Monday, August 09, 2004

Managing IIMs (Intellectual Indian Male)

I like them. I enjoy their company. I'd count some among my good friends. But I couldn't handle them in large doses, and I emphatically could not live with one of them. Yes, I speak here of my own secret brand of bigotry-my deep-seated visceral mistrust of the Intellectual Indian Male (IIM).
Yes, I know generalisations are odious. They flatten rich, complex, idiosyncratic individuals into faceless homogeneity. I accept that's unfair. So let me clarify at the start that all I'm venturing here is a hypothesis-and one based on my own circumscribed personal experience of Indian mankind of the self-consciously cerebral variety. And anyway, given that women are constantly having to negotiate cliches about dumb blondes and hairy-legged feminists and bespectacled plain Janes, I don't see why I shouldn't run the risk of perpetuating a couple of truisms from an ovarian view of the universe. Let me first make a crucial distinction between the average thinking male and the IIM. In my book, the first is simply a man capable of some reflection, some analysis, of generating a few ideas (some inspired, some average)-basically a man who owns a cerebrum, like the rest of humanity, and uses it when he needs it. The IIM, on the other hand, Owns a Cerebrum-and how. He'll never let you forget it. He can't forget it himself. He struts it, he flaunts it, he jiggles it. He owns it with a ferocious zamindari arrogance, a naove self-consciousness, a Born-Again zeal.
His ancient forbears' primitive fetishisation of the penis has simply been replaced with a new-found reverence towards the new totem of the times: the Cerebral Cortex. The IIM has demarcated it, has set up his flags, manicured its hedges, careful to keep out any marauding impulse from the neighbouring vicinity of the cerebellum and hypothalamus. For the IIM has no use for these lesser cognitive mechanisms, these embarrassing throwbacks to a messy non-rational past.
Not surprisingly, the wilful schism between old brain and new brain has given rise to certain brands of convenient schizophrenia. And so the IIM is used to living like the Grand Trunk Express-in compartments. The divide between the boardroom and bedroom, between seminar room and locker room-these are some of the binaries the IIM thrives on. The IIM is fully capable of delivering a lecture, replete with bibliographical flourishes, on Lukacs' concept of reification, and promptly retiring to the Gents to share a lascivious wink with a fellow-lecturer on the proportions of the female chairperson's posterior. The IIM can offer you a cogent critique of the manifestations of patriarchal hegemony in diverse cultures of the globe. (His speeches about the Indian woman's Right to Orgasm have, in fact, a tinge of testosteronal hysteria that women are immediately wary of.) But question him about his family life, and you're likely to find that on an annual vacation back home, his wife spends three weeks at his parents' place, while he drops in for a token weekend at hers'.
Double standards. Mention the phrase in his presence, and the IIM will take instant umbrage. Catch him on a Sunday morning doing the crossword with his feet up, while his wife makes aloo parathas in the kitchen, and he'll shrug it off with, "I hope you aren't one of those politically correct feminists who doesn't understand that life is all about inconsistency and contradiction." Fair enough. But how about grappling with some of those contradictions, instead of blithely accepting those that suit you? The IIM won't deign to answer. He has his mind on higher things. He's busy plotting new paradigms for planetary perfection, while his wife sews on buttonholes and attends PTA meetings.
He's earned the right to be sensitive now. He can talk for hours about his childhood traumas and adolescent angst. He's allowed to sniffle through war movies. He enjoys these privileges to the hilt, and loves to tell you about his sensitive female side (IIMs are notoriously deluded.) But his wife hasn't yet earned the right to be smarter than he is. Woe betide her if she were to find fault with one of his learned monographs, or suggest that their second kid take on her surname. For when a self-conscious sensitivity gets together with a self-conscious cerebrum, what you get is an outsized case of self-absorption, a narrow self-serving intellectual sophistry. Knowledge for the IIM is about acquisition. It's about grasping and jealously hoarding a body of information with a view to monopolising power. The self and knowledge are two entirely separate categories for the IIM. Learning, consequently, isn't about self-enquiry and internalisation; it's about naked colonisation and annexation.
I have a private litmus test by which I separate the regular thinking bloke from the IIM. The strategy is to mix up contexts and see how he reacts. (The IIM simply cannot handle sudden shifts in register, especially when initiated by a woman.) Discuss rabi crops and Richard Gere, J. Krishnamurti and your grandmother's mango pickle recipe-all in the same breath. If he brightens up at the mention of James Joyce, but looks uncomfortable or furtive or lecherous (or worse still, emits one of those high-pitched, repressed, quintessentially Indian male giggles) at the mention of Jennifer Lopez, banish him forthwith to the IIM category. There is surely nothing more pitiful than the male who's intellectually bullworkered, but psychologically pre-pubescent.
Of course, he deserves sympathy. Don't give up on him. Befriend him, civilise him, edify him. Remind him that it's possible to be honest and open, even playful, about sex, without having to retreat into some furtive old boys' clique to ventilate a festering adolescent male fantasy. Remind him that there's a vast terrain between the head and the loins just waiting to be explored. Remind him that it's possible to own a mind without doing a tribal dance around it to prove that it's yours. And advise him to learn the following by rote-the fact that genuine liberalism has always been much more a matter of the gut, than the cerebrum.


Rajan said...

That was a good post !

Rahul said...


I knew I liked when the Opinionated Urban Indian Working Women spake, but I didn't know I would have to revisit my scale! Super!

Did you publish this post somewhere, I mean apart from your blog?

Anwesha Chatterjee said...

Tiny clarification here- i never wrote this by myself. It was mailed to me and I liked it so much that I published it. Someday, when i find the author i'd like to know how she managed to come up with a masterpiece like that!!!

Oirpus said...

Alas! I was almost alarmed about the vociferous feministic outburst that seemegly came from someone else...
Although certain things are true and applies to everyone from time to time, to rate it very authentic would be a mistake.
Good bombastic prose I must say!!