[Introduction written on hindsight: This is top-of-my-mind sort of post. This morning, I found myself wanting to articulate tha answers to the question: In the internet age of emails, blogging, chatrooms, smileys, SMSs, cellphones etc., what is public morality and private morality? And where are the boundaries?
However, I ended up rambling on about a lot of other stuff.... the nature of man-woman relationships in general, flirting and "platonic" relationships in particular and on the nature and future of internet relationships. This is a rather unstructured piece, and demands some indulgence from the reader. However, there's food for thought, and I think the last bite is, I think, the most nutritious bite.]
Boundaries are being redrawn as we speak, so what I write here is more introspective-reflective than definitive in nature. I invite my friends to question each thing that I say, because, first and foremost, I’m subjective and self-justificatory. I’m impinging on the limits of public (and increasingly, private) morality all the time by the very nature of my blog, right?
By virtue of the sort of discussion that goes on here, we all are redrawing our boundaries; what was considered indecent and immoral until a few hours/days ago is now considered normal, after we have discussed it threadbare. At least, that’s how it feels to me.
Technology and media access determines public morality. At a time when media was a relatively scarce influence in our lives — as in the 80s and 90s — a miniskirt that was an inch too short was not considered suitable for dailies. Tabloids like Mid-Day published a large photo called Mid-Day Mate, to give males of all ages a shot of visual viagra. But to be caught leering at one was infra-dig. I think it still is infra-dig; we keep a straight face and gaze at the booty as though we are reading news about Manmohan Singh. But that isn’t difficult because generous portions of leg and bust share front-page space with our political leaders anyways.
Earlier, men would have to pick up a copy of Femina in order to glance furtively at one of those really nice bra-and-panties ads. Then we would casually turn the page, as thought what we were really interested in was Tarla Dalal’s recipes. (Some of us men cook too, you know!) Now we don’t have to go to the trouble… that sort of image leaps out at us from SO many places that we are truly blase.
Platonic Relationships & Flirting
Earlier, it was questionable if a man phoned and asked to speak to your wife, or, for that matter, a woman phoned and asked to speak to hour husband. Hell, I grew up seeing vicious spats between my parents that were triggered off when my dad’s office got a female telephone operator. That she was a widow didn’t help my dad’s defence at all.
Nowadays, it isn’t so questionable, as long as it looks like there’s a legitimate reason. Like, when our accountant calls for my wife, who handles all our bill payments, bank statements etc. But how about when it’s her friend’s husband calling? I know he likes to flirt a bit and claims to have a dozen or so girlfriends in the neighbourhood. But he also gives my wife free advice on her investments, and in the process, gets to banter with her, “Kya aap aajkal hamare yahan aate nahin hein…”
My wife would never admit to flirting, because to her, flirting is a dirty word. But she is much more comfortable chatting up the men in our circle than I am with the women (despite the impression to the contrary that my blogs convey!)
I think the question, what is a platonic relationship, requires another question to be answered first: What is flirting, and is flirting permissible within a “platonic” relationship?
I hate referring to dictionary definitions, so I’ll risk a definition of my own making: Flirting is a way of talking, with or without non-verbal behaviour, that sex may be a possibility at some distant point. When a woman flirts, I think she says, “Look, I’m married and all, but if you approach me in the correct ways, who knows?” And when a man flirts, he says, “Actually, I’m not desperately in need of a sexual relationship, but you’re not exactly bad-looking, and I’m kinda interested.”
Needless to say, most of these implied promises/suggestions just don’t materialize in real sex, or even in love. They just end with an occasional flush of hormonal excitement, which makes them both feel young again, and adds some entertainment to the overall social millieu.
Flirting & My Folks
Growing up, I saw my mother flirt a couple of times, and to me, that was a completely electrifying experience. But she could never accept the fact that she flirted. In fact, if the man she was flirting with responded to her in ANY manner, he would be accused of having bad intentions, leading to a nasty spat. I didn’t like that at all; I wished then, as I wish now, that she had just loosened up a bit and accepted herself the way she was. And also, I wish she been a bit less insanely possessive / insecure about my dad.
