Congratulations, you’re now a leadership expert!

In Humour, Management, Trends, Uncategorized on April 22, 2013 at 2:21 pm

I’m not an expert on leadership. But guess what? You don’t have to be! And you can still hold forth as if you are a leadership expert — because everyone is a potential leadership expert, just as everyone is a potential leader, and you too can become a leader if you pay enough money to a leadership consultant. I hereby dedicate this piece to that special breed that makes a living by ripping off suckers who will pay for ‘leadership lessons’.

If you walk into a five star hotel and throw a stone randomly (on second thoughts, if you don’t want to be thrown out by hotel security, make that an apple), it’s bound to fall on a suit who fancies himself an expert on leadership. Leadership is such a vague idea that it is impossible to go wrong when you say anything about it. But there is a small problem:
there is nothing new you can say about it.

So you have every ‘thought leader’ worth the three thoughts in his skull striving to draw ‘leadership lessons’ from the Mahabharata, ‘talent management insights’ from Sholay, and ‘unorthodox leadership tips’ from the Godfather. There is a thriving cottage industry peddling such ‘content’ – not just in the form of articles, blogs and books, but full-fledged ‘leadership development programmes’ where seemingly rational human beings subject themselves to concentrated doses of this stuff in an enclosed space.

But what’s wrong in teaching someone to be a leader, you may ask. My answer: you cannot ‘teach’ leadership anymore than you can teach strength of character. ‘Leadership’ describes a certain kind of behaviour in certain kinds of situations. Such behaviour has its roots in the person’s character – a concept that ‘leadership programmes’ are allergic to, given that ‘character’ has given way to ‘personality’ as the defining paradigm for talking about individuals in the management space.

Until the early 20th century, ‘character’ used to be the default concept for discussing a person’s actions and behaviour. But with the rise and rise of Management as a pseudo-science, two things became necessary: one, to reinvent the human being as a malleable entity that could be trained to work harmoniously with machines as per the machine’s convenience; two, to eliminate the moral dimension from human behaviour, a dimension embedded in the very concept of character, and which therefore makes it unsuitable as a term of reference in the amoral space wherein business management operates.

Management theorists realised pretty fast that while character is difficult to change, behaviour and habits are not. Personality is nothing but the sum total of your behaviour and habits. It can be scientifically observed, if not quantified. Once quantified, a person can be trained to change ‘unsuitable behaviour patterns’ and this change in behaviour can be tracked. And most importantly, ‘personality’ has no applicability in the moral domain. In other words, you can have a good personality and be a bad person (but you cannot have a good character and be a bad person).

Thus, the advantages of focussing on personality as opposed to character are manifold.
But what makes ‘personality development’ a useful tool for managing employees – flexibility, willingness to blindly follow orders, and the lack of a moral compass – renders it inadequate for leadership behaviour. Hence the amount of bilge produced on leadership everyday by wannabe management gurus.

Today you have any number of ‘personality tests’ – Myers-Briggs, TAT, Rorschah Inkblot — and some of them apparently help you identify potential leaders and ‘groom’ them. But no amount of personality reengineering is going to help in producing real leaders. Why? Because what we laud as leadership is simply the byproduct of the positive social difference a person makes – not an antecedent quality that supposedly resides in his personality and makes her ‘act like a leader’, as it were. Leadership is a set of actions borne of character, not a ‘skill’ or a personality trait that can be programmed into someone through training.

Leadership, in a word, is the difference between a Hugo Chavez and a Barack Obama. One acted according to his moral compass, exercised his political autonomy, and will go down in history as a truly great and inspiring leader. The other reserves his moral compass and autonomy only for his speeches. Nobody can deny Obama is leadership material in terms of his personality, but whether he will ever demonstrate leadership behaviour such that it makes a positive social difference to the millions of people subject to his power, is a matter of character.

Are you a Delhi person or a Mumbai person?

