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Why I shared the #ChaiWala’s picture

Published: October 18, 2016

If Pakistanis want to glam up their timelines with the photograph of this stunning young man, so be it. PHOTO: TWITTER/JIAHPHOTOGRAPHY

The piercing blue eyes. The stubble and the moustache. The attractive indifference. Blissfully unaware of the fact that thousands are ogling at him, he has become the hottest (pun intended) topic of debate, and has taken the internet by storm.

Bad start to the blog? I can already hear echoing disapproving remarks in my head that I have been reading on Facebook walls of friends. We over-read and over-intellectualise everything nowadays. I do too. This is why I thought many times before I posted the undeniably handsome chaiwala’s picture. Should I post it? Or not? And why exactly am I posting it? Am I posting it because he is handsome? Or am I posting it because he is handsome and is pouring chai, as chai is my self-claimed weakness? Or (what most people assumed was the case) am I posting it because he is handsome but is a chaiwala from anunderprivileged background?

Just like everything else, there is no single ideologue behind the phenomenon of the chaiwala. People sharing his photograph are not a monolithic entity. There are different reasons each one of us may cite for why we clicked on the share button. My sharing was initially habitual – I share many things that are trending and interesting. But further contemplation also led me to understand that one of my biggest reasons for sharing it, twisted as it may sound, is that if it’s alright to admire women for their beauty and make it the biggest thing about them, why can a man not be subject to the same?

Objectification of both genders is unacceptable. But if it is something that humanity as a race has not been able to fight back yet, then just like the blame of the original sin is shared, let the burden of beauty be shared as well, irrespective of gender. There is a thin line between plain admiration and objectification.

What I would and do have a problem with is the accompanying surprise that he is a chaiwala. That this is a man from an obviously lower income background, and is yet so good looking. Like all things good in life, somewhere the upper tier bourgeois of Pakistan have come to believe that even looks and God-gifted attributes are co-dependent on money and affluence.

On another note, the chaiwala viral trend reinforces another fact: that our ideas of “beauty” remain euro-centric. The blue eyes, the fair complexion, the chiselled jawline. Makes me wonder if a dark complexioned equally stunning man would have garnered the same kind of attention.

An interesting stem of the chaiwala debates is very relevant: when doing street photography, what line of ethics do we follow? Did this young man give permission that he be photographed? For street photography buffs, if someone is in a public space, it’s alright to photograph them. Others fiercely guard a person’s right to forbid a photographer to take their photograph. This particular debate has grey areas; it’s not black or white, because after all we are photographed in shaadis and functions, with videos being made of our plates laden withqorma. Is that acceptable but this is not? Worth a conversation.

If Pakistanis want to glam up their timelines with the photograph of this stunning young man, so be it. Each one of us has different reasons and intent. Let’s not try to be mind-readers and assume that everyone who shared it is fickle or shallow.

As for the chaiwala, already people are offering him modelling assignments and lead roles in TV serials, thus he by now must have an idea that he has caused some kind of a stir. His giddying rise to fame and the media spotlights will blind him for a while, mess with his head, disrupt the comforting status quo of life as he knows it, and give him unrealistic hopes and ambitions. The hashtag #chaiwala would have already started losing the trend by the time the bullet of his fame hits him. We will all move on towards other trends in a matter of minutes or hours. But that’s just how life is.

Nonetheless, what remains irrefutable is this: nothing unites the Pakistani nation like chai does. So here’s to chai, and to the chaiwala, and to the dangerous but alluring power of social media.

http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/41981/why-i-shared-the-chaiwalas-picture/

 

Real men do(n’t) cry

Published: November 16, 2014

Long before the Madhuri-fame advertisement, as part of a campaign against domestic violence, reminded us, we had all heard, “Larkay naheen rotay.” PHOTO: VIDEO SCREENSHOT

He was sharing some of his deepest secrets about his childhood; his fears, his regrets, his loss – of a loved one, of dreams, of time lost that could have been utilised better, of a life that could have been. I witnessed this man break some barriers in those moments as he dared to bare his soul, something men in our society are not taught to do.

But most importantly, this man dared to cry, that too in front of a woman.

In those moments, I saw bravery. Because he kept saying,

“See? I’m crying. I didn’t even know I could cry so much. Don’t tell anyone I cried, okay?”

This “he” is not any particular man. And the above lines are not any one particular incident. I have witnessed it more than once. And every time I have realised that for a man to cry in our society is a difficult boundary to push. We associate manliness with certain outwardly signs, like physical strength, like a temper bordering on rage, like earning a lot of money and like being not very in touch with one’s emotions.

Emoting and crying is something that is considered an aspect of femininity. We grow up listening to maxims like,

Mard ko dard naheen hota”.

(Men don’t get hurt)

Long before the Madhuri-fame advertisement, as part of a campaign against domestic violence, reminded us, we had all heard,

Larkay naheen rotay.

(Boys don’t cry)

So men eat, laugh, sleep, feel happy and sad, but are not supposed to cry as that is seen as a sign of weakness. Generation after generation of men grow up with this pre-conditioning. When a natural outlet of grief or frustration is not allowed in the form of tears, the next best bet for men is either cruel silence or anger. We keep talking of rights of women, but usurp men of this very basic freedom to express emotions without both men and women not even realising it.

The most courageous of men ever are my role models; the Prophet (pbuh) and ‘Umar (ra) and ‘Ali (ra), and their peers. They changed the world. They won hearts and they won territories. They fought bloody battles like lions, with bravery unrivalled. They buried their loved ones with their own hands, and went back to the work of serving the cause of upholding justice. And through it all, they dared to cry, unabashedly. We have all read accounts of how the Prophet (pbuh) wept profusely, sometimes on the death of a loved one and at other times for the fear of Allah (swt) and for concern for his people. We accept that, and love that, and idealise that.

But today, a man who is moist-eyed is often seen as a weakling.

There is no doubt that women, biologically, are more prone to crying, as testosterone prohibits crying to some extent and that is the hormone that almost defines men; this is perhaps why, on an average, men cry once a month and women about five times a month, especially during the premenstrual phase and after their menstrual period. However, culture and allowances of freedom of expression also have to do with gender disparity when it comes to crying. While excessive crying can be symptomatic of other psychological issues, there can be considerable long term harmful effects of not allowing someone to cry.

Parents, and especially mothers, need to understand this when bringing up boys. Crying is a natural, organic form of human expression and is a right if carried out in moderation. When we stop men from crying at any age, we deprive them of a natural human catharsis. We also rob them of a certain sense of empathy that helps them understand why women or children cry. This is precisely why many men, unable to handle a crying woman, end up getting up angry and ask her to stop crying or ask in frustration why she is crying.

Any human emotion, if stifled unnaturally, will have harmful effects, and will end up being channelised into other negative emotions like anger or emotional disconnect.

Manliness, often translated as strength, is not just about not crying. Some of the things we see as signs of strength, like violence, anger and yelling, are actually signs of inherent weakness. Strength is about a certain amount of emotional intelligence and the ability to communicate with one’s self and with others. It takes strength to show that you are vulnerable. This is what makes us human.