The guard outside the Gordon House Hotel in Colaba hated my face. I don't think he'd even seen it. The way most of us casually blank out eyes of a beggar knocking on our tinted car-windows, this guard had first looked away, then scowled, then mumbled something for a bit--still ignoring the four of us, entirely unworthy of even his inattention, as it were--and then he finally muttered, "Nahin", or something to the effect.
We were all men, single, so obviously molesters and rapists, outside the main gate of his posh discotheque, dressed in our Saturday night best. It appeared we could afford his hospitality, but he didn't seem interested. Dogs and stags weren't allowed--suddenly, we (the dogs) were.
Galloping mindlessly across Mumbai's backpacking district, we'd left behind our only legitimate passports to status and nightlife--the four women friends with us. They caught up eventually and the guard welcomed us in this time. I don't think he said sorry. He needn't have. I didn't blame him. Egos are too trivial to get in the way of a precious evening.
The gent outside Tito's, with eight people inside on a Monday night, in the dead of the monsoon season, turned out to be a whole lot ruder. I heard him whisper under his breath some terrible things about the anatomy of our mothers and sisters. Not the sorts to pick a brawl still, we endured the humiliation, gently explained that we, in fact, did have women friends at the bar and then quietly left. This is common sufferance in Delhi. But we were in Goa, for God's sake.
Being a man, with other men, in India's semi-urban nocturnal jungle is to remain a gross, sometimes disgraced social outcaste, experiencing a strange tropical ailment--single-itis, for lack of a better name. These untouchables of nightlife don't deserve their dance, with their drink, even if they could pay twice for the same simple pleasures.
You know something's warped when watering holes that serve loud hard retro rock for music, still no one's idea of a romantic date, by the way, remain officially open to couples only. Save if you are a regular. So they let me into Mumbai's good old Ghetto the other night. I heaved a sigh of relief. We were five men, one woman. You can't form political coalitions with right permutations each time you go out. The said ratio didn't work at the next lounge, like it won't at most clubs. Tough luck, I guess. And, no, there isn't such a thing as gay couples yet. So, smart try.
It's the sort of sexual discrimination few will take seriously and fewer still will care about. No one I know will fight against it. Suspicions are hard to erase. Some terrorists give all men a bad name. This is true for the average, Indian non-molester man, who makes for the vast majority. He stopped hitting on Indian women at some point. She instantly assumed him to be sleazy anyway. She had probably liked looking at him. He had seemed okay. He had enjoyed giving her the attention. She had thought that was fine as well. Their eyes had just met at the bar. But I know what they were both suffering from.
The Indian girl is hit by a silly 'slut complex'. She won't make the semblance of a first move--which should truly be her right--for fear of being judged as the loose one. The Indian guy is similarly down with 'creep syndrome'. He can't be seen as one of those, you know, "one of those". He has a reputation to protect.
Given such poor practice with making conversations with the unknown of the opposite gender, his skills get considerably worse with time. When he does try his luck now, once in a while, the possible openers get odder still: "You smell really nice . . ." Eww. She looks away. He goes back to his drink.
The times you must hang out with other men, just men, is when you're at a quasi-gay joint celebrating old boys' reunion of a frustrated boarding school. There are mostly men around at party places, which allow men by themselves. The topic of conversation is the woman, still.
Species single, male, and Indian could consider themselves getting officially quarantined. It would help their cause. Female companionship is a mirage. Male company gets boring. Cloaking this lack of opportunity into a moral virtue, most prefer to get married instead. Their parents help them hook up, finally. Someone should. It's hard to hold out beyond the late 20s. Arranged marriage isn't always a matter of social conservatism or personal choice. It is often an urban necessity. Family feels proud. Segregation suits the status quo. Society approves. As does the petty politician, whether he's the sicko who hassles lovers at public parks, or the old man in the gram panchayat. Unmarried love is fatal to his constituency. Inter-religious or inter-caste family thereafter can negate his existence. The conforming institution, the saviour, lives on.
Sooner or later, being single gets even tougher when everyone else around is already married. And there, those platonic female passports to an acceptable nightlife are gone as well. It may be fair to suggest that you can be happily single, in much the same ways as you can be happily married . . . both being empirically impossible. To me the occasional woes of single men, however, seem diametrically opposite to those of the single women I meet. Except, when they discuss the opposite sex, which is when they talk the same language.
Both on separate tables insist that a man or woman who is straight, smart, attractive, intelligent, interesting, funny, and, yet, available is an extinct specimen fit to hang at museums. Maybe, because, the two tables have never merged with each other's; they've never really met. After school and college, where will they:At work? That's where many do, it appears--unless you're the supposedly shy sort, who only slimily stares at objects of desire, over the cubicle, under the staircase, when not stalking on Facebook.
New to sharing workspace with women, the traditional Indian man can barely get himself to open his hesitant mouth before a frothy female form. What comes out, when he does part his lips, bears promise of a sexual harassment case. He's better off tongue-tied, quietly fantasizing. Dishonesty in sexual expression is probably better for the civilized world.