In Lifestyle, Trends, Uncategorized on June 24, 2012 at 11:42 am
G Sampath | Saturday, April 7, 2012
First published in DNA

It’s not been a week since I moved to Delhi, and I miss Mumbai already. If you ask me what is it about Mumbai that I miss, I can’t give you a convincing answer. I miss nothing in particular, and I miss everything in general.
I know that this Delhi-Mumbai debate — which city is more worthy of love and human habitation — is a touchy subject, especially for Dilliwalas. I’m a Dilliwala myself, or used to be, when I moved to Mumbai seven years ago to help launch this newspaper. There were also a couple of Delhites who had moved with me and they would go on and on about how Mumbai sucked and how Delhi was so much better, cleaner, easier to get around, etc.
Now, I am not the kind of person to develop roots in, or affection for, large, overcrowded, urban spaces full of smart people living and working in localities and offices that are increasingly beginning to look like localities and offices in other large, overcrowded, urban spaces full of smart people living and working in — well, you get my drift. But I’ve lived in each of India’s metros (except Bangalore) at different times in my life, and I’ve found that temperamentally, I am most compatible with Mumbai. I don’t know if it’s the sea, the local trains, or the humidity, but it didn’t take me long to get used to the rhythms of the city, the Bambaiya lingo (just yesterday an auto driver in Lajpat Nagar turned and stared when I told him ‘aage se left lene ka’), and yes, the traffic jams too.
I don’t know if it’s because I’m writing this sitting in Delhi, but it seems to me that the Mumbai traffic jam is somehow more tolerable than the Delhi traffic jam. In Mumbai, there is a sort of hidden camaraderie born of shared misery — we are all in the same jam together kind of thing. But in a Delhi jam, all I feel is a cold hostility that could, it seems to me, erupt into fatal fury at any moment. And I worry that I shouldn’t do something to trigger it. So I try and honk politely if I must, and smile apologetically into the rearview mirror when I do.
But this applies to not just jams on roads but jams elsewhere too. I’ve never seen people hustling their way to the front of the queue at the bank I used to visit in Mumbai. But earlier this week, I stepped into a Delhi branch of the same bank and the first thing I see is a well-built, middle-aged woman screaming at the bank manager because her queue was not moving fast enough. For someone like me, who is easily intimidated by official-looking people, and especially people like bank managers, to see an average citizen intimidate an intimidator was even more intimidating. Delhi is full of such people. Quite a few of them carry guns. Some use them too.
One thing Mumbai has over Delhi is its more equable climate, with the extremes limited to a few days during the monsoons. Yet the national capital’s climate is not without its advantages. I now scoff at Mumbai friends who dare to complain to me on phone about how hot Mumbai is already. “Mumbai? Hot? Hahahaha!” I laugh at them for a full minute. Delhi’s climatic extremes give me the upper hand in all weather-related discussions with Mumbaiwalas for a full eight months of the year, when Mumbai can never be as hot or as cold as Delhi. From June to September, I’ll need to avoid all talk about the weather, for I’d rather not hear disparaging references to Delhi’s micturitional monsoons, especially from Mumbaikars who think nothing of wading to work in neck-deep sewage water.
La Shehrawat in a deglam role as a Delhi girl in the
2006  Hindi movie Pyar ke Side Effects
is a quintessentially Delhi girl who hates Mumbai
Then there are the usual comparisons — about quality of life (where Delhi scores), cost of accommodation (where Delhi scores), cultural and ‘intellectual’ life (where, again, Delhi scores), safety of women (where Mumbai scores), public transport (where Mumbai scores, though not by much after the advent of the Metro in Delhi). There is also the old cliché about how ‘connections’ is the currency of power in Delhi whereas the size of your wallet determines the pecking order in Mumbai. Other aspects that are too subjective for a meaningful debate keep popping up every time — the food, places to hang out, fashion sense, and yes, the people. Delhi men talk about ‘Mumbai girls’, usually appreciatively, while Mumbai women talk about ‘Delhi men’, usually with disgust. It is never the other way around — no Delhi girl will speak of ‘Mumbai men’, and Mumbai men don’t speak of ‘Delhi girls’, though Delhi men themselves do.
All said and done, I guess the city one prefers is as much a matter of sensibility as other, less nebulous, factors like where one grew up, studied, has close friends/family, etc — all of which, in turn, play a role in shaping your sensibility. In my own case, I grew up in different cities, and my friends/family are scattered all over. Yet I prefer Mumbai. Don’t ask me why, though. As I said before, there’s no convincing answer to that. I believe you’re either a Delhi person or a Mumbai person. It’s like your sun sign, but unlike a sun sign, this one can, and sometimes does, change during a lifetime.