When I look back at their lives, I see two lifetimes wasted… two perfectly good people whose lives resemble unopened buds rather than flowers in full bloom. They are sort of like people who hold hands all the time… which is sweet, except that there is that element of fear that if they had ever let go, somebody else would have stepped into their midst. Maybe someone might have, at that; but if they could have handled it all gracefully, I think their lives, and mine, would have been richer by far.
These are perhaps improper thoughts for an only son to harbour, but that’s me. I’ve always felt that way. I’m just putting it in words for the first time in my entire life, and finding it a huge relief to see them face-to-face.
Women & Flirting
When flirting happens, the nature of our biologies and psychologies makes it the woman’s prerogative to say no at any point.
I think a platonic relationship is when the woman begins the relationship by saying no. “Don’t even think it! Don’t even look at me that way!” she seems to say. “I’m like your sister.”
Now what does that do to the dynamics of her relationships with men? And women? At a certain dimension, the relationship with men may not take off at all, but it also says to the wives of those men, “You can feel completely safe when I’m around. You can trust me to serve the tea to bhaisaab, and if my pallu happens to slip off in the process, that’s purely unintentional.”
In other words, it enhances her freedom to some degree. She can interact with men of all shades and, if her hubby or father-in-law questions it, turn around and say, “Chee-chee! How can you even think of me that way? These men are all like my brothers! They would never think of me that way!”
Am I saying that all platonic-minded women (to coin a phrase) are hypocrites? No, but allow me to say, without beating me up, that there is a substantial amount of hypocrisy, self-deception and eyewash in the ma-behen act.
Honorary Men & Good Bad-Girls
Not all women are like that. Some are really straightforward and forthright. There’s a type of such women that I’ll call “honorary men”, without meaning to be derogatory. What I mean is that their behaviour… verbal and non-verbal… suggests that one should relate to them as “one of the guys”. Kidding may be allowed, dirty jokes too, but don’t even look at them with that look in your eyes, or you’re on the road to untouchability.
There’s another sort of straightforward and forthright. But they are not honorary men. Let me turm them the “good bad-girls”. They flirt, they kid around, but they have subtle ways of letting you know for darn sure that you’ll never EVER lead them up the daisy path, and get even remotely near their hot-spots. They let you know that htis is just a game. This sort of thing calls for great self-assurance, and a terrific feel for what the species of males is all about. It calls for supremely developed discerning abilities, and also, unlike the honorary men, the ability to blow hot and blow cold, and the ability to forgive and forget male indiscretions.
Functional = 100% Shuddh Relationships
Not all relationships are man-woman, despite our being either male or female. Many of our relationships are purely functional. With some exceptions, I think the way a typical housewife buys vegetables from a male bhajiwala, or buys a train ticket, would be examples of functional elationships. These interactions do not lend themselves to being classified as either Platonic or Flirtatious. Over a period, the housewife and bhajiwala may have enough interactions to qualify as a full-fledged relationship of some sort, but that would be a functional relationship. Neither of them give it a second thought, and it would be ridiculous to even study these relationships.
A large number of our relationships fall into this category. These are what I would call “100% shuddh platonic”.
Rakhi Bhaiyya Bane Sainyya Syndrome
If a man or woman goes to great length to show that a relationship is platonic, or to declare his/her relationship as platonic, I think it’s like the bard said: “Methinks the Lady doth protest too much!”. The fact that a maine-inko-bhai-maana-hai type of statement needs to be made indicates acknowledgement of a sexual charge, and a conscious effort to neutralize the charge. Meaning, in other words, that platonic relationships are not really platonic, but merely sexual relationships placed under restraint. Sometimes restraints work, and sometimes, they serve as a red flag to that horny bull called Passion. They tempt the brave knight to woo the half-willing maiden under the guise of brotherly affection, and tempt the maiden to reciprocate with many a tender, “sisterly” gesture. Sigh!
Ahhhhhh! NOW Friendly Ghost is in his element! So fasten your seat-belts, ladies and gentlemen! After all that taxiing around, we are finally poised for take off.
