Monday, 1 March 2004

What women want

On the Attractiveness of the Eligible Bachelor


A man writing the one article in a men’s magazine that would be better written by a woman. Except possibly the one that helps you understand why the woman in your life needs so many pairs of shoes. Or the one that lays bare for your feeble male understanding the pleasures of a day spent shopping without buying anything.

Ah well. Here goes.

First things first. “Attractive,” “eligible” and “bachelor” are not synonyms. Being one does not imply you are both the others. Or even one of them.

Now that we have that straight, let’s continue.

My research involved focus group discussions and media analysis. (Sorry. Force of habit. More than ten years spent in advertising, you see. It means i dredged a rather faulty memory for past conversations, and checked out magazines.)

Scour the matrimonials, a wise journo friend tells me, when i confess i have no idea what eligible means in this day and age. So, leaving out the religion and community bit, here’s a quick “what’s hot” list, based on the totally random scanning of three Sunday newspapers and several web sites.

One definition of eligible is “someone you can take home to Mama,” so let’s start with what the parents of the to-be brides seem to prefer: well-settled (preferably doctor, engineer or professional, even more preferably in the USA); cultured; fair, or even wheat-complexioned (someone explain this to me - is it ripening stalks swaying in the breeze, wheat grains, aattaa, maida, bread or chapatis?); between 25 and 30 (stretchable to 35 in exceptional cases); good family background; tall would help, but it’s not essential; widowed is ok, just about, just no “encumbrances”; divorced is fine, as long as you’re an “innocent” divorcee, whatever that means.

And the boys’ folks, what do they think will get their pride and joy the right bride? The buzzwords are: any post-graduate degree; well-settled; USA; good family; with car and house, own or company-provided, doesn’t matter; below 35 (or if older, then “looks younger” or is “very well settled.”). And all of them seem to want “homely” girls. Which, if they knew what it meant, would be truly liberated and refreshing. But those are rants i’ll save for another time.

Ok, enough of the Situations Vacant. Pick up a women’s mag, and it’s pretty likely that there will be a poll in it. And that poll will say the highest points in the eligibility stakes go to A Sense Of Humour. Ha ha. And there’s Broad-mindedness. And Caring. And Should Understand Me. Sneaking into that noble list you’ll also find many PC-speak aliases for well-settled. Which also figure in conversations i’ve had with women friends over the years. Some lasses confess to being impressed by swank cars, great clothes, cool apartments, elite degrees and other status symbols. And Green Cards. The sophisticates who would not admit to such material desires use terms like Security, Makes Me Feel Special, High Achievers, Good Taste and Appreciation For The Finer Things In Life.

Which, Gentlemen, brings it down to this: If you want to be considered eligible, you better have trophy value.

Where does this leave me?

The women who seem to place my eligibility score highest are the wives and girlfriends of buddies. One cynic’s theory (no, not me, certainly not me) is that they want all seemingly carefree bachelors safely settled down and domesticated, because that way, their men won’t go all envious and wishing they were single. But i digress.

Technically i am a bachelor. i can’t deny that i’m demonstrably single.

As to the attractive, well, my dearest friends will go no further than to say (now and then), “Hey, nice shirt.” Or, when i look in major need of cheering up, “Ah, you shaved?”

Eligible? Since i passed the age of consent, which was a long time ago, i have spent roughly 75 percent of the intervening years being also unattached. Some of it was voluntary, i admit. You know, the normal thing: you see your madly in love friends getting married, and proceeding to either live unhappily ever after or getting divorced; and you think, not me, never me.

But i’m no misogynist. Quite the contrary. Since my voice broke, there’s always been at least one woman occupying disproportionate amounts of my mindspace. And i’m not anti-relationships either. But i’ve never quite figured out what women want.

The much-trumpeted Sense Of Humour? Doesn’t work. They’ll complain that you can’t take anything seriously. The ones that admit to liking money will complain about the inordinate amount of time you spend earning it and seek consolation with toy boys. The ones that say they like a well-toned body will cringe from the sweat worked up attempting to achieve it. If you’re possessive they’ll call you jealous and insecure. If you’re not possessive, they’ll condemn you for not caring.

Er. Yes. i know. i’m ranting. Sorry. But you get the picture.

And despite all i’ve said so far, i’m a romantic at heart. No, really.

Where was i? Ah yes, my eligibility.

Going by the wish lists, i’m screwed. Or rather, i’m not going to be, not in the foreseeable future.

My bank balance has seen better days. My butt is the kind Botticelli liked. Plus i’m over the age limit, don’t have a 9-to-5 job, earn a decidedly irregular income, drive a battered 800 when i’m not taking the busses, don’t even have a passport, live in a rented flat that’s so far away from the city centre it’s in another city.

