Saturday, February 28, 2004

Punjabi male sheds the
macho image

More and more men, not only in big cities but also in other small towns of Punjab, are redefining masculinity and stepping into areas that were traditionally termed feminine. Ruchika M.Khanna looks at the evolving metrosexual man.

In Patiala, young men go in for regular facials and hair treatment.
In Patiala, young men go in for regular facials and hair treatment. ó Photo by Rajinder Sachar.

GONE are the days of Garam Dharam as the epitomeof a Punjabi male. Itís the likes of Saif Ali Khan, John Abraham and Shah Rukh Khan,confirmed pin-up metrosexual men who are the style icons in sadda Punjab. The "tough" Punjabi male is now vying with his counterparts in Delhi, Bangalore, Mumbai and Kolkatta to be typecast as "cute" and "caring". The archetypical Punjabi male is in for an image makeover. Being macho is no longer in for Punjabi munde. From Amritsar to Abohar and Patiala to Patti, the burly, rough ní tough image of Punjab da puttar is showing a slow, but sure change. Men in the region are slowly shedding their macho image- complete with sinewy biceps, unkempt looks (a la John Wayne), and are willingly exploring their feminine side. Getting their eyebrows plucked; chests waxed; manicures, pedicures and facials done; wearing the traditionally feminine shades of mauve and pink; helping their wives do cooking and chores, or even changing diapers Ė metrosexuality is slowly catching on with the urbane Punjabi. And this is not restricted to the Hindus or clean-shaven Sikhs alone. Even turbaned Sikhs from 18 to 40, are happily shedding their reserve. They are now conscious if their shirts match the chinos, or the ashes-of-roses tie is a right contrast to the onion pink shirt. Ask Gautam Beri, a Ludhiana-based business man, "So whatís wrong in personal grooming? It only reflects a more polished person. And anyway, the new age women had to have a new age man, thus the makeover." If women in the urban centres of the region have been marching ahead for the past two decades, could the Punjabi male be left behind?

Agrees Priya M Arora, legal manager with Airtel, at Chandigarh,"Who doesnít want her man to smell good, look great and in sync with the international fashion trends. Itís the age of the unisexual, there are no girlie colours, and if my husband wants to wear a pink, lime or electric blue, then why not? Men today have shed their inhibitions and are willing to adapt themselves to the woman of today. There is social acceptance of this change. My friends feel I am very lucky to have a husband who is also willing to take care of the kids, while I go off on an official tour."

Ludhiana-based businessman Sumit Bajaj is comfortable looking after daughter Kairvi.
Ludhiana-based businessman Sumit Bajaj is comfortable looking after daughter Kairvi. ó Photo by Pradeep Tiwari

With women taking equal pay home, and many a times being the boss in offices, the Punjabi men, too, would rather be called "easy-going" rather than be termed a "stud" or labelled as an "MCP". Just as going to the gym was important to acquire a perfectly chiselled body of a Greek God in the 90s, in the 21st century going to the beauty parlour next door, and not only for getting their hair dyed or cut, or for an occasional shave, is the new fad.

According to Amit Pal Singh, franchisee of Habibs Hair and Beauty Studio, Amritsar, "Indeed, never before has there been this focus on beauty consciousness on the part of the young men the way it is now. For the past two years that we set shop here, there has been a growing male clientele asking for galvanic and gold facials, pedicures, manicures, and for getting their eyebrows plucked. Beauty is no longer the domain of the fair sex." Amit Pal says that on an average 10 to 12 men visit his unisexual parlour daily for various beauty treatments, and about 50 of his regular male clientele do not mind spending anything between Rs 1500 to Rs 2500 a month on their personal grooming.

In nearby Gurdaspur, Jimmi Brar of Jimmi Beauty Clinic, Dina Nagar, too, echoes Amit Palís views. A large number of Sikh youth, mostly students of the nearby SSM College, are a regular at his clinic for facials, bleaching, and waxing of their chests. In Patiala, Raj Kumar of Up To Date Hair Dresser, too, says that he has a regular male clientele of 40 persons, and at least three to four men walk in daily for a facial. He says that 70 per cent of his clients are between 18 to 25 years of age. "A sizeable number of older men, between 30 to 40, including businessmen and professionals, are jumping on to the beauty bandwagon and are regulars," he adds.

Delhi-based Gurmeet Singh Gill, who has launched an academy for training Sikhs as ramp models, says that it was only after he launched his modelling academy Ė Launchers that he realised how metrosexuality was an emerging trend in Punjab. "I get aspiring Sikhs who want to become models from all over the state. They are not merely fashion conscious, but also beauty conscious."

Be it Sangrur, Mansa, Bathinda, or the more urbane Ludhiana, Amritsar, Jalandhar and Patiala- the young men in the region are discovering body beautiful like never before. Even VLCC Beauty and Slimming centres have come up in Amritsar, Jalandhar, Ludhiana and Bathinda, and their unisexual parlours are quite popular with men, not just for the slimming courses, but also for the beauty treatments.