The less shady ones--fat, fugly, tall, talkative, short, sloppy--get to demonstrate their actual worth at work. This is a level playing field. Women get attracted to the relatively smart. The guy has something to prove. Bosses should be glad. Late hours aren't a problem. Attendance goes up. Company's productivity rises.
Sure, an office intern can shake up the White House and shock America. The gorgeous dimwit secretary can make the stern corporate CEO dance on his knees. Attraction demands no prior appointment. This may be unfair on the nerdy, pimply man who must work harder to command the same attention from his male superiors. But nature tends to balance this out in the long run.
That rookie biz-school grad, when he turns bald and old and if he is on top of his boardroom game, will be considered sexually attractive still. This isn't necessarily true for the dumb hot intern in his office twenty years later. While he's younger, freer, funnier, he stands a fair chance as well. Call centres and the movie industry merely get a bad name. All Indian offices with reasonable sex ratios, being 1:10 if you peer harder I reckon, will look like rocking dating sites, spiced up with secret romances, rebounds, heartburns, and heartbreaks. Pay closer attention to the HR department.
Mixing hormones with business may be a terrible idea, I know, but what to do? Where else to go? At a house party of drunks? Where the inevitable cock-blocking and penis fencing match is about to begin between twenty single men over the only woman who decided to stay back until late? Maybe not.
At a discotheque? Yes. That would be an ideal place for the lonely soul, seeking a happy ending to a day--a night of casual, naughty nirvana. It's a large, dimly lit psychedelic dome singularly structured around eyeing men and women, since there's precious little they can see of each other, through their beer goggles, under a shiny disco-ball. Loud music takes away the awkward discomforts of acquaintanceship. Burden of conversation safely lies in the lyrics of the songs. Akon sings, 'I wanna love you' Snoop Dogg adds, 'I wanna fuck you'. Bodies move to booty calls. Eyes meet. The point's made. Nobody need ask, your place or mine. Maybe that's there in the song words as well. Deal's struck. Booze is expensive. Night's young. So are you.
But then if you're single, male, and around others with the same affliction, you were just dreaming right now. They won't allow you into a nightclub. It's for couples only. Despite weightier measures of time, the two people entering have already met; and, so have already dated, drank, danced, and done all old-world things invented to break the ice since the Internet. Then, perhaps, they're not single anymore. Social segregation is a vicious circle. Having a girlfriend exponentially increases your chances of finding another than being single ever does.
For a year or so I once co-ran an anonymous daily relationship column in an English daily in Mumbai. It was called Dear Diana, named after this well travelled woman who could solve your daily problem. I was Diana. It was a popular read. Most of those writing in, I realised, were only checking if we would print their crazy queries, none of which were serious. They were almost all jigsaw puzzles about cousins sleeping with their daughters, who were in turn making love with both the dad and the aunt. The only genuine questions would inevitably be from a lost male soul: "I like this girl. What do I do?" Become her friend, I'd say. "How?" Get to know her friends first, and take it slowly from there, I guess. "How?" You know what, buddy? I don't know.
A veteran tri-sexual acquaintance (the sort who serially tries for sex as his natural right) tells me he's had it now. It is a hard life, unless you're a rock-star, or in the Indian context a Bollywood hero who plays a rock-star, I suppose. The friend says he'd rather start a political front for single men. There'd be enough support for his cause, he jokes. I don't agree.
Nobody would openly join a group automatically that presumably consists of a bunch of cash-strapped, unstable varieties who walk around being single because, it is thought, they ought to be: no woman could stand the son of a gun anyway. Even women are attracted more towards men who are already hitched. There's mystique in the unattainable. Singles' nights inevitably fail. "Deserters, all these people," the fellow frowns as he tells me. You'd be the first one looking to desert your own group, I tell him. He agrees.
The Game is a celebrated Bible for single men that scientifically tutors an 'average frustrated chump' (AFC) to become a 'pick-up artist' (PUA) giving out few quick steps towards attracting pretty things at bars, cafés, malls, and discotheques. The best-seller studies various 'seduction communities' in the US. During the course of writing his experiences, author Neil Strauss, self-admittedly an AFC, attends workshops conducted by experts in serious 'seduction communities'" before he gets anointed the world's no. 1 PUA.
The single Indian man would be in awe of such a champion. He can tell why the same methods could never be applied in his country. It's yet another American dream. Women have panned the best-seller in the West for its overt male chauvinism. The premise is entirely sexist, yes. But sex-guru Strauss makes a significant point out there that should please the average female reader--that there are no ugly women, only lazy ones.
Everybody loves the single woman. The world donates her its affection, attention, drinks, dinner, coffee, couch, conversations, cupcakes, tags, hash-tags, friend-requests, re-tweets, roses on Rose Day, proposals on Propose Day, self-respect on Valentine's Day... She gifts them hope. Nobody loves a single man; not even the single man himself, and least of all, the bouncer outside the club.
This post appears as the chapter 'Me? Single. You? Double? Okay!' in Mayank Shekhar's book NAME PLACE ANIMAL THING. It has been published with the author's permission.
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