“Like a compass needle that always points north, a man’s accusing finger always finds a woman. Always.” –A Thousand Splendid Suns, Khaled Hosseini.
A 34-year-old male actor recently died by suicide and everywhere I see, grownass men and women are addressing him as that ‘poor boy’. The ‘boy’ was highly educated, by some reports even gifted and earning a handsome salary as a leading man in Hindi cinema. It all changed the day he died and instantaneously, he attained eternal angelic boyhood.
By infantalising him thus, we think we are expressing our affection and our thwarted maternal/paternal instincts for the ‘bechara bin maa ka bachcha’. An adult male made a decision to end his life. Now our collective culpability in his decision as society, as his peers, his doctors, remains to be examined as it must be for all untimely deaths- farmers’ suicides, daily wage workers’ suicides, death by malnutrition of infants, to name a few. But to reduce a grown man to boyhood, to ascribe him with child-like innocence comes at a huge cost. The cost of the humanity of his 28-year-old estranged girlfriend who has been variously addressed as Slut, Chudail, Vishkanya, Gold Digger. Not for a second have we paused to reflect on the price she is paying and will continue to pay as the girlfriend of the golden boy who died too early.
The price of infantalising men has traditionally meant that girls have had to grow up before their time- someone had to be the adult. ‘Boys will be boys’ has always been brutally carved out on the bodies and minds of women. The infantalising of men has meant that they are never accountable for their misdeeds. And because they are ‘boys’ eternally the finger must point at the woman closest to them, because she must have drugged him, decamped with his cash, befuddled his brain with witchcraft.
When I began menstruating at age of 12, I was told that I had now become a woman and I had to act accordingly. Which typically meant, keeping my legs together to guard the treasure between them, to keep my eyes lowered, to walk sedately, speak softly, better still not speak at all. That I never followed any of the diktats was at great cost to my body, mind and soul. Any harm that became me was then naturally my fault, because I had been properly instructed on the code of conduct of being a woman. While the men who treated me as an object of desire that I was to them, they never suffered any consequences of their actions.
12 was the last time I felt carefree, the last time I was addressed as a girl. Pardon me then, that I cannot call a 34-year-old man, a boy, no matter how tragic his passing.