Globe-trotting businessmen and professionals from the region are getting hooked to their monthly beauty regimen. The fact that most international brands of cosmetics for men, Clarins, Hugo Boss, Avon, Adidas and Lacoste, are now marketed here. Multinational beauty giants are cashing in on the need of the Punjabi men to beautify themselves.

Though the metrosexuality of the Punjabi male is manifested, to a great extent, mainly as a cosmetic trend, there has been a slight shift in the traditional sex-specific roles too as far as chores go. There is an over-all loosening of the fixed gender identities, as men, while conforming to overall stereotypical masculine roles, are occasionally also doing what has been traditionally demarcated as "womenís roles." They like to read bedtime stories to their children, go for the parent-teacher meeting, and enjoy wielding the ladle and spoon and sporting an apron in the kitchen.

The emergence of this "sensitive" side to the Punjabi male has more to do with the fact that they are sons of the new woman. It is only after the emergence of the working women in the 60s and 70s that the Punjabi male had to shed his rigidity. It were these women who taught their children to be more sensitive and adjusting sons, brothers and husbands.

Noted Chandigarh-based artist Viren Tanwar, agrees that the traditional role of men has undergone a sea change, especially with the literacy rate going up and the nuclearisation of families. He says he helps around in the kitchen and takes care of the children. "Earlier, men were hardly involved in the lives of their children, though they were the ultimate decision makers. Now, in most urban homes, women, especially the working women, have a greater say in family affairs and with both parents working, fathers have to chip in their bit by helping around and getting involved in the day-to-day activities of their children. Every man has a womanly side to him, just as every woman has a manly side to her. Though women here had been exploring their manly sides, the men have just begun to explore their feminine side," he adds.

A matter of manliness

WATCHING all these assembly line products off the cosmetic shelf makes my stomach churn. Time was when men were men and women were ladies. Women seem to be going places while men have nowhere to go. They are in danger of losing whatever little space they had to begin with. Iím made to feel an aberration, just because I grew up thinking there was nothing wrong in a man behaving like one. It might be the in-thing to strut about and preen like a peacock and crow like a cock. How unlike a man. Real men did not talk, they protected their women and earned. Period. And, of course, every man was unique, not just a commodified product off the conveyor belt. Now every metrosexual male looks like the next one, right down to the plucked, steamed, manicured finished look. Where is the individuality, pray? I feel it is downright pansy-like to sport pink shirts and wear florals and dance around with embroidered achkans with sequined dupattas around the neck. Give me the understated look any day. Pin stripes might be out but, the Punjabi leopards have not changed their spots. They continue to treat land and woman like possessions. Sons are more prized than their wives and friends matter more than family. If all those so-called liberated men think that merely visiting beauty parlours can bring about an inner transformation, they can think again. The true-blue Punjabi male is a species that is resistant to change. They know no other way of being and behaving. This assertion of manly behaviour finds various ways of expression. Keeping your wife in her place is just one of them. Women are there to bear sons, keep the kitchen running and put up with your drunken behaviour. So what if she earns a fat salary? The lord and master allows her to work and the children are strictly her business. Of course, wives are aided once in a while and taken on a holiday. The media might coin these smart terms such as metrosexual male and foster the illusion that we have changed. But this hyperreality or virtual reality might be true as far as the reel man goes. Real men, and God be thanked for this, are delightfully human still and not xeroxed copies of each other. They are sweaty and smelly, they swear and lord it over women and are not wimps. They know that there are many ways to a womanís heartómuscle power, pull of the purse, knocking an opponent out. Being woman-like surely is not one of them. Many renegade men will call me rigid and stuck in the groove but winning popularity contests is not for me, being comfortable in my own skin matters more than being politically correct.

If men and women were intended to be like each other why were they made differently in the first place? Iíve been called a lot many names, cad, MCP, retrogressive etc... but name a man who does not think the way I do? They are too scared of sounding politically incorrect. They fester at the way in which women trample all over their feelings and egos, at how they snatch whatever vestige of self-esteem and respect that remains but do not open their mouths. Instead grin and bear all these indignities. I am made of sterner stuff and almost feel as if I am guarding the last frontier before it crashes against the onslaught of an eager-to-compartmentalise media and insensitive power-drunk women. A guy may not be an oil painting but isít he entitled to an ego? A.N.

Itís a cosmetic change

ACCORDING to Chandigarh-based clinical psychologist, Monika Singh, the metrosexual male might be enamoured of his looks but changes in apparel have not percolated to the mind. He goes in for facials, pedicures and manicures, dons haircolour and takes pride in being termed an MS man. It is only hype of the ad world and the marketing guys who define what looks good. As far as attitudinal changes go, they are minimal. Not many of these self-focussed metrosexual men think that changing nappies and home-making too is their responsibility. We still have a very long way to go for any deep-rooted change in the mindsets to take place. Attitudes are well-entrenched and our child-rearing practices focus on cushioning boys from domesticity. Therefore this change in the need to look good has not translated into a change to pitch in, empathise and assume responsibilities. Even those who claim to have become gender sensitive, dither when it comes to actually practicing what they profess. The inability to change and adapt their behaviour and attitudes to the changing external reality creates marital problems for which many young couples come to me.. The metrosexual male is more a media-created myth and less a reality. (As told to A.N.)