Me, single; you, plural?
Propose day follows Rose day, a week before Valentine’s Day, exposing the agony of the frustrated Indian single male.
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 black out the eyes of a beggar that knocks on our tinted car-windows, this guard had first looked away, then scowled, mumbled something for a bit, still ignoring the four of us entirely unworthy of even his inattention.
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. He didn’t seem interested. Dogs and stags aren’t allowed. Suddenly, we were.
Galloping mindlessly across Mumbai’s tourist district, we’d left behind our only legitimate passports to status and nightlife: the four women friends with us. They caught up eventually. The guard welcomed us in this time. I don’t think he said sorry. He needn’t have. I didn’t blame him. Evenings are too precious to let egos get in the way.
The gent outside Tito’s, with eight people inside on a Monday night, in the dead 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 suffered the humiliation, gently explained that we in fact did have women friends at the bar. And then we left. Quietly. This is common sufferance in Delhi. 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, suffering from a strange tropical disease, single-itis, for lack of a better name. These Dalits 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 rock for music, still no one’s idea of a romantic date, remain officially open to couples only. Save if you were a regular. So they let me into Mumbai’s good ol’ Ghetto the other night. I breathed a sigh of relief. We were five men, one woman. You can’t form political parties 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”. So, smart try.
It’s the sort of sexual discrimination few would take seriously. Fewer still will care about. No one I know will fight for. Suspicions are hard to erase. Some terrorists give all men a bad name. This is true for the average, Indian non-molester type man.
He stopped hitting on Indian women at some point. She instantly assumed him to be sleazy anyway. He had reputation to protect. Given such poor practice with making conversations with the unknown of the opposite gender, his skills got considerably worse. When he does try his luck now, once in a while, the possible openers get odder still: “You smell really nice….” Creepy! 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 places, which allow men. The topic of conversation is the woman still. This is terrible.
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. Most prefer to get married instead, whether they’d like to or not. 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 conservatism or choice. It is often an urban necessity. Suddenly, being single gets even tougher when everyone else around is already married. And there, those platonic female passports to an acceptable nightlife are gone too.
It may be fair to suggest that you can be happily single, in much the same ways as you can be happily married, or happily dating: each being empirically impossible. The occasional woes of single men, to me, 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 specie 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 slimily stares at objects of desire, from 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 foaming, 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.
The less shady ones – fat, fugly, tall, talkative, short – 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 the whole White House. The hot dimwit secretary can make the male 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 superior. 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. While he’s younger, freer, funnier, he stands a fair chance as well. Call centres and 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.
Upping the gender ratio could yet reflect favourably on corporate balance sheets. 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 penis blocking and fencing match is about to start between 20 single Indian 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: 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; 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 at finding another than being single does.
I once co-ran an anonymous daily relationship column in a popular English newspaper in Mumbai. Besides jigsaw puzzles about cousins sleeping with their daughters, who were in turn making love to both the dad and the aunt, practically every genuine question I’d get from a lost male soul would go: “I like this girl. What do I do?” Become her friend, I’d advise. “How?” Get to know her friend. “How?” You know what? 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 a Bollywood hero, I suppose. He says he’d rather start a political front for single men. There’d be enough to support his cause, he jokes. I don’t agree.
Nobody would openly join a group, unfairly or fairly, presumed to comprise a bunch of cash-strapped, unstable varieties who walk around being named 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’re already hitched. There’s mystique in the unattainable. Singles’ nights inevitably fail. “Deserters, all these people,” the fellow frowns to me. You’d be the first one looking to desert your own group, I tell him. He agrees.
The Game, a celebrated Bible for single men that scientifically tutors an ‘average frustrated chump’ to become a ‘pick-up artiste’ almost overnight, seducing strangers at bars, pubs and discotheques remains yet another American dream. You can tell why it could never work in India. Women have panned the bestseller in the west for its overt male chauvinism. The premise is entirely sexist, yes. But the book’s author Neil Strauss makes a significant point 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 affection, attention, drinks, dinner, coffee, couch, conversations, 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; least of all, the bouncer outside the club.
Follow the writer on twitter@mayankw14.