Thursday, 1 November 2001


Do we need sex?

If your instinctive answer is a fervent “yes,” you’re probably male. But then, that’s why you’re reading this magazine and not watching Oprah.

But hold your, er, horses, messieurs. ’Tis not the act of fornication that we’re discussing here. This isn’t about you giving up your sex life - such as it is.

We’re talking about what my father’s 1964 edition of the Reader’s Digest Great Encyclopaedic Dictionary refers to as “the sum of the physiological difference in structure and function which distinguish the male from the female in animals and plants; males or females collectively.” Very disappointing find it was for a certain sweaty-palmed 11 year-old poring through the dictionary for the meaning of words his indulgent aunt said he should ask his parents about (and when he broached the topic with his parents, they in their turn shuffled nervously and changed the topic, which is why, remembering earlier parental directives about finding things out for oneself, he was scouring the dictionary.) The dictionary primly goes on to say, “(loosely) the sexual relationship,” which was as clear as mud to me - er, i mean, that 11 year-old.

We are, senõrs, wondering whether it’s necessary for our species to have human beings of the male persuasion. Or the female for that matter.

There was a time, I will grant you, somewhere after our distant ancestors mastered the art of splitting themselves into different cells - but before cellular phones - when having two different sexes made sense.

I mean, what’s the next step after you divide? You divide again. And then again. After a time, monotony sets in. I’m willing to bet if some bored cells on a drunken weekend hadn’t chanced upon this business of getting together with other like-minded buddies and forming (trumpets here) the first multi-cell organism, life on earth would have pretty much had it.

But evolve they did, and evidently had a lot of fun doing so, since here we are, still doing our best to mingle cells at every opportunity. Then some curvaceous protozoa invented the headache - but i digress.

Let’s stay with homo sapiens. When we first got up on our hind legs, dividing up the work made sense. The larger, hairier ones got to go out in the cold and kill things, while the smaller, smarter one stayed home, snug and warm, and had babies and headaches. This way, despite the fact that ones with the dangly bits between their legs frequently made errors of spatial judgement and went after beasts much larger than them and quickly became breathing-challenged, or, as frequently, got lost because they refused to stop and ask directions, the species as a whole continued.

Those differences have persisted, becoming more complex, more stylised - I can show you an in-box full of gleefully vicious email forwards that alternately rip apart men and women. For gosh sakes, we’ve even got different magazines!

The only real need for different sexes now is for, well, sex. And how much time, deo, depilatory products and tight pants do we devote to the pursuit of a few minutes of frantic coupling? Think of the all the more productive uses we could be making of our time and money. Not to mention the arguments, fist fights and wars caused by our aggressive instincts. Hell, the differences between the sexes has lead to reams of terrible love poetry and, even worse, country and western music .

Time, methinks, for us to evolve.

After all, now that we’re the second most evolved form of life on this planet (happy trails, Douglas Adams), no longer needing to ensure survival of the species by pursuing and subduing sundry mammals, birds, fish and reptiles, there is no real need for us to persist with this stubborn notion of different sexes.

Look at the social insects - all female colonies, a few token males around to impregnate the queens.

And there’s a particularly clever kind of fish that is all female. Until they feel the need to procreate, whereupon the larger ones turn into males and do the needful.

Snails have it all - hermaphrodites every one, doing unto one another as they have done to them. Think about it, multiple orgasms and the ability to pee standing up.

But let us get serious now. Science is already coming to the rescue. A while ago. some boffins scraped a few cells from the udder of a sheep, and hey presto, Hello Dolly!

Well, ok, i’ll grant you that having one’s udders scraped isn’t the most pleasant form of procreatory activity, and the fact that it only creates a genetic carbon copy, a clone, and therefore what price diversity and the elimination of weak characteristics and the enriching of the gene pool - after all, how many Jayalalithaas can this planet handle? But there’s more.

Those men in white coats, after questioning Murlitharan’s action, have also mapped the human genome. I’ll leave it to erudite gentlemen like Mukul Sharma to explain the finer points of that, but it won’t be long before they’re doing cut-and-paste with DNA. Along with eliminating cancer and acne, they’ll soon find ways to combine the excellent X and Y chromosomes of, let’s say George and Barbara, eliminate all the weaknesses and come out with something far more interesting and advanced than W.

Is that so far-fetched? I think not. Someone said it better than i can, and i misquote, I’m sure: the science of today is the magic of yesterday, the magic of today is the science of tomorrow.

Imagine the faces of your great-grandparents a century ago if someone had given them a sneak peek into the future and they had seen, as a random example, cybersex.

So, kind sirs, remember where you read this first.

