I don’t mind if Indian men keep roaming and drinking beer in the US | Sabahat Khan

On a train that is gradually filling up with children from an Indian college heading home for the Eid holidays, Vinay Menon, the final speaker of the conference Sourcing: Made in India from London, decides to tackle the problem of excess packaging. He points out that Indian suppliers in Hong Kong ship the toys, movies and electronic gadgets by train, which has a decent life expectancy.

Perhaps the train is one of the incentives for constant consumption in India, or perhaps someone in Bangladesh or China sees these people travelling by train, and decides to make the trip herself instead. Or maybe they have no choice. In rural India today, there are an estimated 50m households, almost one in three of which is headed by a woman. One out of three of them earns less than $2.40 a day. Men, however, keep producing and growing. Perhaps this has been going on for ages, but now, there is a crisis: men are leaving men.

Men were the middle classes in India long ago. They had the disposable income, and they sought out products from abroad, a gift to India’s leaders. The T. Suzuki classiccc car was (and still is) manufactured by a firm in Gujarat, and the back seats are removed in Gujarat, and covered with wrapping paper, in the western city of Mumbai.

Here, too, back-seat wrapping is not all that is in the economy of the auto. The salesman talks enthusiastically about the genie in the bottle quality of the male behind the wheel, and about the greed that men have about one another, and about pressure points in their affairs that they need to address. Men might need a fresh haircut or fit a pair of fitness socks, but they also need to buy a new TV or washing machine. It is their business, or else no one’s business.

I mention this because Menon uses this phrase, “damage control”, when discussing a problem in India today – a problem that needs to be fixed. Here in the UK, it is my duty to break this word down. What Menon is saying is that the problem in India is that people keep picking up and moving around for an unhealthy long time, and that it is their business, their responsibility, and their duty to fix it, because we can’t move around in our narrow clothes any more.

I choose not to use that term “unhealthy” when talking about men. Men in India need to take care of themselves. They are not ready for any untouchable guy who exists in the west, don’t you think? (I’ve got to give it to the old fashion purists and proper old-school men – they do exactly what men in the west do: they keep the formality of the men’s movement as their own. Their motherends are out, but only so they can make reference to them after 100 years.)

If you are Indian, you do need to be unhealthy: that’s the “athletic passivation” you have to have in your life if you want to look good, if you want to be healthy, if you want to be part of a system that will help keep you healthy. You don’t want to keep travelling on you old number two car, and buying unwanted clothes and CDs – I’ve got to give it to the old-fashioned purists in the west as well. You are the ones who keep growing.

This can be hard work: it will take a willing commitment to this lifestyle. For a new culture to emerge in India, a new sexual and material sense of freedom and freedom of lifestyle is required: otherwise, it just won’t happen.

Men just have to learn that the cycle needs to be broken, that there’s only so much stuff to be made, that there are only so many women in India to be loving, protecting and caring about their children. They just have to learn that and stop smiling.

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