Man 1, Man 2, Man 3 and 4 women

Less than 50 metres outside the gate of our housing complex, manned by several watchmen, a young man stood by the side of the road, masturbating as he watched Dhanno and me walk by. For some reason, I did not notice him. But Dhanno did.

She whispered, “Mom, that guy is playing with his ..”
I stopped in my tracks. “We should report him.”

We stood for some moments, hesitantly. I started walking back a little, towards the watchmen. Half way across, I began to call out to the watchmen. They looked at me curiously. I waved out to the rickshaw-walas to come ahead, to call the watchmen. It took a few moments before they responded.

In the meanwhile, the young man began to talk on his cellphone, and walk away nonchalantly. By then, the rickshaw-walas had come ahead, so had a couple of watchmen.

They yelled out to the crowd near the tea stall on the other end of the road to stop the man. Everyone looked at us curiously, but did not move. The young man started running, they watched him pass by, and continued to look at us, without moving to stop him.

We reached the crowd. Everyone wanted to know what had happened.

They seemed a little shocked that I mentioned what the man was doing.
Perhaps a little shame on my part would have been more appropriate. But then, a few of them, did get into action.

A rickshaw-wala started his rickshaw, some men piled in. A couple of men set out on a motor bike, another man on his bicycle. They asked Dhanno and me to wait there.

More people came to ask us what had happened. People looked at Dhanno and me, and whispered amongst themselves. Maybe they were looking at Dhanno’s shorts and t-shirt, maybe they were shocked at the fuss we had made, maybe it was only my own imagination.

The search parties came back without success. The young man had entered some other premises, and disappeared.

Dhanno and I left.

I felt bad that I had taken a couple of minutes to react. That I did not go and get a hold of the man myself, at the very beginning, before calling out for help.

Dhanno said I had done right. What if the man had hit me?

She asked, “What if he comes back?” She comes alone, at all odd hours of the night, parks her car in the lane, and then walks into the gate. It’s a dark lane.

I said, “Don’t be afraid. You must never be afraid of guys like these. You must shout, complain, fight back.”

But a part of me was wondering if that was sensible advice. Haven’t we all read of enough cases where people protesting teasing or molestation are attacked?

Somewhere inside me, I wanted to tell Dhanno, stop being friendly with boys, don’t go out for New Year, cover up more, don’t come home alone. But I shut myself up.

Later Dhanno, Shy and I were discussing men. Shy and Dhanno were telling me about the boys they know, their ideas about girls, their expectations. It was tempting to say “Most Indian men are like this.” We did say it a few times, and felt better.

But then, I remembered a dear friend who I hero-worshipped and crushed on for many, many years while I grew up, saying to me, “Don’t generalise. How many men do you know? 10, 25, 50?”

So over the next few days, I am going to try making a list of all the men I know, have met, have heard of, have read, or read about. And a list also of the women I know and know of, because we are a part of the situation. And maybe that will help me to understand better why things are so.

To begin my man-woman series, let me talk of Yashpal. I came across a translation of his famous novel on Partition at the roadside second hand bookshop around the corner. ‘Jhootha Sach’ translated into ‘This is not that Dawn’. I had never heard of Yashpal before that, and I picked up the book only because it was satisfyingly large.

this is not that dawn

After I had lived through Yashpal’s magnum opus for several days at a stretch, I picked up a collection of his work in Hindi. 4 volumes of short stories.

What has hooked me to Yashpal more than anything else, is his view of women, and their sexuality. I don’t know of any other Indian male writer of the period, (not that I am an expert on Indian literature) who looks at women just as they are. They are not goddesses or whores with golden hearts, or mothers, or tormented creatures of destiny. Yes, they do have their roles, and functions in the world they live in. But Yashpal manages to see them beyond their roles, as individuals looking for the same things men look for. They choose, even if circumstances may overthrow their intentions, and then, they make more choices, surviving as we all do.

