Friday, August 29, 2014

The Evil That Men Do. (We Indians are like that only.)

True tale. No names.

This story about masculine hegemony is from the seventies. It was told to me a while back by an erstwhile colleague from one of the ad agencies I worked for in those days. He happens to be a friend I am in off-and-on touch with even today. He was one of the two witnesses to the event.

Q: Why am I telling it now?

A: Because I came across it recently.

Q: Who does it concern?

A: One of my late (in every sense of the word) bosses for whom I used to have and still have tremendous respect as an advertising professional. He was highly regarded in the Indian and international Management Studies circles as well, by the way.

Q: Can I vouch for the veracity of the “story”?

A: I can vouch for the credibility of the source. Also, in the light of what I had heard on the workplace grapevine at that time but discarded as idle gossip, probability dons the sinister cloak of possibility. Moreover another friend with whom I have lost touch used to be a frequent head office visitor to the Bombay office around the time the event presumably took place and used to lodge at the boss’s apartment situated in a tony locality of the city. He too had dropped hints in passing about the dysfunctional family life with the head of the family always at loggerheads with his wife but a doting father to his daughter who was schooling at an upper-crust day school.

Q: So what is supposed to have happened, for Pete’s sake?

A:  The boss used to travel a lot on work and also his teaching engagements. One evening, the car picked him up at the airport and on its way back home took the Tulsi Pipe Road (now Senapati Bapat Marg) route. This road runs parallel to the Western Railway tracks. This was much before the three flyovers were built. All along the road were makeshift hutments out of some of which hooch was sold and flesh trade was plied. In other word, it was hardly the road on which to stroll leisurely after sunset. As the Big Man’s car was speeding along the not too brightly lit road, there suddenly flared up an altercation between the boss and the missus who had gone to receive him at the airport. Things took such an ugly turn after a while that the boss asked the chauffeur to stop the car and ordered the missus to step out. She had no alternative but to obey. No sooner had she stepped out of the car than the boss asked the chauffeur to start the car and head home. As to how and when she managed to reach home, my informant had no clue.

Q: So what’s the point of the tattletale-ing excursion?

A: If you’re expecting an outburst dripping with angst about clay-footed idols, perish the thought pronto. The only probable moral of the story to my way of thinking right here and now is expressed eloquently by Shakespeare’s famous words (Julius Caesar, Act III, Scene ii, Line 190):

“O, what a fall was there, my countrymen!
Then I, and you, and all of us fell down…”

Though averse to joining in community breast-beating and dirge-chanting, I shall make an exception in the present case and include myself – purely for old time’s sake − in this group mourning the fall from grace of a well-heeled, highly educated, cultured (or, gentrified?) Indian gentleman holding a top well-paying job in a leading ad agency and residing in one of the poshest pockets of Bombay (now Mumbai) because he behaved exactly like a denizen of the shanties abutting the Tulsi Pipe Road once his male ego and authority were challenged in the presence of witnesses. When the shanty dweller drove his wife out of their hovel, she was still allowed to remain in a familiar neighbourhood and could probably find a temporary refuge with a friendly neighbour until things cooled down. The boss’s missus was abandoned in an unknown, totally alien and most likely dangerous territory to fend for herself – a situation straight out of a Hollywood noir of the early fifties (Barbara Stanwyck and Richard Widmark, remember?). Good grief, Charlie Brown! Can we not tell the Red Baron to fly his Sopwith Camel real low and mow down such scum from the face of the earth?

False middle-class values. Don’t we all cling to them even after half suspecting how very hollow they are just because they seem congruent with the current benchmarks of belief and behaviour? They make us pose like judges even in matters where we have no jurisdiction, so to speak. 

So, ladies and gentlemen, who will step up to fling the first stone?