Sitting on the black iron chair in the dark corner of his hostel room, stretching his leg all the way to the wall, as warm tears of agony roll down his cheeks to his neck forming a sticky layer and damping the collar of his polo t-shirt, he asks to himself,- ‘what makes a man?’
Thoughts keep on jostling against each other’s and he keeps on asking himself some of the pertinent questions.
Why cannot he perform some of the simple tasks that the dumbest of all in his class can. Why cannot he participate comfortably in passing lewd comments at girls? Why can’t he call them chicks, babes, bimbo and all that stuff that seems so cool to all his classmates?
Why can’t he blabber those ‘cool’ swear words that a majority of his friends can like periodic tables. Why can’t he call his parents by their names and teachers with funny names, even in their absence?
Why can’t he speak the F words in the presence of girls and seniors as comfortably as many of his friends do?
Why isn’t he able to smoke a puff, when some of his friends make nice rings out of it?
He remembers having been lampooned by two of his ‘cool’ friends for reading ‘A Thousand Splendid suns’ which according to them involve a lot of sentimental foolishness, not meant to be read by a man. As far as he remembers, he loved reading Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew and Sherlock Holmes. But he still has to find out why does the very mention of the names Durjoy Dutta and Chetan Bhagat puts him off, who are widely adored by many of his friends.
In a more introspective mode, he pauses for a moment and then questions himself, ‘should he be blaming his own parentage for this? He very distinctly remembers his childhood when he was surrounded by literature around the world as his father was an avid reader of Camus, Kafka, and Dostoevsky to Yeats, Eliot and Auden. He still remembers the day when he very surreptitiously took the book ‘Pride and Prejudice’ from his sister’s bookshelves. Oh! How much did he appreciate the wit and wisdom of Mr. Darcy and grace and dignity of Lizy!
He still struggles with the question of whether not being able to call Salman Khan ‘bhai’ or not being able to stand his so called 200 Crore movies make him a ‘lesser’ man.
Yes! He loves watching movies too. He wonders how his eyes got moist seeing the plight of dyslexic Ishaan Awasti in Tare Zameen Par, how his heart skipped a beat when Kareena says ‘kiss karte woqt naak kyun bich mein ati hai’ in 3 idiots, how Munna and circuit tickled his funny bones, how much he felt inspired when a house wife overcomes the debacle of a global language in English Vinglish, how all the star casts brilliantly portray the unconditional love in Lunchbox and a million other things he felt were relatable to, in the tons of movies that he watched.
Just that some of the big banner 200 crore movies put him off and the so called Bollywood superstars don’t interest him much.
He wonders why it is important to take the crap called Raghu and Rajib to prove that you are man enough.
Why does your love for Metallic music define your masculinity?
Do your pink tees and floral printed shirt define who you are? Is it more like I wear, therefore, I am?
When he lifts his head a little, he notices a small object glittering in the corner of his study table in the dimly lit room. In the next fragment of seconds he is transported to a world where his father handed over to him, a small gold plated Laughing Buddha with the words- ‘keep smiling always’ while bidding farewell with a warm hug. His mother had smiled her characteristic smile at the time, her eyes still glued to the newspaper.
“Ah! My father, my hero”, he uttered to himself.
In the moment of epiphany, he got all his answers.
Yes! The journey from incapacity and guilt of not being able to pertain to the social norms of ‘being a man’ to rebellion against the demarcation of masculine boundaries had been immensely self-fulfilling.
He realizes that a man’s biceps and six pack abs don’t mark your masculinity, nor does your faking an unemotional, indifferent and ‘I give a damn’ face to the penury of the fellow being.
He slowly gets up from his chair, reaches out for the switches and puts the lights on. He realises that what makes you a man in particular, and a human being in general is how you treat others. A real man treats everybody with respect, empathises with other’s suffering, safeguards other’s dignity and, more importantly, doesn’t hesitate to show his love and affection for others.