A mid-morning coffee break in Dubrovnik.... please note : no lipstick! No bob-cut. Painted and dented? Who me?????
This appeared in The Week.....
Lipstick and Coca Cola….
Abhijeet Mukherjee’s crass remarks about ‘dented and painted’ women who go to discos, made me think of my father who belonged to another century ( he was born in 1910). I figured my Baba was ten times more modern and progressive in his thinking than this 52- year- old M.P. claiming to represent the 21st century. My mother did not wear lipstick. One of my two sisters did.And I have always had a love-hate relationship with it. My father may not have ‘approved’ of lip colour, but he didn’t stop us from using it. Nor did he make us feel diminished because we did. But others around him certainly didn’t camouflage their attitude, which was one of undisguised disapproval. To make matters worse, I sported what was termed ‘bob cut’ hair. And dared to expose my arms in sleeveless frocks. This shocked the neighbourhood and led to several unflattering, unsavoury comments that questioned my character. Seen in the context of the giddy ‘60s, such narrow minded responses are understandable. But when an elected representative of the people shoves not just his foot but the entire leg in his mouth in this day and age, he cuts a very sorry spectacle indeed. What an embarrassment Abhijeet Mukherjee must be to his father, who is not just any other dad of a gauche son, but the President of India himself!
Perhaps Abhijeet was not really himself when he was caught on camera uttering those foolish words.But when he refused to express support for the protestors at India Gate, his apology was rendered instantly insincere and meaningless. He uttered the words in an emotionless, robotic manner, like he had been coerced into doing so. An apology ‘under orders’ has zero worth. But let’s forget this solitary sorry specimen for now. Abhijeet is representative of countless men, and yes – a fair number of women, as well - those who pass judgments on women who refuse to conform to prescribed rules. These rules include wearing make- up (“paint”) and increasingly, jeans. It is automatically assumed that women, who present themselves in a certain way, are in reality nothing but bar hopping nymphomaniacs out to destroy our precious society with their wayward ways.
We have been brainwashed over decades to think of ‘fashionable’ ladies as harlots. Or at any rate, women whose moral codes are dodgy. Despite the vast number of crack women professionals in every conceivable field in India, the silly perception still persists – a lipsticked mouth spells trouble. It remains a strict no-no. Closely followed by long painted nails and kajaal. This is before we even get to the women’s apparel. If it is fitted and reveals body contours, the woman stands little chance of being taken seriously by anyone. Never mind, that a saree draped in a certain way, can be far more revealing and seductive. This sort of ridiculous stereotyping of our women folk, has led to a host of social issues that go well beyond ‘eve-teasing’. When Abhijeet mocked what he dubbed the ‘pink revolution’, he was tapping into something deeper and desperately serious. Misogynists like Abhijeet ( too many of them!), cannot and will not accept that a great deal has changed in Indian society since those distant days when women had no choice but to go along with society’s archaic laws that dictated the way women lived their lives – from their appearance to their conduct. Abhijeet’s arrogance is the arrogance of the ruling class ( not politicians alone, but men). His unguarded but essentially nasty insinuations may come back to haunt him later. In the interim, it is his stoic father who will have to keep his chin up and stay out of this messy fracas.
When I shared a TV platform with Abhijeet the night all hell broke loose, I actually felt sorry for the man. He looked drugged and robotic as he obstinately kept mouthing the same prepared lines. His expression was impassive. Most times he appeared bored. There was no reference to the horrific rape that had triggered off the protests in the first place. The subtext was clear : women ask for it. Especially those women who dance in discotheques and then turn up with candles because it is a trendy thing to do. The disconnect with Young India could not be more blatantly expressed. His idiocy will go down as one of the most chauvinistic comments of 2012. The world will move on. But I still wonder whether Abhijeet and others like him ever will.
Peace and safety in 2013, readers!