What a Crying ISRO Chief Reminded Us About Masculinity and Tears
Clad in an austere white shirt and muted grey trousers, K Sivan weeps inconsolably. The ISRO Chief’s face is buried against the Prime Minister’s shoulders. He is not wearing his spectacles. There are cameras tightly jammed around the two, closing in for more. There is something elemental here. The meltdown is involuntary and a catharsis is underway, keeping one point something billion Indians on a string.
It is one of those rare moments when people don’t dwell on themselves. They let it out. Minus the indoctrination. Purge, cleanse, reboot. Never mind what they say.
It took an ISRO Chief and an unfortunate plot twist in India’s lunar mission, Chandrayaan-2, to remind us that there is NOTHING ‘weak’ or ‘feminine’ about crying.
Unless, of course, there is a section who, god forbid, now believes that a man can cry only when a lunar mission (or events of similar magnitude) ‘fails’!
What do they say, again? That real men don't cry.. Damn. The man is the head, the woman the heart. Yes?
How about... no?
It is 2019. Time to get with time. A display of emotions should not be gendered. That's just calling for extra baggage at the therapist’s.
A man is supposed to secretly shed an imperceptible tear, if at all he does, regain his composure quickly, and get back to relaying pre-scripted messages to the social wires. The woman is supposed to be crying an extra bucket on his behalf till balance is restored. Sounds bizarre, right? I mean, we made it to the moon, for Chandrayaan's sake. Surely, we can make it past archaic social conditioning? Especially when we have Sivan's example to remind us of the same.
Did we, at some point, squeeze a blob of stoicism into a loofah and ask a ‘manly’ man, oozing with ‘manhood’, to scrub hard, close to his heart? Could be.
The Greek philosopher Socrates believed that heroes should not cry. It is a clear sign of weakness.
Homer, the Greek poet, made his heroes cry buckets of water, and more, without much hesitation. Achilles was a compulsive sobber, so to speak, but it only helped to strengthen proof of a fiercely humane side.
Shakespeare, sadly, mostly rolled with his times. Remember Lady Macbeth invoking the spirits to “unsex” her, rid her of all feminine compassion and kindness, so she could murder Duncan? Clearly, S'peare had strict demarcations for men and women. Women were expected to weep, men were not. When King Lear is unable to hold back his tears, he remarks, “And let not women’s weapons, water-drops, Stain my man’s cheeks! No, you unnatural hags...”.
Pretty messed up.
Anyway,back to some mainstream favourites - King Khan? Ding Ding. Ding. Shah Rukh Khan,the ‘king of hearts’, has been sobbing in his movies, jilted lover or not, since the 90s. Think Kal Ho Na Ho, think Devdas, think Kabhie Khushi Kabhie Gham, think DDLJ... and you will know what I mean.
Barack Obama. Obama's historic photograph, from 2017, has him clutching a handkerchief while wiping away a tear. But this is only one among the many times he has sobbed openly. From the Sandy Hook School massacre speech to his farewell speech as US President, Obama has teared up more than societal sanctions would have liked him to. We don't think any less of these men, do we? Perhaps, more.
Adding to the list, by no means exhaustive, ISRO Chief Dr. K Sivan has reminded us, perhaps inadvertently, that it is okay for a grown man to cry.
Of course, no one's asking anyone to to drown in that funk and not come back, but the point is to dissociate emotions from gender. No one likes to interact with human equivalents of inert gases. We are flesh, we are soul, we are emotions - if you are feeling it, you might as well show it.
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