The burden of the married man

In Lifestyle, Relationships, Trends, Uncategorized on March 30, 2012 at 10:23 am

G Sampath | Saturday, October 15, 2011

First published in DNA

I am a married man, but I believe marriage is not for everyone, which is not something everyone believes. So any time I advice a friend against getting married, it is taken as a comment on my own marriage — people tend to assume that I must have an unhappy marriage, for why else would I advise my friend not to marry? But as I said, marriage is not for everyone — marrying because you are expected to or because all your peers are doing so is possibly the worst reason anyone can have to get married.
But all the time one sees people, especially girls, getting married for exactly those reasons. And quite a few of them end up in unhappy marriages, when they could have had far more fulfilling lives if they had never married. While many manage to make their peace with the institution, basically by lowering their expectations from the relationship, and losing themselves in bringing up their children, some women tend to store up a big drum of resentment in their hearts that breaks open and spills its toxic contents once the children have grown up and moved out and the husband has retired.
Some resentment is inevitable, for marriage is nearly always a losing proposition for women (Go ahead, deny that you are in denial!). In the less than perfect matches, they are beaten, abused, raped, burnt for dowry, and suffer harassment at the hands of in-laws. But even in the so-called ‘happy’ marriages where none of the traditional atrocities are inflicted on them, women somehow end up with the bulk of the responsibility in running the household.
Ironically, though it is women who are likely to come off worse, they are the ones who generally take the lead in prodding the relationship towards matrimony, while men tend to find marriage a most threatening idea. Of course, not in all cases is the threat perception justified — it depends on the man, and the woman.
Nevertheless, every man who has ever married would remember waking up with a sinking feeling the morning after the evening he had proposed (or was manipulated into proposing) matrimony to his girl and she said yes. It feels like your heart went under water for a few, lengthy seconds. You come back up into the cold air of reality coughing and spluttering, and feeling less dead than before.
Last week at a party, when the discussion turned to how so many of our friends were ‘already divorced,’ I remarked casually that we should carry our marriages ‘lightly’. Later, on the drive back home, my wife asked me if I felt burdened by our marriage.
That being a potential landmine question, I answered carefully.
“Marriages, like all institutions, are heavy,” I said. “A marriage is like Iridium. Very heavy.”
“You are wrong,” she said. “It is not marriage that’s weighing you down.”
“Then what is?”
“The idea of masculinity.”
I said I didn’t think my masculinity or whatever had anything to do with it. But she went on to explain her hypothesis.According to her, the real burden weighing me (and all my male friends, in case you are reading this) down are the stereotypes of masculinity. Stereotypes that I have internalised, feel compelled to live up to, and feel inadequate if I can’t.
I asked her what stereotypes she was referring to. “You’ll find every one of them in a magazine like GQ,” she said.
“But I am not a regular reader of GQ.” It didn’t matter, she said. Men sort of absorb these values by atmospheric osmosis. And they absorb it from the men they admire, or are taught to admire.
And what are these stereotypes? She rattled them off. The first cliché of masculinity, of course, being that marriage itself is uncool, and reflective of low GQ — unless you are married to a supermodel who is rich, has the brains of a Nobel laureate, and the wisdom to acknowledge, with sufficient subtlety, your right to do whatever you want, whenever you want, wherever you want, with whomever you want.
But in case you are unfortunate enough to be married to a woman who doesn’t fulfil the above criteria, then god forbid that you should enjoy her company, and under no circumstances are you allowed to prefer her company to that of male friends, for that is as uncool as it gets in the macho stakes. From the marital perspective, there is just one saving grace about the GQ man: fatherhood is cool.
Apart from that, the fabled freedom of unfettered manhood that men dream about is basically the freedom to chase women, booze, cars, gadgets, sports channels, and whatever else they want to without the sobering effects of a wife or marriage — the role of a wife or marriage being, essentially, the sobering role.
This is the GQ burden of masculinity that every man carries into his marriage, and so long as his ego is constructed around it, he believes that it is his marriage that is weighing him down, summed up my wife.
I’ve been mulling over her theory, and I haven’t decided yet if she is right, but I don’t think I’ll admit it to her even if she is.