This is one maxim that made life difficult for me. Long before it was macho and cool for men to be in touch with their emotions and not being afraid to show sensitivity, I had the unfortunate predicament of being ahead of times. I cried watching films.
Not all films mind you. I did not cry at Laurel and Hardy films. But Charlie Chaplin was another matter. Action films left me dry eyed. But not if they were action packed patriotic war movies. Ditto, action films to do with martyrs in the freedom struggle. These made me cry buckets. As did the first Hindi film I saw, ‘Haathi mere Saathi’. Anand left me cold, but Fiddler on the roof was a three hankie film, even before I had daughters of my own and identified with poor Topol.
This was my shameful secret. AND IT HAD TO STAY THIS WAY! If not quite my life, but my reputation and my young manhood depended on it.
Cinema halls being dark, it kept a veil on this Achilles heel and no one suspected that the sniveling could be coming from the irreverent comedian which was my public persona. Add the fact that my spectacles and frequent colds I pretended to suffer from hid the symptoms of my shame from the casual eye, and I was as successful in keeping this alter ego a dark secret as successfully as Dr Jekyll.
Books were another matter. I was addicted to the printed word and spent every bit of free time, in public transport and communal spaces as well, stuck in books. I would completely lose all sense of space time continuum when in the throes of this narcotic world, and would often laugh out loud or exclaim audibly. Giggles were frequent. Now, while laughing aloud while reading is tolerated as eccentricity, with mild censure, and even giggling attracted bearable amounts of hazing, sniveling would have spelled a death knell. My tastes did not run to soppy stuff, and tearjerkers made me laugh, so one would think that there was no danger of disclosure, but no, not quite. You see, what got my tear ducts running were stories of triumph against odds, the little guy winning, the new kid scoring the winning goal, the 1911 Mohanbgan victory in the IFA shield in a real life Lagaan scenario and similar stories of heroism and success. I used camouflage in the form of loud laughter or eye irritation as a cover up.
But you can go only so far in covering up an overactive lachrymal gland. Rumours regarding my manhood began to circulate. It was only the fact that I was an enthusiastic sportsperson, had the advantage of a scathing tongue, and a reputation as a scrappy fighter helped me survive those whispers. Not crying in physical pain helped salvage my name somewhat whenever I was beaten up defending my honour against any slur of emotionalism.
It was years later that I could openly cry with my daughters watching Lion King or Chak De India.
One would expect that this albatross around my neck would come to my rescue one day when I really needed the relief of letting the tears flow and the howls rise to wash away my anguish and unburden my soul when something actually affected me in real life. But like Karna’s knowledge, the bitch deserted me at my moment of trial.
I was keeping vigil in the loneliest place in the world, the waiting room outside the ICCU. The one person I hero worshipped in childhood, confronted in the arrogance of youth, and grew distant from in the labyrinths of our own lives, the one person who always supported me and was there for me without expectations of reciprocity, who’s debt will forever remain unpaid, was inside, hooked up to a ventilator.
I was called inside and it was explained that there was nothing further to be done, and I had to take the final decision of flipping the switch. I was given a moment alone with the patient. I desperately waited for the welcome release of the warm flood that heals, but nothing came. I was dry eyed and stony faced. I went through the motions of bereavement in automation.
On the one occasion that boys can cry, I couldn’t.