So, Yashpal is Man 1. (1903-1976)

Woman 1 is Kanak, (circa. 1942 – 1952, the span in which we know the character) one of the protagonists of ‘This is not that Dawn’. Kanak loves a man below her social status, Jaidev, and chooses to commit herself to him, despite family opposition. Her journey to find her lover and be reunited with him and then marry him, spans across pre-Independence to Partition and after. In the meanwhile, she is attracted to a colleague, and almost becomes his lover.

Later, she is disillusioned with her husband, over his loss of ideals, and his treatment of his sister, Tara, particularly when she realises that he was happy enough to have an affair himself, but did not want his sister to marry her Muslim lover, that he now does not want to acknowledge his sister as she may have been raped during the Partition, that his idealism is only a matter of his professional image, but not to be carried over into real life.

She seeks divorce, and gets it, despite the malevolence of her husband. While she fights for her divorce, she also gets back with her colleague, and starts living with him.

Kanak is particularly appealing because her decisions come from who she is, and what she believes in, and not from some attempt to portray her as a bold character. So she remains rooted, and believable, and someone like any one of us.

Please watch out for more in the aadam-hawwa series. I think I am going to speak only of Indian men and women here. Though I have worked with several men and women from Europe, watched hundreds of European and American films and TV shows, read many novels, I cannot claim to understand the nuances of the man-woman relationships in other societies in a direct way.

Please feel free to add to the list, or make your own. Even if it is not Indian!

33 thoughts on “Man 1, Man 2, Man 3 and 4 women

  1. “Later Dhanno, Shy and I were discussing men. Shy and Dhanno were telling me about the boys they know, their ideas about girls, their expectations. It was tempting to say “Most Indian men are like this.” We did say it a few times, and felt better. But then, I remembered a dear friend who I hero-worshipped and crushed on for many, many years while I grew up, saying to me, “Don’t generalise. How many men do you know? 10, 25, 50?””

    Someone scolded me too, for saying that I hated Indian men, (prior to the Delhi bus rape incident, It was another dismal story about a woman in Bangalore being mobbed after she dared complain about something, cannot remember the details)

    But firstly I can’t divorce myself from the feeling, there are men as per your post, everywhere, on every street corner. You can’t seem to escape them except perhaps in the women’s compartment and secondly and more importantly there is a difference between an ‘Indian man’ and ‘Indian men’. Groups and individuals have 2 very different sets of behaviour. One Indian man fronted up to may back down, a group would attack.

    1. Tin Roof Press, Yes, it’s depressing and scary if one thinks about it too much. But one has to move about without getting scared, or it’s a trap, isn’t it?

  2. You guys… ❤ Will wait for each one in this series.

    (Related: If you've started to put ads on your blog, the irony is that the one on the page right now is for Hyundai. 🙂 Ha!)

    1. Space Bar, 🙂 OK. I haven’t put ads on the blog, and can’t see them myself. I have seen Hyundai ads on other blogs, strangely, on blogs where I had not expected to see ads. So this is some devious thing happening via wordpress.

  3. Hmmmm….a man from a foregone era who is able not to write women into a pigeon-holed role of nurturing mother, warm-hearted whore or any of the other easy to digest archetypes that most societies find comforting about women??? I MUST check out this Yaspal! I really am going to begin developing my list of “forward-thinking” men; I know there are many – even if their biases as a privileged gender preclude them for ever fully “seeing” us for who we are. Nice post!

  4. I feel a deep shame.
    Even if they are a few members of my gender, still I feel a deep sense of shame and that is it!. But at the same time I have a feeling that although there are only few such “active” male members, but there are many more who are ready to blame women for “their” behaviour.

    1. Harvey, sure, there are a few perpetrators of violence, but there is a whole society out there, men and women, who have such skewed ideas of gender rights.

      1. How right you are!
        What we need is a complete awakening of the society. Education, education, education. When I just look at the serials how women are portrayed there, it takes one back to the middle ages!

        1. Replace the ‘?’ with ‘!’ I’m getting my keys all mixed up these days and the ‘that’s it’ in the first line of my first comment jumped there from the second line!

