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“Cry Not, Be Brave”: Being A Man In 21st Century India

Editor’s Note: This post is a part of What's A Man, a series exploring masculinity in India, in collaboration with Dr. Deepa Narayan. Join the conversation here!

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When you have to share your feelings, who do you usually turn to?

Many people have their own ideas about what it means to identify as a man. The idea of man or the ideal man for me has also evolved over the years. It is an idea that is not static and may evolve with the progression of time.

The societal pressures play a part in a man’s choices with respect to his career path, and by extension, the life path, making them a tad constricted. An average middle-class man in India is expected to finish his education, get a job, either as an officer in the Government or as a Corporate professional, settle down (which is a euphemism for marriage) as early as possible, have children and raise them well. Then the same cycle is repeated with the children.

A man also has to defy certain expectations of his parents and family, including at times extended family, to choose a different path and if he doesn’t appear to succeed initially, then the pressure on him increases drastically. The pressure of doing well in the chosen field is immense and the chances of success are uncertain with the possibility of failure looming large. Some people even wait for such an epicaricacy. But, I believe that such pressures have always been there on men and maybe there even in future. It is up to the individual to deal positively with them and overcome them.

Representational image.

At a different level, there are also facile correlations between being a man (read machismo) and development of certain habits. At an impressionable age, many young men start consuming alcohol or smoking because of peer influence to identify as men. But, how can substance dependence be considered a sign of identifying as men? The people who consume such items are doing so eventually out of their own choice and for their own reasons and those who do not consume such items cannot be considered lesser ‘men’.

I am not a firm believer in the correlation between such habits and bravery, with possibly the sole exception being the story of the origin of the phrase Dutch courage. Bravery is in one’s mind and does not have any connection with intoxicating substances, which actually impact the functioning of the mind. Similarly, there are those who feel that they ought to identify as men by indulging in promiscuity. There have been times when I have faced ridicule and peer pressure on this matter.

At a common friend’s party a few weeks back, a good friend after downing a few drinks, ridiculed another friend and I for our ‘failure’ to impress women beyond casual conversations. This was just after a few female guests had left and he was perhaps under the belief that they had gone gaga over him. Incidentally, he has been fond of quite a few men who have had multiple partners such as Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan.

Since I was still in control of my senses, I remember retorting that his ridiculous points did not really need a rebuttal, that we must behave properly since we were at the residence of our common friend who had invited us and the least we could have done was to respect him. However, the other common friend (who had also been ridiculed) and he almost got into fisticuffs. I believe that there are still those who identify as men by believing in fidelity and not in promiscuity.

Cry Not, You’re A Man

A common misconception is that men who are brave do not cry. Men also express their emotions through various ways; crying is just one of them. In fact, crying is as normal an emotion as can be. In the year 2000, cricketer Kapil Dev in an interview with journalist Karan Thapar sobbed almost inconsolably when his name was dragged into the match-fixing scandal. Kapil Dev was the captain of the team that first won the cricket world cup for India against the mighty West Indies on 25 June 1983.

Cricketer Kapil Dev's interview with journalist Karan Thapar in 2000.
Cricketer Kapil Dev’s interview with journalist Karan Thapar in 2000.

Speaking at the farewell of Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad on 9 February 2021, both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Ghulam Nabi Azad got emotional and cried in the Rajya Sabha.

Around 8 years back, during Monsoon as it rained heavily outside, I watched the Hindi film Lootera, directed by Vikramaditya Motwane, in a multiplex. The film was partly inspired by O Henry’s short story The Last Leaf published in 1907. I am normally not the kind who cries while watching a movie, but towards the poignant end of the movie as the song, “Mujhe chhod do mere haal pe, zinda hoon year kaafi hai (let me be on my own, I’m alive, that’s enough)” in Amit Trivedi’s voice started playing, I realized that I had tears in my eyes.

As soon as I realized that I was actually crying while listening to the beautiful composition by Amit Trivedi, I also looked around to make sure that no one saw me cry (I was relieved to see around me other faces looking emotionally at the big screen).

A still from the Hindi film Lootera (2013)
A still from the Hindi film Lootera (2013)

Though many men may be reticent, they have emotions too. It is just that they may not express these emotions and as I have recounted, they cry too, mostly in private but at times in public.

Be Brave, Always

One other aspect usually associated with identifying as a man is that of displaying bravery under adversarial circumstances. There is nothing wrong in such an association, but there may be times when men cannot throw caution to the wind. Last year, I was assaulted and my car was damaged by two ruffians in broad daylight on the main road in the capital of India. I am not embarrassed to admit that I was relentlessly kicked and punched by them till a few passersby stopped and came to my help.

Even as I was receiving the punches on my face and head in the middle of the road, I wanted to retaliate but restrained myself from doing so, for I was then apprehensive about the ruffians possessing any kind of weapon. I took legal recourse and went to the police station and filed a complaint afterwards.

Sometimes, I admonish myself for behaving in a timid manner when the two ruffians were assaulting me but then I console myself by remembering that discretion is the better part of valour.

Another quality that is identified with a man is responsibility. The quality of responsibility can span almost anything. A man taking the Central Railway local train in the morning from Dombivli to CSMT, working as a peon at an office in Elphinstone Building at Fort in Mumbai and returning home every evening to carry on the responsibility of his family is a responsible man. A scientist or an inventor quietly working at his place of work to benefit millions of people is a responsible man.

A responsible man can also be one who treats or behaves with others with basic respect and decency. So cry whenever you feel like crying. Respect women, elders and those around as much as possible. Be responsible and even retreat from any dangerous situation, if necessary. Even Lord Krishna left the battlefield to evade Jarasandha’s army (which is why he is also called Ranchhod) Who are we then, but mere mortals!

As far as the idea of ‘man’ for me is concerned, it has ranged from fictional superheroes, such as Spiderman or Batman fighting evil forces, to men possessing physical strength or those who were good at physical activities such as sports leading to I idolizing many sportsmen such as Zinedine Zidane, Pete Sampras or Sachin Tendulkar to young men in uniform who lay down their lives to preserve the integrity of this country.

National War Memorial at India Gate in New Delhi.
National War Memorial at India Gate in New Delhi.

To end on a lighter note, I would say that in this age of Social Media and technology, a responsible and courageous man is also someone who is able to retain his sanity, balance and positivity on Social Media despite a lot of negativity, provocation and temptation to respond to others.

Sea at Marine Drive in Mumbai.
Sea at Marine Drive in Mumbai.

Indeed, he can be what Friedrich Nietzche in his work Thus Spoke Zarathustra in the late nineteenth century called Übermensch or the man above, over or beyond the normal man who is like the sea that receives polluted streams from all over yet retains the purity and is not affected by them.

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Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

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The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

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Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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