Makings of a mard

The steel-strong ideal man and the redundancy of such masculinity.

Still in the first flush of my dreams for my kids, I had bought a green yoga mat for my son. In that dream, sweating it out in the neighbourhood park, he would somehow turn into a Bruce Lee. It took just one hollering from a rather harsh instructor, and a disapproving mother-in-law behind him whom my clever son quickly learnt to hide, for that dream to die. I hung on, at least to the yoga mat, first trying to use it as a rug and, as it slowly acquired grime, hiding it away — first under the bed, then in the closet, then in the upper shelves of the closet, finally only declaring it dead when its two sides stuck to each other and would not come apart. In some corner where our many dreams for our children turn out to be unwise ambitions, there is still a yellow belt as a reminder of that unfinished karate kid.

Now, after a long time, that yoga mat came into my dreams again. Every morning, I wake up with my back creaking more than my bed, my knees moaning, my glasses missing, my phone a monster gorging on unread messages by night, and all I can do is take a deep breath and mutter a deeper curse. Maybe yoga is the trick, for Prime Minister Narendra Modi to achieve what few have actually done in 60 years before his time — just “wake up in the morning and feel fresh (refer interview with Akshay Kumar)”.

It’s not just that yoga mat which haunts my dreams now though. So do the PM’s lawn, table, tea and leisurely conversation — between a man in starched kurta-pyjama and another in linen casuals — as I, first thing in the morning, ransack the fridge for leftovers to rustle up a school tiffin, praying my too-food smart daughter won’t catch me at it. The morning routine over, the house for a little while to myself, some time yet for office, I even take a quick nap — who is watching, certainly not Barack Obama.

So really, it must require a “mard” in Delhi — as that PM biopic, which the Election Commission stopped, said we needed — to have just three-four hours of sleep and wake up with “junoon” in the eyes (again, the biopic’s words).

It must also take a “mard” to dare greet visiting children by pinching their face parts. Having endured that in my childhood, and knowing my own kids’ reaction, it’s a risk I would not take. Plus, given the considerable size of my nose, I am rather sensitive to the idea. In childhood, many relatives suggested to my mother that she could consider pinching it a bit daily to render it into shape. Mom would look at me thoughtfully and then go back to doing what she was doing — I will forever be in her gratitude for that, even though she never fed me halwa with bare hands before my big days.

So is that what it means to be a “mard” in Delhi — tea “only directly under the sky”, as the PM prefers it, in sun-dappled lawns from dainty tea and saucers, talking about mother and sacrifices; and, being able to transform in a minute into a squabbling schoolkid in the playground, threatening a prickly neighbour with nuclear fireworks?

Or is it that we don’t need a “mard” at all? It took Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, new mother, probably facing the same aches and pains as many of us, to just show the courage to don a scarf and hug whom it matters, to try heal a nation’s wounds. It may not have been enough for New Zealand, but it was something.

And it took a Bilkis Bano to show us what “mards” in Delhi were incapable of. Coming right to the country’s seat of power, that is more hostile to her than ever, bearing her inked finger as a voter after 17 years, wearing her hijab proudly, seating her daughter beside her, the gangraped woman who had to pretend to be dead to escape the fate of her infant daughter and 13 other members of her family, Bilkis held a press conference, taking on questions, refusing to be confined to shame, never raising her voice or lowering her gaze.

Maybe some of us did. Like the “mard” who won’t be questioned.

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