  5. I must say, this is the first sensible response I have seen/read to the Delhi incident. Bravo! I am looking forward to the rest of the series.

  6. Some things, sadly, never change 😦 Confronting the guy may have scared him, though, but one can’t predict how he’s react. Janata seems so utterly useless too 😦
    I love your series- looking forward to more. (Now I need to go and read some of Yashpal).

  7. I love your attitude, Banno. Me, when something ‘typical’ of the male gender happens I polarise, polarise, polarise. This post is rather a wake-up call. We’re all different, as Monty Python would say. Picking out the wise and level in another human being is the greatest way of battling both small evils like the one you have described, and great prejudices we are capable of building on those evils. I think your tactics are perfect.

  8. agree with JustPassingThrough about your response…your message is strong yet subtle. yours and Dhanno’s experience took me back to my days in Delihi when i was a witness to so many masturbations. its risky to fight back/yell/make a ruckus but thats all we got in situations such as this one. and its terribly hard when people around you, instead of helping, just stare and do nothing.
    must catch Yashpal’s book.

    1. Sukanya, the people around did come to help, but when it was too late. But they did try. Anyway, I think, I should have had a quicker response.

      1. Sorry I wasnt clear-was referring to a particular incident my friend and I experienced many years ago in Delhi. Cars screeched to a halt, people stopped in their tracks but they remained mere spectators. Except for an elderly gentleman who stepped up and tried helping us. That memory is etched in me forever…BTW, thanks for stopping by my blog, appreciate it.

        1. Yes, people do just stare for too long, without doing anything. By the time they step up, it’s late. I do read your blog regularly, Sukanya, even if I don’t comment. 🙂

  9. It’s fantastic that you’ve set an example, Banno. If these guys get similar responses the next couple of times ( and hopefully he also gets caught next time), actions like yours will make a difference. Vani (wife) had a couple of incidents during her runs over the past few weeks where she literally accosted men who passed comments on her running attire (shorts), and a guy on a cycle who tried to be cute.. and gave them all a mouthful. She also managed to get an apology from the cyclist. The flipside of course (like the way you felt concerned about Dhanno), is that she isn’t sure now whether its worthwhile to wear shorts during her runs, and mostly ends up choosing longer track pants which go up to her knees. She feels miserable about it, its really ridiculous that women have to think about making these kind of decisions at all.

    1. Satish, I think it’s important to respond. I’ve done that several times, not always, and at least created a ‘tamasha’. But yes, thinking about clothes, safety, etc, etc, seems to be almost instinctive, for all of us. Which is sad. The good news is that the society is putting in 2 more watchmen for the street beat. And no, I haven’t seen that sick guy around again.

  10. I have always responded, Banno, even when I was a teenager clad in a churidar kameez. It really doesn’t matter what you wear. Now that I think back about it, I wonder that it didn’t even occur to me that the situation could escalate. *shudder* In fact, when I was working in Madras, and one chap tried to press against me on a crowded bus, I just moved my bag with my (very hot) tiffin to the back – he had the gall to complain! Another time, there was a chap who kept trying to touch my hand as I was trying to hold on to the rung for dear life. Couldn’t move either, the bus was that crowded. A young chap took pity on me, got up from where he was sitting and held on to the rung between my hand and the groper’s. I was very grateful!

    It is horrible isn’t it, to be told that ‘you’re asking for it’? By wearing the clothes you wear, or the way you speak or conduct yourself? Ugh!

  11. I wonder why Jhoota Sach should be titled in English with a line from Faiz’s poem “Subah-e-Azad. I have not read Yashpal, but Jainendra Kumar (1905-1988) is another Hindi writer who wrote differently about women. His Tyagpatra is an interesting book , his men are not very strong but his women are and not necessarily virtuous as deemed by society.
    On women, there is a famous novel in Malayalam by Mathambu Kunjukuttan which has been translated into English by Vasanthi Shankaranaryan. It is based on a true story of a Namboodiri woman who demanded during her trial that the men she was accused of having relations with should be subject to the same laws as she was . The book is Brashte (Outcaste).

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