The clash of Indian masculinities

Rahul Dravid’s recent comments about Virat Kohli made headlines and not surprisingly so. In his long public career, Dravid has rarely said anything that could be considered as ‘controversial’ or click worthy in today’s sensation seeking times.

Dravid’s concern about too many youngsters possibly aping Kohli and losing their way tells us something about how we want our men to be, ideally.

Our big heroes who have been worshipped as near gods have mostly been in the ‘Dravid’ mould. Quiet, unassuming, mature, good boys who let their work do the talking.

In-your-face aggressive characters like Shreesanth have lacked wide public respect and those like Harbhajan ‘tolerated’ for their skills. Harbhajan’s ‘monkeygate’ episode confirmed our worst fears about ‘guys like him’. It was an accident, we felt, that was waiting to happen given the attitude. As did Shreesanth’s match fixing episode and banning.

So what about Saurav Ganguly then? One of our most respected captains credited with giving Indian cricket a never before self-belief? If you take a closer look, we always needed to label Ganguly’s aggression as a clever mental ploy to unsettle the opposition and charge up the timid Indian team. An act, rather than real aggression. With the exception of the Lord’s shirtless episode (laden with rich historic meaning), Ganguly’s aggression was never seen as a sign of him having ‘lost it’. Even Ganguly felt the need to express his regret at the Lord’s episode many times thereafter.

Moving away from cricket briefly, you might argue about the success of the Angry Young Man archetype, both in Hindi as well as the regional cinema. In most such cases, such characters needed a large dose of background justification of being wronged to have turned out like themselves. Besides, the consistency with which they met a tragic end towards the end of the stories underlined our belief that such an approach did not work eventually.

Even the icon of Hindu masculinity, Sunny Deol usually played the innocent, easy going simpleton, forced by circumstances to unleash his destructive masculinity.

Which is why, despite his astounding success in the cricket field and stories of unprecedented commitment to fitness and his game, we worry about Kohli.

Even as he breaks one batting record after another, we get anxious that he might lose his focus because of his affair with Anushka. While the Indian team continues to cream the opposition, we fret that his clash with the gentlemanly Kumble will lead to the team’s downfall.

Come to think of it, have you wondered why we find images of him seeking Dhoni’s counsel on the field so reassuring?

Be it Rama or Gandhi, we have always seen our masculine ideals shunning overt aggression as the primary approach. While their more aggressive counterparts, be it Laxman or Subhash Chandra Bose have been relegated to a less central position in our stories.

We don’t expect our ideal men to be like him, which is why, even as we admire him, we are not quite sure what to make of Virat Kohli.


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