Internet relationships, my friends, are THE FUTURE. You can have these words emblazoned on the doorstep to your office and your home. Predict it with confidence, and be sure that it is the shape of things to come. Feel free to take full credit for this prediction, and be sure to smile smugly and say, “I told you so”, when your neighbour’s daughter elopes with her lover over the virtual world..
YESSS. People will not only meet and woo in the virtual world (be it the blogosphere, the maze of chatrooms, private messaging, emails, SMSes, mobile phones, and what-have-you), they will ACTUALLY ELOPE over the internet.
Parents will swear that their daughter barely ever went out of her room, but somehow has got married to a guy thousands of miles away. Men whose seemingly docile wives were seemingly under their noses and their thumbs all the time… Women whose seemingly law-abiding husbands were seemingly hard at work… Bosses whose employees came in early, worked their tails off and left late in the night, asking for nothing more than unrestricted internet access and endless cups of coffee… All of them will have a HUGE truth to think about, and to assimilate into their consciousness.
Ghosty Baba’s doctrine: Virtual communication reigns supreme. It beats face-to-face communication in most respects, hands-down.
Virtual communication bores a hole in your consciousness, erodes a lifetime of inhibitions within hours and days, and extracts from you that soft pulpy matter that joins you to other human beings — your humanness. It unclothes humans, strips them layer by layer, and renders them naked. It facilitates the communication of your deepest desires, your deepest perceptions, and enables others to share them in various degrees. And this process not only reinforces your deepest perceptions and desires, it joins you to those who share them in various degree. It joins you to them, in varying degrees, spiritually.
It respects no boundaries. Men and women now openly discuss their humanness, their marital relationships, parenting concerns, feelings, life-changing events, fears, hopes, expectations, sexual matters, misgivings, insights into reality…. EVERYTHING. This, my friends, is the stuff of life. This is the intimate sort of stuff that only lovers used to share, and nobody else. Now each of us is the other’s Father Confessor, Agony Aunt, Ecstacy Uncle (remember, you read that phrase here first!), Fellow Conspirer, Brother, Sister, Mother, Father, Admirer, Road Romeo, Inquisitor, Friend-Philosopher-Guide, Guru… EVERYTHING.
Come on, guys! This isn’t technology! This just isn’t a technological phenomenon happening outside us! This is the closest thing to telepathy that we have got going here! And it’s happening inside us! Deep inside us! Releasing us at long last from the limitations of our mortal coils! (And, if I may be permitted to say so, from our moral coils too!)
When telepathy begins, all other forms of communication shall be rendered subodinate. Telepathy, by definition, is the perfect form of communication. It equates what one SAYS with what one IS. And vice-versa, it MAKES one what he SAYS he/she is.
I’m tempted to further explain and justify what I’m saying here, but I won’t. Not until I hear your comments in any case.
I made a remark some days ago in Buddy Menon’s guestbook. I shall paraphrase it here for your benefit: There’s something happening here that is bigger than you and me, bigger than all of us. There’s a sort of conjoining of minds happening here, in the blogosphere. By continually bleeding our ideas, insights and individual experiences onto this space, we’re empowering it, and creating a COLLECTIVE MIND. Today, it may seem to be peripheral to our activities, because you never hear of the blogosphere impacting individual lives.
Ten years ago, if someone had said that the internet would have a huge impact on India’s standing in the world, you would have laughed and scoffed. Today, it’s an undeniable reality.
Today, I’m stating that all our individual lives will melt together and change beyond recognition within the space of five to ten years. In the year 2016, you and I will cease to mark time in terms of Before Christ and Anno Domini; we will mark time in terms of Before Internet and After Internet. Because all of our individual lives, our relationships with bosses, children, spouses, blogging buddies, chatting buddies, email chains, SMS chains and a great many more categories that are yet to be created, will have melted together in one great, ever-expanding glob.
Our relationships, which seem to last a lifetime, will change by the year and by the month. We will all — husbands, wives, parents, children, bosses, employees, buddies, sisters, best-friends, everybody — will learn to mutate and change and transform according to our needs, and those of the people who telepathically touch our lives.
Relationships that mutate will stand a chance of survival. Others will perish by the wayside.
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