Why Good Indian Boys Never Become Good Indian Men


Why Good Indian Boys Never Become Good Indian Men

Illustration: Akshita Monga

“You’re a good boy na? Sit on the sofa, let me finish with jhadu pocha,” my mom would tell me. I obliged, tucking my legs in. It was so easy to be a good boy for my mother. I did it for years and felt great about myself. Until that one day when I went to a relative’s place and was told to wipe the eating area after lunch.

I wasn’t prepared for that! It was like an out-of-syllabus question. I looked at my sister imploringly. She scowled but she stepped in.

I realised, after that, that I had no clue how to sweep or clean up or do any of the most basic household tasks that my sister seemed to know magically. Of course it wasn’t magical. She was taught these skills since the time we were young. I wasn’t.

The metrics for being a good child are very different for boys and girls. There exists a soft bigotry of low expectations when it comes to boys, and a very high degree of expectations from a girl. While my sister was equipped with skills to survive a season on LOST by the time she was 10, I was the good boy who didn’t need to do anything more than tuck his legs in.

I could get myself “good boy” credits if I kept my plate in the sink after eating. My sister was a good girl if she knew how to do the dishes. I was a good boy if I could learn how to heat something in a microwave. My sister was a good girl if she could make round rotis and make a decent meal. I was a good boy who learnt computers and could order clothes online. But tell me to buy groceries or identify good tomatoes at the sabzi-mandi and I am as clueless as a Windows user on a Mac machine.

Good boys grow up to be a lot like the good boys their papas once were.

I turned toward the only other male in the house for direction in what seemed like a pretty obvious dilemma to me. My dad, who was also a self-proclaimed good boy was equally incompetent at most things. I’d never seen him make breakfast or clear the table. But my grandmother would tell me how my dad was a good boy, just like the way mom describes me to other people. If you didn’t drink, smoke, and make a mess of your life, you were a good boy.

That’s how simple it is for Indian boys. Mediocrity, apart from genetics, also passes down. Good Indian boys turn into suitable Indian men, who are expected to adhere to the most basic standard of functioning adulthood – sometimes, not even that.

While the good boy façade ensures boys remain incompetent from a fairly young age, it also stops them from expressing themselves in the truest form.

We already know that good boys don’t cry. Good boys suck it all in, and never show vulnerability. Good boys’ interest is not piqued by craft, sewing, or fashion, those are girly pursuits. Good boys play sport, it is the ultimate display of physical ability and if you want to be a good boy, you must also play the game. Good boys don’t waste their childhood on artistic pleasures like dancing or singing. Good boys pursue commerce or get into engineering – that’s the real deal where you make a life and become a man. Only boys who want to fool around and achieve nothing in life take the arts stream.

Good boys grow up to be a lot like the good boys their papas once were.

Good boys then is a rather fitting term, because that is what many of these men remain, well into adult life. Merely boys. They’re the ones who will run to papa when the shit hits the fan. They are the boys who, when they get married, won’t know how to operate a washing machine, sparking off a thousand #ShareTheLoad campaigns. They’re the ones who, when they have their own children, will not know how to burp the baby. They will shudder at the idea of paediatric visits and won’t pull night duty, citing incompetence.

And incompetence – as a wise woman once said – is nothing but a subtle form of toxic masculinity.

Perhaps it’s time we redefine our concept of the good boy or at least make them work harder for it. Sitting on the sofa during house cleaning or putting food in the microwave doesn’t make you a good boy.

Cheering incompetence on an industrial scale is a moral hazard. We need to set higher expectations for our boys. It would only be fair to them, and other members of society. After all, no 10-year-old wants to end up at maasi’s place with a scrub in hand and no clue on how to do the dishes. Mom and sister will not be around to save your ass all the time.