On a rainy Sunday afternoon, I was lazing around with my radio tuned to Vividh Bharati and the song, Itna na mujhse tu pyaar badha played.
The precious Mozart-inspired tune was beguiling, but on listening to the words more carefully, I realised that the hero was telling the heroine, “Look lady, I am a vagabond, I want to travel and try out different stuff, in short, to have life experiences, so please let me be” – albeit nicely. But the pretty lady croons on persistently. She tells him that it’s his vagabond nature that she loves, and one day, she will be with him come what may. Subliminally telling him that she will be his knight in shining armour.
Stories across cultures talk about damsels in distress rescued by proverbial knights in shining armour. In many ways, the tradition continues to the present day.
Flat tyre? Call your husband or boyfriend. Rat caught in the trap? The gallant man of the house will throw the rodent out. And so on.
But what if these damsel-in-distress scenarios are, in fact, the bait that we women use to turn the tables? While rats and flat tyres are once-in-a-while occurrences, there are many everyday instances where the lady turns to the knight – with, I suspect, intentions that are not purely lovely, but rather dominated by an inherent desire to be needed.
My male cousin is an IIT gold medallist, Ivy League PhD as well as a classic ‘damsel in distress’. Almost every hour, his wife has to rescue him from socks, wallets and other such emergencies. I have grown up with him and remember him being self-reliant. He also spent a long time in the United States, managing everything from cooking and cleaning to keeping the larder well stocked – all this while being one of the only five scientists in the world to be pursuing his particular specialisation.
So how did he turn into a husband who makes his wife leave her lunch half-eaten to help him find his eye drops? When asked, his wife explains why she babies him. “I am around all the time, so I pitch in.” It leaves me flabbergasted. Somehow, I get a sense that all this is for her self-assurance; to satisfy her desire of being needed. But it also makes me wonder – as an educated woman who worked till marriage, how can she think this way?
In the song, there is a line the heroine sings, Ab laut ke jaana mushkil hai, maine chod diya hai jag sara (It’s difficult to go back now, I have left the world behind). That just might be the answer.
When a woman is committed in a relationship, more often than not, she goes overboard. She relegates everything else to the background, and loses her self-worth. She tries to retrieve her worth, by being a handmaiden of sorts.
I see no sense in turning a perfectly independent person into a totally dependent one. My cousin is just one example of what I see every day at work, and in my social circle. I ask him why he is becoming a whiny little kid when he has a 2-year-old daughter to set an example for. He replies, “What do you expect me to do, when I am not allowed to do things my way? Forget what I want to eat; even where and how I sit is a point of distress for my wife.” I close the conversation, not wanting to start a domestic feud.
The pondering of the couples-dynamic between my cousin and his wife brought home a sense of déjà vu. A couple of years ago, a female friend, also a journalist, starting seeing a colleague. They started on a happy note and soon there was a metamorphosis – not a good one. The previously independent and strong journo became a pile of nerves, her mood dependent on whether or not her betrothed called her up to say good morning. At the time, I thought that their equation was an exception but of late, I have been seeing a repetition of the scenario all too often. Another friend of mine feels left out if her man orders something in a restaurant without consulting her first.
Related reading: How couple-dynamics have changed across generations, for the better
There is a deeper question; why do we women, even the ones with successful careers and independent outlook, behave this way a lot of times? Do we really get our sense of importance from how much our man needs us? What do you think?