Presenting the past

This being a piece to go with the International Women’s Day, the first question that resonated in my mind was should I outsource this week’s column to my wife. One advantage of letting my wife handle the piece would be I can have more time to finish that hard-hitting editorial on the chicanery of Congress in foisting, on a helpless public, Rahul Gandhi as a Prime Ministerial candidate based on his family connection.

On second thoughts I decided against it, because after I had let my daughter write the last week’s column, which was about exams and parental pressure, the responses were less than pleasant. Plenty of irate fathers and mothers wrote in saying that it was wrong of me to have left a serious and sensitive subject in the hands of a callow teenager. ‘What does your daughter and people of her age know? Do you want us to trust the judgement of this generation that has accepted even somebody like Simbu as a popular hero?’ was the trenchant question of one impassioned parent. Fair point. On behalf of that reader, I take this opportunity to solemnly tell my daughter and youngsters of her age that you people are inexperienced and you are simply better off following the wise words of today’s parents, most of whom, for the record, belong to the generation that made TR a hero.

Anyway, to mark the International Women’s Day, I will talk about women, and how they came to figure in my life, how they influenced my generation, and what lessons we learnt from them. Before I get down to do that, as a responsible adult l appeal to the young people, especially guys, to stop reading this any further keeping in mind what is to follow. I mean just because the subject involves women, this article does not contain anything that a young person may actually want to read.

My exposure to girls began pretty early because I went to a co-education school. I must quickly clarify here that I use the word ‘co-education’ here in the same sense that many of us employ the term ‘Prime Minister’ to describe Manmohan Singh — it is a fact that is totally false.

To put in actual terms, I went to a school where girl students also studied. Remember those were the days when the biggest punishment handed to a guy in the class was to make him —– yes, teachers’ didn’t mind being cruel then — sit between girls. Today guys will be queueing up to pay to have such a penalty slapped on them.

And this is how much of our fun-filled lives panned out in school every day: Full of blithe spirit and naughty ideas, we guys used to turn up daily. Probably ditto with the girls. And then the unending exhilaration began: We guys saw them. They girls saw us. We chatted amongst ourselves. They chatted amongst themselves. They used to leave the way they came. We generally went away the way we came. And it was our collective day of wild fun and unimagined excitement. When we guys from school have a reunion of sorts, we still talk excitedly and animatedly about those days of daring delight.  I will put it this way; if it ever comes to the Taliban recruiting any of us, looking at our past, I am afraid, it may complain of us being extremely prudish and rabidly conservative.

But once in college, things changed rather dramatically, in the sense some of us became bold enough to look and smile at girls. Otherwise, our interactions were basically traced out of Salim Ali School of Ornithology: Step 1: Patiently stay put in a place. Step 2: Hope something turns up on the horizon. Step 3: Hope you spot it. Step 4: Bore the pants off your friends talking endlessly about it.

Okay, I am exaggerating a bit. Our interaction weren’t even half as exciting as this one sounds. When I look back, it’s still a bit of surprise as to how some of us (from my generation) actually ended up in ‘love marriages’. In the situation that existed then, the only way any kind of romantic exchange could have happened was through some kind of innate infrared pairing. Or, possibly, it involved photosynthesis.

Come to think of it, I now realise that my actual understanding of women is next to nothing, and I am no more capable of coming up with an informed piece on women than it is possible for a hippopotamus to design a nuclear missile.

Probably I should have asked my wife to write this one. The only wrinkle here may be the fact that she belongs to the generation of women that didn’t mind seeing TR’s wife as a film heroine.