But perhaps there is hope. A dear friend - a woman, i hasten to add, and she was consoling me after the last jilting, and she’s happily married - said to me once, “Single women above a certain age, go sour. Single men get better with age.”

So, by that reckoning, if i get that post-grad degree, save up for a house and get a job in an MNC, i’ll be just oozing with eligibility by the time i’m about seventy. And women will throw themselves at me as i hobble down the street. i had better start stockpiling the Viagra.

Hopefully, all the women i know would have forgotten this article by then.

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


Lean Cuisine

When your wallet is on a diet.

Perhaps no one wants your dotcom shares. Or your pocket got picked on the train. Maybe you’re PGing, and they don’t let you cook, and there isn’t much money left over after the rent anyway. Or it’s the month end and Accounts has been sneering at your food vouchers. You still have to eat, but the happening joints are out of the question.

Bombay is a kind city.

There might just be a zunka bhakhar stall around, offering you wholesome Maharastrian peasant fare for the ludicrous sum of Re 1. But there aren’t many of those left after our state last changed governments.

So you look around.

There’s the sandwichvala. Choose your filling: cheese, jam, tomato-cucumber-potato-onion-beetroot. And do you want it toasted? It’s chopped into six bite-sized pieces, slid onto a piece of paper, and you’re offered a splash of ersatz ketchup with more pumpkin in it’s lineage than tomato, despite what the label says. You’re wallet’s lighter by just ten to 15 rupees. Plus a tenner for fruit juice at the next cart, the one with the mixer stealing BMC electricity.

In Nariman Point or Bandra, or near just about any local train station, search for a red cart, with the name painted in white pseudo nib stroke. Take a friend. You can do a one-by-two bowl of soup that you’ll never find in all of China for less than twenty bucks.

You want to sit down and eat? Find a street corner in South Bombay, and you’ll also find an Irani joint. Ten bucks will get you a chai and bun-maska, with sugar sprinkled on it. Or perhaps you prefer the crusty bruns? Another fiver, maybe a rupee or two more, and you can have a bread pudding as well. Or maybe you want to do a mutton potato “pattice” or a samosa with your chai instead? You’ll still get change back from a twenty.

(Oh yes, anywhere except the posh joints - read “non-AC” - tea comes pre-sweetened. If you like yours without sugar, then you’ll have to stump up extra cash for a ‘special’ tea.)

Need meat? A decent kheema at a small Muslim-run place near Mohammadali Road, Mahim, or Bandra won’t cost you more than 20 rupees. Actually, you’re unlikely to find anything on the menu that costs more than 25 bucks, with the possible exception of the Biriyani, Full.

A Maharashtrian joint (Dadar, and what used to be the mills district is a good place to find them) will serve you a spicy, soggy missal, or just the ussal, with a couple of paus. Rs 15, tops, and that’s if the man behind the counter is wearing a shirt. If he’s in a ganji, and also doing the cooking, cheaper. A plate of bhajias, or sticky, sweet malpoas would cost about the same, and the chai - very sweet, very strong - will probably cost one or two rupees more.

Of course there’s daal-rice, roasted paapad and a smidgen of pickle gratis, which you can get at almost any restaurant. Depending on the grade of the place you could pay from Rs 10 up to Rs 30, if the place has uniformed waiters.

The nearest Udupi will get you an idli sambhar, vada sambhar, or, go ahead, go wild, an idli-vada sambhar, for about Rs 12. Dosas start under Rs 20.

Those quintessentially Bombay snacks, bhelpuri and its siblings, sevpuri, dahibatatapuri, paanipuri, can be found everywhere, walking vendors, their dabbas suspended from their necks, cycles, handcarts, hole-in-the-wall stalls, family restaurants, beach stalls. Prices differ, depending on who’s serving you.

And there’s yummy pau-bhaji. The rule of thumb: the cheaper it is, the less likely you are to be able to tell the ingredients, and the more likely it is to blow the top of your head off. Anyway, there’s likely to be a man squeezing the juice out of sugarcane within earshot. Yell, and tell him no ice. You don’t want jaundice, as well as indigestion now, do you?

Need something cheaper?

Hmm. Two or three bucks almost anywhere will get you a hot vada-pau, liberally sprinkled with chilly powder. Or perhaps you’re in the mood for mixed bhajias. Potato slices, onions, chillies, if you’re lucky, spinach too, dunked in batter and fried golden brown. Eat them plain, or crammed into a pau. Look around for the guy selling ‘cutting’ chai. Half a minuscule tumbler for a buck.

Hot boiled channa shouldn’t be hard to find either, with a sprinkling of chopped onion, tomato and chilli, lime squeezed over it.

And as a last resort, there’s peanuts. Which is probably what I’m going to get paid for this column...

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

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