Variations on the Big Bang Theory
Is marriage in India failing? What is the future of love? A not-so-scientific soliloquy on the shifting scales of sex, gender, marriage and love
Why are some people straight, some gay, and others just bad in bed?
Certain things are preordained, inexplicable, or just so because I said they were. If you argue with my logic, I’ll toss a copy of Bruce Bagemihl’s book, Biological Exuberance, in your direction. Here are some of its findings: Gobies and clownfish can change their sex. Young lions have sometimes been known to mount each other (did you ever wonder what lions did for sexual relief when only one, a dominant male, has access to a pride of females?). An estimated one-quarter of all black swan pairings are of homosexual males. The red flour beetle is widely polygamous. And remarkably—take note, brides-to-be—female bonobos pass on straws and twigs to their daughters as a kind of sexual dowry of dildos, perhaps from a historical recognition that after marriage, you are your own greatest source of pleasure.
Biologists like Bagemihl—and academics like Paul Vasey—established a small, serious body of literature questioning the Darwinian myth that all unions had to beget progeny. Reproduction was certainly part of the original Noah’s Ark plan, but somewhere along the line it was proven that offspring is sometimes a bad idea.
Sexual variance is not a divergence from reproductive pairings; it is an extension of it, an expansion of the old wing. Do you know what this means? Every time your pet Labrador is dry humping the sofa and you refer Desmond Morris to pencil it as “dominance behaviour", that’s so cute! I think you’re going to have to fix your Labrador, either way.
What is the changing definition of sexuality?
Contemporary sexuality is being shaped not only by sexual impulse but, more crucially, by shifting definitions of gender. Let me break this down a bit, as I might be sounding like that lecturer you avoided in college, whose Facebook photo is a bit of a terror alert. Sex is biological sex: We are born as male, female, or a sex that is not traditionally mandated. But as we know now, gender is an identity, originating from biological sex, but thereafter turning into something of a performance. We inhabit gender constructs to fit into an existing societal framework; girls, for instance, are encouraged to play with dolls when they should rightfully also be prepped for presidency or leading their national sports teams to victory. Or, to contest gender norms, we create something novel and entirely appropriate for what we experience as our gender internally (wait, actor Shakti Kapoor in drag is not a legitimate example of gender diversity).
So as notions of sexual desire expanded, we allotted it a spectrum—no one was entirely straight or entirely gay, except the very square and extremely unimaginative.
Now, scholars of sexuality, and anyone with sympathy for their erotic hardware, will see gender on a spectrum.
People can be biologically male, but in some men, traditionally female traits are predominant, or vice versa. This is a long-winded way to explain why so many straight men are guzzling beer and watching cricket while thumping each other in a way that makes you dread the word “bromance". I guess what I’m saying is, it’s rather old-fashioned to say that no one is simply just gay or straight or hetero-flexible. Sometimes your gender has no name, so the compass of your attraction enjoys no particular direction. How beautiful, how vital, to think of gender as something we may dip into, borrow from, drawing the best of so many valuable qualities that comprise what it is to be human. Gender is dynamic, changing; it allows our soul, and bodies, to breathe. It is fashion, mannerism, coiffure and, most importantly, it is feeling and being. Consequently, on days you feel more traditionally male, you might suffer certain sorts of attractions, for instance, towards women, or men, or teddy bears. And on days you feel gender-neutral, you will look like an indecipherable mass of carbs. Speaking for myself, I long transcended all traditional parameters of gender and sexuality, and I chiefly identify as a “Gujarati" . This means I’m attracted to khakra, and khandvi is basically porn on a plate, and in this I have found my peace.
Is marriage in India failing?
The only thing worse than the state of our government is the state of our marriages. Just the other day, I was on my hichka (swing), devouring an army-size portion of khandvi, when Mrs Patel from next door came to tell me the three recent weddings in our neighbourhood, to which I had not been invited, had bombed. First, I thought this was wonderful, it served them just right for not inviting me. But second, I was filled with relief: These kids had done what their parents could not, walk quickly out of a soulless, sexless marriage that would have eventually got them like a wrecking ball at a demolition site. As creative segue, and because I was feeling spiteful, I told Mrs Patel about writers from Delhi, penning Miss Nobel Prize essays about embedding themselves in war zones at our conflicted border. Well, if only they would consider embedding themselves with their spouses, they would discover the real conflict zone in India is in the bedroom. I told her that the idea of cohabitation, forced, often unpleasant and mostly unhygienic, as evidenced by a shared toilet, is anathema to me.
But a few things alarm me in what I’ve come to witness about failing marriages. One is how quickly Indian marriages seem to end these days, vanishing like a bottle of ether left unstoppered. In the past, my mother pointed out there was a method to the madness: a public marriage, a honeymoon window, the begetting of spawn, some supply of erotic boredom followed by afternoon adultery (my south Bombay cousins, experts at marriage wrecking, call it a baporiyu or nooner). It was like a John Updike novel set in suburban Mumbai.
Today, an Indian marriage is destruction on speed.
In several families I know well, parents are in shock at how their children end marriages within weeks, or days, of the saat phere. The couple simply return from a Bangkok honeymoon and drive straight on to the divorce lawyers.
The second idea I’m extending is that, in previous years, there were sympathetic reasons for conjugal attrition. My aunts would blame a fabulous witch of a sister-in-law; in another, the husband had never known an erection and, sadly, nor had his new bride. There were visible worms decomposing the marriage. Now, things just end, leaving behind a huge, useless wedding expense, larger dissolution costs with nerve-numbing acrimony, and a thick dust of things that flopped inexplicably. There is not as much as the flimsy excuse of adultery to qualify the breakdown. If you thought America was screwed up, I told Mrs Patel, then, welcome to Modern India.
Perhaps what I’m saying is violently wrong.
After all, many marriages work in principle, and many more on an Ekta Kapoor soap. Moreover, if yours is a huge success I ask why you are not heaving in bed on this Saturday morning, relishing in your conjugal rights; why are you reading an essay you are disagreeing with until you reach this sentence?
What is the future of love?
Is it couples therapy with the doctor who listens to you with the glossed-out eyes of a recovering alcoholic? Or is it the recognition that the guy you met on Tinder had used so many filters that he magically looked like a human being, although now, sitting across you at Barista, he looks like someone with a crystal meth problem. Chalk it up to kalyug but maybe love in the world of social media is an increasingly crap idea. It’s just tough when there’s on-demand distraction, the three men who WhatsApp you photographs of their schlong every morning and because no one ever sends a Hallmark card with roses and vines patterned all over the front (I was a sucker for them, and I always will be). But like a phoenix that will never rise—this technically means it is not a phoenix but don’t you go killing my swag—love has this magic ability to produce out of its remains something like a friendship.
Just the other day, I was thinking about the person I see most often, someone with whom I go driving down the streets of Mumbai, an old friend, my best beaver. We drive out to Bandra Bandstand, and look with awe at the folks pawing at biryani like bears. We drive out to the suburbs and eyeball the Bollywood aspirants who self-identify as “strugglers", their sexual orientations best described as “available". Then I go home, and I fall asleep. Perhaps this has become my definition of love—to watch the world with a friend, and then come home and go to bed. After enduring the crisis of glamorous parties, fraudulent friends, premature success, this is good fortune I did not think I might count on. It is also a reason to live, and if this is what friendship provides, then it’s a pretty neat thing.
Now, can we please go back to talking about me?