– Shillpi A. Singh
Life imitates art far more than art imitates life. ~ Oscar Wilde
Many of you will be bewildered if I say that art imitates life but only in some measure. If viewed against the backdrop of recent Kareena Kapoor and Arjun Kapoor starrer Ki & Ka, I am sure most of you would agree. Look across the length and breadth of your immediate and distant neighbourhood, the circle of family and friends, the long list of acquaintances, and colleagues, and all over and around you. Can you spot a man who finds it masculine enough to be a stay-at-home dad or for that matter stay-at-home husband, allows his wife to scale the heights of success, while he, in turn, spends his time gloating and bloating in the fact that how he can do it all for love’s sake. Nothing less, nothing more. I bet that you won’t. It’s by all means a rare sighting in real life. No matter how much a man may adore his mother and love to see her reflection in all the women around him, he would never want to be like her, and don the mantle of being the dutiful stay-at-home husband or dad. It is as difficult as finding a man prancing around in red stilettos on the streets.
Like my female protagonist, I would rather refer to her as Ki, who appeared to be in a happy situation, working her way up the corporate ladder, while her husband Ka chose to be at home, being their child’s primary caregiver and fulfilling other domestic duties through the day. What a welcome relief to see the myths around gender stereotypes being busted right away. I was in for a rude surprise when Ki tersely quipped, “Well, such situations don’t happen by choice. They do, but often by default.”
Ki, an ambitious small town girl, completed her studies, joined a top-notch telecom firm as a management trainee, and in between married the second best man who came her way. It was love at first sight for Ka, who was simply smitten by her ‘my way or the highway approach’ to life. The besotted lover that Ka was lost no time in proposing marriage to Ki. But Ki quickly laid down three conditions before him. “I told him that my career would always be my first priority, even after marriage. There would be no dowry that would be given to him or his family. And he can’t force me to drape a sari, and I would continue to wear pants even after marriage.” The last one happened quite literally in her case. She was surprised when Ka agreed to all three without much ado. And before she could realise, she was settled in matrimony with Ka. “Well, the fun had just begun,” she said. For the chalk and cheese couple, the going was tough from Day 1 itself. “Happiness had a cameo in my life scripted by God. Somehow, I thought with time things would get better. But they only got worse,” said Ki, adding, “My husband had trust issues. He made me quit my job while I was expecting my first child. And to add to our woes, he too lost his job after my son was born. We exhausted our savings in the months that followed. It was hard to meet ends.”
So how did she tide over difficult times? “Ka couldn’t find a job befitting his attitude and expectations. He was nonchalant, unwilling to make amends in his nature to be employed. His laidback approach hurt a lot. I had no choice but to step out of the house and look for a job.”
Reminiscing those terrible days, Ki said, “We had relocated to a small town to be with my parents-in-law so there was nothing I could do with my management degree and my kid was barely a few months old. I started off with odd jobs. I did door-to-door marketing for a cosmetic company in thenoon, took tuitions at home in the evening and worked for a call centre at night. The cumulative package from all three jobs was barely 11K at that point of time.”
Ki struggled with three jobs to earn bread and butter for her family of three and on the personal front, battled to keep the spark alive in her dead relationship. Unable to come to terms with the drastic changes in his life, Ka slowly moved in the clutches of depression. The incessant trips to the psychiatrist for Ka’s treatment took a toll on Ki, mentally. It was more than what she had bargained for in a relationship. “It was a chance meeting with one of my former bosses that things started looking up for me career-wise. He offered me a challenging assignment in his company. He entrusted me with the responsibility to head operations of the telecom firm in a new state. I jumped with joy and accepted his offer even though it meant leaving my 10-month-old toddler behind with my husband and in-laws.”
It was in a way beginning of the end. The couple had started drifting apart not just geographically but also physically and emotionally. “Our relationship was on the downhill. Two years of being with Ka made me realise my mistake that I had accepted his proposal a little too soon. It was Foolishq. But by then it was too late and with a kid around, I was reluctant to walk out of the marriage.”
Ki shifted base to another city, starting her life from a scratch while Ka chose to stay behind at home, unwilling to work because everything was being taken care of by Ki.
Do you look after the house and kids while Ki is away? I dared to ask the man of the house. “A man worth his salt seldom loves cleaning and mopping, buying groceries, doing the laundry, washing utensils, raising kids, and taking care of all the sundry matters on the domestic front. That’s not a man’s job,” quipped Ka. Agreed. All through his growing up years, Ka had seen only the women do it, never the men. It is the chauvinistic mindset that he has inherited from the XY chromosomes to be blamed for such a disdainful attitude. The male psyche can’t overlook it even if he tries hard to. It takes a lot of hard work for a man to be as endearing as onscreen Ka and become the toast of the town so much and so to become the Most Wanted Munda. That’s real chivalry.
As it happened in R Balki’s directorial venture, where Ka is an exception to this age-old rule of women bearing the domestic burden all alone. In real life, the man who does it all will never have the courage to grin and bear it all or flaunt his ‘I am a home-maker’ tag. After all, there is this staple question — what will people say — that needs an answer before Ka comes out of the closet as the stay-at-home husband. Even if he manages to brave it all, the cheers and jeers alike, it might still prove to be a tight ropewalk. Lest he may become a butt of ridicule or for that matter may be subjected to the absurd — chaddi test to check on his gender, in case he has forgotten, and then define his role according to the gender rules.
The real life Ki has compromised with the situation where her husband stays at home but doesn’t want to do much to help her out. She ends up working at home, working from home at times, and working for running her home too. “But I am thankful that he takes good care of my son. That is where I draw solace in this matter,” Ki said in a comforting tone only to hear it aloud herself.
She draws immense strength from work, work and only work to endure such a thankless man and handle him with patience because another young life, that of her teenage son is involved in this battle of the sexes. But having borne it for 14 years at a stretch, Ki has almost reached her threshold. “I might walk out of this stifling relationship once my son is mature enough to understand what went behind the scene in bringing him up.”
But irrespective of the man, his mindset and all that came along with her marriage, she has slogged hard in the last ten years to reach the pinnacle of success in the telecom industry and is today the Vice-President of the company.
That’s a comforting thought. It is heart-warming to see how Ki forgets all that she has seen, been through and done that in all these years and once in a while, loves to bask in the success that she has achieved with her grit, diligence, and determination. Today she is in a happy space of her own even though unhappily married to a stay-at-home husband, Ka. A perfect ending to the real blockbuster on bridging the gender gap. That’s the best takeaway from this Real v/s Reel Face-Off. But to say the least, स्त्रीling and पुल्ling aren’t the same things, not REALLY. They could be if only life could imitate art in some measure. Otherwise, this movie and the message that it wants to send across will remain an April Fool’s prank, to coincide with its release on 1st April.
Disclaimer: Ki and Ka are real characters, and not a figment of wild imagination. Any resemblance to real persons is purely accidental.
The author can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org