International Women’s Day is looming, and GRIN has something very special lined up to mark the day. But before that, here’s a story I love to tell, and it’s about men! It’s about a trip I went on, where I was the only hapless woman, unwittingly ‘stuck’ with seven men! And what I got to see are sides to men we women might not acknowledge exists! Without much ado, here’s the story – in all its glory!
The year – 2006
Six of us – four men and two women had won a prestigious award and as a part of the award, we were getting to go on a study tour to London, no less for seven whole days. Of course I was excited. The trip was to a phoren land after all!
In my flurry to beg and borrow clothes, camera, warm wear, and other thingies one needed for a foreign trip, I quite forgot to get acquainted with my fellow awardees. I had met them all during the awards ceremony and then we all went about our job of getting ready for the trip. Two days before travel, I got to know that my sole lady co-awardee had opted out of coming owing to a personal problem. So there I was – with seven men (including the three persons from the organization sponsoring us). I wasn’t prudish or anything; rather other worries plagued me. Who would go shopping with me? I couldn’t after all shop for lingerie and cosmetics with men accompanying me. Would they know the difference between nude lipstick and otherwise, or padded or not? Out of question! And what if I needed to speak about my myriad health issues? Back pain, cramps and what not?
But it was too late so I decided to grin and bear it! I wasn’t going to compromise a trip to LONDON because of a flimsy reason such as this. My colleagues were all ‘boys’ in a sense. They were all much younger than me, and I think chivalry comes naturally to men when they see an older woman!
The next week saw me being made ‘one of the boys’ very quickly, even while recognizing that I needed just that wee bit of extra support when it came to setting foot on escalators that went to dizzying heights, or to slowing down their pace of walking just to ensure I could keep pace. And all this with gracious acceptance and not condescension, “Oh, she’s a woman, give her a break.” Over the next week, I was pampered, coddled and treated like fragile china! I came back with my opinion about men taking a huge upward spiral. But enough about me. Meet them…
- Biju Mathew – All India Radio – he collects awards with prolific ease and I’ve lost count of how many he has won after we returned.
- Rajeet Sinha – Currently Press Advisor to a high-profile MP, but still exudes the same warmth and affection and humility whenever we speak.
- S Nagarathinam – effortlessly added on a PhD and a son to his portfolio after we returned and currently heads the Communications Department of a renowned university.
- Sanjeev Sharma – All India Radio – hasn’t aged a bit since I last saw him but I’ve kind of lost touch with him.
- Jacob John – I’ve lost touch but I’m sure he can never change. Lovely, lovely human.
- Khorrum Omer – Ditto. But I do see him on TV occasionally.
- Savyasaachi Jain – The BIG BOSS.
I have names for all of them.
The Wall (a la Dravid) Biju – solid, soft-spoken. Took copious notes unobtrusively at all meetings. I could sense a whopper of a story, or several stories in the making. He proved it on his return with all the awards he’s collected.
The Buzzzzzy bee Rajeet – here, there, everywhere. Knew the tube lines inside out. Assumed the role of gentle leader in no time. Chased stories with the vigour of a seasoned newshound who knew the value and the volatility of TRPs and was committed to do his bit to make them spin. Packed in 28 hours into a 24-hour day.
Waterman Sanjeev – affable, quiet, unflappable. A very endearing mixture of fun and serious intent. Mischief shone through his eyes. Why Waterman? He had the lovely quality of water about him and fit the vessel he was in.
Superstar Nagi – Hmm… found scoops lurking around every corner. He found Tiruvalluvar wrapped in a shawl sitting in statuesque splendour under a tree in the University College of London. He found Gandhi tucked away in a park. He visited the Tamil BBC and walked away from there triumphantly holding a BBC diary like a war trophy. Brought a smile to the Tamilians working in a store by talking to them in Tamil and giving them a taste of home. Nagi and his camera were inseparable. And he wanted himself in all his pictures. We all ended up as near-professional photographers attempting to catch him in the myriad poses he wanted!!!
Jacob? Willing to learn, to participate and yet not pushy, or abrasive. Great to have around.
Saachi – the long-haired genial boss! He had the London A-Z and the tube map in his head. Even though he referred to it desultorily sometimes, one knew he did not need to. Like a sure-footed antelope he set a dizzying pace that I at least went blue in the face trying to keep up with. Many a time I found myself lagging behind.
Khorrum – always at hand to help. Silent, strong, dependable. Had all kinds of useful tips having been to London more than once.
To my utter horror, I once found myself setting up easy conversation with a long-haired individual in jeans and jacket, to whose back I spoke about the weather etc. Only when the individual (a woman as it turned out), turned round and looked at me strangely did I realise I had detached from the group. Huffed and panted my way back just in time to catch the tube with them. And they were all huddled together and watching me, giggling all the time!
A truly unforgettable experience. Especially when I once realized I had left behind my folder, notes and all at a bus stop and Rajeet ran back almost a whole kilometre just to retrieve it!
But this is not just a travel memoir or about singing paeans to my male friends. This trip in many ways changed my perceptions about men. The reason I enjoyed the trip immensely is because while I was with them they did not make me once feel I was different from them. Except perhaps when they mysteriously disappeared every evening to do ‘men’ things. After all they were in London – the land of pubs and nightclubs and all sorts of sensory pleasures! It is to their credit that they made me feel completely at ease – give me seven men like these any time and I will begin to believe there are no other kind in the world – that misogyny, patriarchy and male dominance are figments of female minds. More strength to them!
P.S. We still keep in touch over Facebook and other ways and on every ‘anniversary’ flood each other with memories and photographs, some of which are featured here!