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About the defamation of male bonding

Most things that are dear to men are deemed nefarious or unhealthy. But what exactly happens to male friendships after marriage?

A still from ‘Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety’.
A still from ‘Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety’.

In the film Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety, two straight young men who share a deep friendship, have to deal with the inevitable intrusion of a beautiful girl. Titu, in the delirium of love, does not think anything will change between him and his best friend, but Sonu knows he will be downgraded, and he begins to plot the downfall of the girl, who is no slouch. As the battle lines are being drawn, she sets out to do what many girls do—reform the fiancé. The reformation hits Sonu hard, as he shares a flat with Titu. She feeds them egg-white omelette and millet, bans meat, and appoints a live-in boy-servant to keep their flat clean and spy on them. Sonu gets him sacked by luring him to watch Bhojpuri porn. The film is an enjoyable farce, but it does raise a question that is not appreciated enough: “What exactly happens to the friendships of men after they get married?"

In the real world, most heterosexual men experience a uniform progression of friendship. When they are boys, friends are abundant and diverse; then they slowly begin to appear similar, and part of a tribe, as most of them are on the same career path. Then girls appear and change many things. As Sweety tells Sonu, with a menacing face, when a man has to choose between a girl and his best friend, “the girl always wins". After marriage, it is all over for any deep male bonding. A man who is out meeting friends too often, too late, is a delinquent. As Sonu narrates his fate if Titu gets married, “I will meet you once in three months; at birthday parties..."

Several married men have told me of an absurd predicament, that the very fact that they are satisfied in their marriages makes them lonely. There is nothing to seek in people any more. A typical married man, especially if he has children, has lost most of his male friends. And he is usually not allowed girlfriends.

A few days ago, I found on Twitter that the miracle nobody talks about is that “Jesus had 12 close friends in his 30s". These days, married men meet that many friends, real friends, only during reunions. And, really, there can be nothing more annoying than the reunion of such men: those conformists who did all the right things, all that was expected of them, including siring two children, now valiantly recounting exaggerated stories of modest adventure when they were in college, all of which their wives have heard a number of times.

Most things that are dear to men are deemed nefarious or unhealthy or an addiction. Some are obvious, like porn. The attack on adult males loving their male friends is more subtle and presented as a form of moral rebuke for selfish behaviour. In my youth, a Parsi girl told me that Parsi men are predisposed to spending more time with their male friends than their wives, which was in fact her great fear in marrying a Parsi. I have heard the same about Bengali men from Bengali women. And my mother has said the same about Malayali men, and I can confirm she was right. Modern married men face a stigma that is attached to spending too much time with their friends. It is shameful to be their fathers; to be the way men were a generation before them.

But there are defiant men who refuse to be domesticated, who seek the company of other men. Even I used to have some kind of a contempt for such men when I first found love and could not bear to see a circle of male journalists in the Press Club, drinking, licking pickles; men with thin legs who spoke of how exactly Brazil could improve its football; men suddenly breaking into song.

Now I feel that I should have looked at those habitual late-night drinkers with more sympathy. They were just middle-aged men who did not wish to lose their friends, who chose to sit with buddies at the end of every day instead of going back to their families.There is a view in society that there is something unhealthy about this.

In theory, we have a high regard for the idea of friendship. It is the only relationship that is not defined by the state. It is a relationship, of our choosing, something we do not have to be stuck in. Every other kind of relationship strives to become friendship as though being “a friend" is a higher state—parents want to be friends with their children (mothers who tell their daughters, “I am not your friend, I am your mother," probably mean, “I’ve hacked into your Snapchat"). Even spouses say that they are “friends", when they mean that they have upgraded themselves. Everybody wants to be friends, everybody wants friends. In practice, however, family men especially have to choose to be feral to keep their friends.

In Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety , two men are afraid that they will lose each other to the great powers that women wield over them. It is an unusually tender expression, which often uses the trick of self-deprecatory humour. But even in its farcical form it is part of a fascinating trend—men are learning from women to articulate their wounds without being distracted by the hierarchy of the wounds. The articulation of problems, after all, is in line with our self-absorbed times. More of this will enter our mainstream arts, and they will not be using the ruse of humour. And those who are terrified by human whining, will have to seek refuge in safe niches.

Manu Joseph is a journalist and a novelist, most recently of Miss Laila, Armed And Dangerous.He tweets at @manujosephsan

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