Yes, adultery is a fashionable word now even in India, though more people misunderstand Section 497 for some kind of state prelude to a free escort service.
The truth is that the old-fashioned coterie who sees patriarchy everywhere only wanted the sexism issue fixed. Lonely, unloved women were traditionally encouraged only to find spiritual love; no one stopped them from shaving their head, giving up salt/sugar and singing bhajans.
But emotional or physical love was not something they could insist upon in the case of an alcoholic, abusive or absent spouse. That was a male domain. They have been singing Mambo No 5 from Stone Age times ‘You know how men are,’ our grandmas were fond of saying as if a predisposition for pleasure was a boy thing. So now that we are told women will no longer be stoned to death for playing away from home with men who are anyway playing away from home it is just that much justice is done. We can get on with other more serious stuff now...
The Age Factor
Inherently built into this man-woman inequality is also the age factor. We would like to see more cougars than child brides. But men with girls young enough to be their daughters and granddaughters are still the norm. Watching Johnny English Strikes Again the jokes and gags seemed a little lame to me.
This could be because the jokes and gags in it were a little lame or that I am too elderly to get them or that my mood was not conducive to celluloid. But as Rowan Atkinson boogied clumsily in a nightclub after mixing up his pills and put his bean body to comic use, all I could think was this man left his wife for a young co-actor to set up home again. Between the previous Johnny English and the current one, he added himself to the growing cliché of old men finding young love.
At 63, he has been around, seen enough, lived enough. He may or may not have committed adultery but that is immaterial to us Indians who only now managed to keep their women out of jails for this. But he did run off with a girl thirty years younger than him after a decade and a half of marital years with the mother of his two kids. He even has a new child with his new woman.
Of course, he is a superstar and different rules apply in Hollywood, we know that. There is Woody Allen and Alec Baldwin and Bruce Willis and even Kelsey Grammer. New wives, new girlfriends, new babies... And there is a little bit of Rowan in all the ageing men around, regardless of their glam quotient and bank balance. If Rowan was a sixty-year-old woman jumping around in a movie called Jane English who in real life has a 29-year-old boyfriend putting her baby to sleep, I might have enjoyed the movie more.
Now that we have Section 497 in place, let’s expect some parity down the gender line. Single women are not sadder than single men, okay? Eye candy and arm candy are equally ogled by both sexes in the candy store. And it is time women romance very young members of the opposite sex. Perhaps in dim-lit settings to begin with so they don’t end up listing acne creams.
Shinie Antony is a writer and editor based in Bangalore. Her books include The Girl Who Couldn’t Love, Barefoot and Pregnant, Planet Polygamous, and the anthologies Why We Don’t Talk, An Unsuitable Woman, Boo. Winner of the Commonwealth Short Story Asia Prize for her story A Dog’s Death in 2003, she is co-founder of the Bangalore Literature Festival and director of the Bengaluru Poetry Festival.
First Published: IST