Because, not long after we get the letter “Dubya” right, if we have any sense, we’ll create a super wo/man. A creature that is the best of both sexes. Whose mind isn’t cluttered with thoughts of who it is going to ask out on Friday night. A being that is complete in itself, not needing another one to make it so. That will procreate when it wants to, with whom it wants to (with mutual consent, of course). Deciding at the time whether one, or both, should have the baby. Sharing responsibilities for the offspring in every way.

We’ll all have the same moving parts in exactly the same places, then. And, being controlled by the same hormones and body cycles, we’ll all understand one another much better, instead of relating to, at best, just 50% of the human race.

Perhaps then, we won’t need theories about Mars and Venus. Because we’ll all just be from earth.

This was one side of a debate, "Do We Need Sex?"

Published in It’s a Guy Thing (GT, for short) the Times of India Group’s Men’s magazine.


Thursday, 31 May 2001


Travelling Late

I’m a Mediterranean kinda guy. I have black, curly hair, love olives, red wine and cheese and I know more about Greek and Roman mythology than about Indian epics. And I wake up about four hours after India does. Which can be a bit of a problem when one lives in Mumbai.

A gracious Providence has surrounded me with people who understand: bosses who permit me to start my day a few hours after everyone else; clients who considerately ask only for afternoon or evening meetings; friends for whom my tardiness is the provider of many witty one liners (and they think nothing of calling me at 2 a.m. because I’m the only one guaranteed to be “both awake and alone” at that hour); girlfriends who... come to think of it, there haven’t been that many. Hmm. Wonder why?

My awry biological clock, a pathological dislike of crowds and a strong parsimonious streak, have, while ensuring that I have a laughable social life, made me something of an expert on getting home in the wee hours, on the cheap.

So, last trains, last buses... they have become my lifeline, ferrying me back from the magazine offices and ad agencies that have underpaid me over the years, rocketing up the silent length of this stretched out city to my bed. But I write here of buses. And ’tis not because I love trains less, but that I love buses more.

Trains I use when I travel, not when I commute. There’s romance in the sound and rhythm of a train chugging through the night, long deep whistle blowing, strange stations with different local flavours of sweet tea and terrible coffee.

Trains get me home faster in this city, but when I look out between stations, my eyes pass over the same things they would have seen at more respectable times, only darker. And the stations are lonely enough to break your heart.

In a local bus, however, things change in the night.

As you wait for them, you have company. A bus stop is a fraction of the size of a railway station, so you’re in closer proximity to your travelling companions.

Beside you, mill workers stand silently, tired, second-shift men with blank eyes. Next to them, boy-men in black trousers and white shirts smoke cigarettes, laughing as they dissect the evening’s happenings at the five-star hotel they work in. Perched on the railings a pair of college kids self-consciously hold hands, whispering to each other, and you can bet they’re not talking about the late show they just didn’t watch. Off to the side, two waitresses from a ladies’ bar (they always travel in pairs), chatter like exotic tropical birds, ignoring with practised ease the male eyes that strip them of their gaudy plumage. Drooping against the slim metal pillars of the bus stop, a young couple, a sleeping toddler in his arms, hers weighed down with a large bag, balance the temptation of the taxi that waits invitingly a few feet away against the straightjacket of the monthly budget.

And a bus arrives, its engine sound unrecognisable from its peak-hour grumbling and muttering of stifled oaths at squawking gaggles of white Maruti 800s. Now it roars impatiently, complaining about the length of time you’re taking to get in.

The bus is in motion now, and the engine shrieks and bellows, like a class of adolescent schoolboys, voices breaking, greeting the last bell of the last period of the last day of term. It races joyously through the night, double rings from the conductor chivvying it past deserted bus stops, hurdling speed-breakers, vaulting potholes, its rattling windows joining the raucous symphony of loose rivets, while a solo horn raises its voice above the din to tell the world to getoutofthewayNOW!

Don’t fall asleep – unless you’re a regular whom the conductor will wake up. It’s your stop now. Move to the front of the bus, and quickly. The bus slows, you’re expected to jump off, not impede its progress by waiting for it to come to a complete halt. And as your feet touch the ground, it speeds away, making rude jokes to itself about your lack of atheleticism.

And you wish you had one measly glass slipper to throw at the baying mongrels that serenade your slow trudge home.

And when it’s really, really late? Heck, just hang around and keep doing whatever it is that’s kept you away from home till now. In just a few hours, the city will wake up again. Way before the sun comes up, there’ll be the first trains, the first buses...

Published in the Times of India's Mumbai edition, Snaphot, 31st May 2001.
Snapshot was a weekly column that aimed to "capture that quintessentially Mumbai state of mind." Sadly, TOI discontinued it.

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