You like it or not, Valentine’s Day is upon us. It is a recent import: came in the same box with McDonald and outsourcing – accidentally. Like most invasive imported species, it is thriving in the new land, surpassing its success in the native land. That is not a surprise. There was a saying in our childhood about the food habit of a Hindu who just converted to Muslim: he eats more beef than a life long Muslim.
But it got me thinking how skilled we are in the matters of heart. I analyzed endless depiction of romantic gestures in epics to Hindi movies. I dissected countless stories of my friends told me about their adventures. I also threw in two cents of my own experience. At the end it boils down to this: when it comes to romance Indian men are clueless. The problem, as I understand, can be summarized in simple linguistic confusion: Indian men cannot tell the difference between woo and woe.
Let’s start with our two great epics. Shall I say more? In one it took five men to woo one woman. Wait. There was no wooing at all: it was a macho contest. No flower, no chocolate, nothing. Not even lousy pick up lines. In the other, the hero lets his brother takes care of his wife. I bet you Lakshmana was the one buying Valentine for Sita. It is rumored that Ravana treated her better than her own husband. After all the trouble, what did she get at the end? I would think at least a flower bouquet from Rama with a note saying “I’m sorry.” That would have been nice. Instead, she was set on fire. Not very romantic, you agree.
You would not find many romantic men in Indian mythology. I have searched. No wonder Krishna is the greatest Indian lover. Granted he has more wives than I have bank balance. But do not forget how he met all of them, except a handful (eight to be precise). It was a rescue mission, not a romantic rendezvous. It was a case of reverse Stockholm syndrome: the abducted hostages bonded with the rescuer. None of them had a choice. Besides, I am not sure how many women would find polygamy to be the epitome of romantic gesture. How many stories did you ever hear about Kama? Yes, he is supposed to be our god of love. I rest my case.
That was long time ago, you say. We have learned a lot since the days of Kama and Rama. I move to the Hindi movies of our time. As far back as I can remember, young men of India have always honed their wooing skill based on the movies. They faithfully copied each and every detail the silver screen had to offer: from handkerchief to hair gel, from button less shirt to baggy pants. They memorized each song, they practised every dance. At the end they always wondered why the young women did not understand. Why the response to their practiced lines did not get the intended response. The movies taught them “no” is just a sign of coyness, a slap in the face is part of flirting. I must admit, though I had my suspicion, I was not sure until I grew up. I did not know what Hindi movies call romance has a slightly different name outside: it is called sexual harassment.
But I guess movies will be movies. At least in real life it is much better. From the stories I have heard, it surely does not look that way. You do not need the horror of all the stories. A few examples would suffice. I know you have your own stock of them. We all heard about the miser who went to honeymoon alone – to save money. He is no competition to Indian men. I know a friend who gave his wife an iron for their first marriage anniversary. Why you ask? He liked his clothes ironed. And the sad part is that till today he has no clue what is wrong with that. His defense: “It is an expensive iron.” How many Indian wives wish they married the miser; at least he left his wife alone.
May be it is just the lack of experience. Indian men, if exposed to right settings, are as romantic as they come. I heard a story of an NRI, who after spending many a years in Europe including Italy – the birth place of Giovanni Giacomo Casanova, came to India to get married. His first question to the prospective bride was this: “Do you know how to program in C?”
I admit I have no idea what that means. And I know there is a “C” in romance. But come on, do we have to be so obvious?
The best story though is from my friend J, one who lives in California. The story is about one of his fellow Indian student during his graduate study. The student was a smart, good looking, polite, and progressive young man. He was not bound by the norms of Indian culture and was proud of it. At that time he was dating another university student from one of those European countries. After a while, she realized that despite his brain and intention, he was not as well informed when it came to rituals of romantic courtship. She decided take the initiative to subtlety clue him in. After all she really liked him.
On the evening in question, she dropped by his room with a bouquet of flowers. Upon receiving the flowers our Indian friend was bit confused.
“Is this for me?” He asked.
“Of course, silly” she said. “It is for you.”
“But I am not a typical Indian,” he said. “I do not do Puja. Why would I need flower for?”
I am not going to repeat her reaction or response here.
I admit that there are occasions when I refused to accept box of chocolate as gift on heath ground from people I admired, or argued that rose stems are just dead plants with people I was infatuated with. So when it comes to it, none of us is out of danger. All we can do is not try too hard to woo woe.