Welcome, “Corona Kumar”: An Upgraded Version of Masculinity for the Post-Pandemic Age


Welcome, “Corona Kumar”: An Upgraded Version of Masculinity for the Post-Pandemic Age

Illustration: Reynold Mascarenhas

Chances are that in the last few weeks someone has forwarded you the new ad for Shan Masala where a widowed father whips up a birthday meal for his bread-winning daughter using the secret ingredients of love, his wife’s old recipe, and of course, Shan Masala. At the end of the commercial, the voiceover tells us, “Pyaar se khaana banana aur khilana – kisi ek ka kaam nahi”.

The ad works in the same space as Ariel’s #sharetheload campaign, which in March released a three-minute digital film based on the insight that unequal division of labour at home was the reason behind 71% women sleeping lesser than men. In the film, a child forces her father to wake up and realise that the attempt of “doing it all” has left her mother exhausted and asleep in front of a washing machine, of all places. He then instantly steps up to share the load of the laundry and labour at home.

Some might say that these ads are still flights of fantasy. Yet, they have taken on a richer meaning in the post-Covid world and are alerting us to a breed of men that the pandemic has brought to the surface on our social media feeds – a particular variety of a man, who I am christening “Corona Kumar”.

Corona Kumar is the lethal combination of a “humdard” and a “humsafar” – a compassionate, co-traveller through the valleys of absurdities that life throws our way. He is an equal stakeholder and participant in matters of the household. Unlike his predecessor, the “Raja Beta”, who passively sat on the couch, demanding the women in his life do his bidding.

The lockdown has created an interesting turn of events for men across all age groups.

Who is Corona Kumar?

With outdoor spaces of performing a certain kind of masculinity – standing by a bar broodily gazing at an attractive stranger, or adventure sporting to find the jeet that lies ahead of darr – no longer being an option, the men we know have had to pick the road less travelled… the one that takes them home (and lets them stay there).

For the first time ever, the man is no longer an explorer in the great outdoors but in the janana (feminine) space of the domestic. This has created an interesting turn of events for men across all age groups.

A friend of mine recently confessed that her parents who had been married for over three decades, were now in the awkward yet hilarious spot of coming up with a name for each other. So far, the need for this had never come up. Usually, mouthing words like “suniye” or “xyz ke papa” in your partner’s direction would suffice. But four months into the lockdown-induced confinement in just each other’s company has willed the older generation too, to create their own love language.

Whether it is by replacing the physio-therapist who seems too dangerous to access in Covid-infested hospitals, spending quality time playing Rummy together or by taking over the responsibility of dish washing, our fathers and uncles are trying to be more pati and less parmeshwar.

Not to be left behind, a lot of single men in their twenties and thirties are also sensing the room in the pandemic.

If you log on to any dating app, what is on display is not a binary of the alpha or beta man but a luscious spectrum of masculinity. Bios of men have changed from “here for hookups” or “nice guys finish last” to them stating that they want to “find happiness together” or that they “have a stocked pantry and just want to talk”.

My Instagram feed is now filled with videos of single men amplifying their ability to bake, clean, cook, water plants and take care of pets. And since most of our world today is indoors, these skills have become priceless and incredibly attractive to women. Not surprisingly then, peacocking in 2020 has transitioned from documentation of gym selfies or attendance at music festivals to a methodical logging of “homebody with personality” activities.

That Corona Kumar, our new brand of man, with his wholesome personality is not looking at friendship as a consolation prize or viewing the act of conversation as court-mandated foreplay, invokes both shock and awe in us women. The Raja Beta has set the bar so low for men that recently when I told an acquaintance “don’t worry” and he responded with “I am not worrying, just communicating”, I was shook. This alternate version of masculinity is up for grabs?

My Instagram feed is now filled with videos of single men amplifying their ability to bake, clean, cook, water plants and take care of pets.

In a world of Raja Betas, be a Corona Kumar 

As women, the majority of our time is spent decoding ambiguous, half-hearted signs, signals and looking after the overall emotional well-being of man-children and both our families. So if it has taken a life-threatening virus to accelerate the emotional growth of mankind, then as a single woman, I am grateful.

Watching dads trying to learn more about their children over newly instated weekly video call rituals, boyfriends planning elaborate surprise birthday presents to cheer their partner up, men suggesting socially distant long walks by the lake as first-date activities – all this has felt like a hug to my suspicious, guarded heart. While by no means should basic decency be awarded with a lollipop, this Covid-induced wholesomeness ought to raise the benchmark for ideal male behaviour outside of Instagram.

The existence of Corona Kumar is a rebellion against years of social conditioning that has taught men that they can only be rough and tough hunters, gatherers, providers with a heavy lid on their emotions. The pandemic and the social distancing has given men the boon of time in their own company. And they appear to be using this time in healing, connecting with themselves as individuals and being better people.

Corona Kumar with his self-awareness as a tiny speck in a large universe and not the sun, could lay the foundations of a softer, kinder post-Covid world. A world where love is brewed slowly over time, partnership is a dance not a race and foundations of trust are laid brick by brick, mindfully. In fact, when celebrated poet WH Auden said, “You shall love your crooked neighbour/ With your crooked heart” he may have been talking about the era of Corona Kumar – a time when we embrace our imperfections and still dare to be vulnerable.

It is too early to tell if we are being “wokefished” – as we were by the perceived idols of progressiveness who turned out to be sexual predators, like Tarun Tejpal, MJ Akbar and Utsav Chakraborty among several others. Yet, I am hopeful. Corona Kumar is the lead hero we need for these unprecedented times. In midst of all the flux and uncertainty, he with his (projected) ability to talk, listen and do in equal measure – represents a sense of security, and a balanced power dynamic that we have only read about in fiction.