By Akshat Seth:
I am a man with soft hands. ‘How does that even matter?’ one may wonder. Well, to me it does. The fact that I have soft hands and thin fingers had been one of the major reasons for an inferiority complex in my adolescence. It still is. Throughout my teenage, I remember daydreaming about how one day I’d become tough and have thick muscle on my hands so that I could teach a good lesson to anyone who bullied me or misbehaved with my sister. I have been this way since my childhood. My parents tell me that it was because of the amount of anaesthetics I had to endure for my eye operations. So why is it that I have thought about, dreamt of and tried acquiring some muscle and fat? Because I was reminded again and again as I grew up, that in order to be a proper ‘man’, I had to have a certain minimum amount of muscle so that people don’t take undue advantage of me and more so since I had eyesight issues. Over the years, I have accepted this notion as a part of my psyche, so much so that whenever I thought I was too fragile and not suited for the world which needed tough men, a look at my hands would make me hate them.
When you enter teenage, a whirlpool of emotions engulfs you, and anger is one of them. I had nightmares of being bullied. I was bullied sometimes (who isn’t?). I remember a casual incident where a friend advised me not to cry “or girls would notice it and laugh at you for being a sissy”. That was class eighth, and my resolve to ‘be a man’ and strive to appear one obviously became stronger as I moved deeper into my adolescence. The stronger my resolved, the more I failed and the more I failed, the more hateful and frustrated I unconsciously became of myself. The idea of masculinity runs so deep in our society that you even fail to realize what kind of ill effects it has.
One of my uncles who has been showered with a lot of bravado on account of the ‘gloriously’ violent fights that he picked in his youth, has told me a number of times that I should work out and become strong. “Shareer mein jaan nahi hogi to koi bhi teri Biwi ko utha le jaega aur tu kuchh nahi kar paega” (If you don’t have physical strength, anyone would carry away your wife and you won’t be able to do much) he’d say. The fact that women are equivalent to the izzat (honor) of you and your family means that such an argument works. This argument of women’s safety and honor being at risk contributed to full scale riots and loss of lives in Muzaffarnagar in 2013, and in my case led me to believe many a times that not having a ‘body’ was equivalent to being worthless. Such kinds of reminders in the lives of men are as frequent as diktats of dressing and behaving ‘decently’ in the lives of women.
The paranoia naturally increases when it is not merely about your ‘feeble and soft women-like hands’ but the added pressure of fulfilling the role of the protector of the family’s honor. What I am going to narrate is something that occurs very frequently in our society, but is rarely openly spoken about. My own sister was molested by this man who’d come to deliver clothes. I was watching television and couldn’t react even as that man left after being duly obliged with a slap for his endeavor. I cannot describe in words the guilt I felt – not so much due to sympathy with my sister as for the realization that I had failed to live up to the role of a brother whose duty was to protect her. I suggested filing a police complaint and my parents obviously refused for the fear of being made the hot topic of discussion in the whole locality, and the police asking my sister about her love affairs. The fears were obviously not misplaced – you can expect only so much courage in a social structure designed to make you live in constant fear. What hurt me the most was the unsaid – my sister and my parents feeling that by having not been able to beat the shit out of that man, I’d let my family down. Now it makes for a very interesting reading of the society where you have a law and order machinery to protect people and address complaints and yet I am expected to be ‘man enough’ to protect my family from individual acts of crime. Just like it is the fault of the woman if something happens to her, it is the fault of the man that he was ‘impotent’ as to allow that to happen. Patriarchy demands that brothers and fathers make life hell for a woman by blaming her for what she underwent; ‘weak’ ones end up committing suicide many a times. Destiny had me play the role of the weak and impotent brother. One can only imagine the misery that I inflicted upon myself for a long while, cursing my lean frame and soft little hands.
I shudder to think how dehumanized and miserable does this system leave us human beings. It is a crime to walk ‘like a girl’. It is a crime to have soft little hands with thin fingers and little muscle on the body. It is a crime to cry. No wonder that we see many workers frustrated with back breaking labour and exploitation beating up their wives. It is after all a crime for a man to seek solace from this harsh and miserable world by crying upon the shoulders of a woman! The idea is to make her cry even more. The popular reality television show Satyamev Jayate in its episode on masculinity cites an instance in Haryana where men don’t even pick up their own newborn babies as it is beneath the dignity of a man to do so.
Patriarchy, and a misplaced perception of masculinity has turned the joy of living life into a painful existence where you have to constantly prove yourself according to ridiculous standards that make you more and more dehumanized. I think it is time to realize that such insanity is taking us nowhere. It has only made lives miserable, devoid of the joy of love and freedom. It is time that men accepted themselves for the humans that they are. Until we accept ourselves as human beings, we will not be able to accept women as equal human beings.
I guess I am more at peace about my soft little hands, they work just about fine in realizing the dream of making this world a better place for me to live in, and they fervently wait in anticipation of sharing more warmth and love through their softness.