Etiquette is said to be gendered and the burden falls on men in the scheme of things of feminism. This means one well-manicured person with carefully modulated language can pass on caustic comments, but the person at the receiving end cannot hit back. Or in an election campaign, one can use intemperate language, even expletives, on a rival, but when the recipient reciprocates, not in a similar vein but in a manner that catches the attention of the target audience, it turns out as an insult on the woman! Both real-life cases seen in West Bengal attracted strong criticism through an opinion piece in a well-circulated newspaper of Kolkata.
This brings the issue of gender equality for someone like me who is outnumbered in gender terms in his home. The sugar-coated comments on Dilip Ghosh, West Bengal state BJP president, who hails from a remote village and finds no reason to hide the same, were used by a certain actress who claimed to represent ordinary women of West Bengal. I was thrilled by the standard of the ‘ordinary’ in the state, which I am made to believe, is sliding minute by minute.
The topic was lack of etiquette in the West Bengal election campaign. By the tone of the question and tacit support of the anchor, I could gather, driven by feminism, the fault lay entirely on one particular political party. Both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Dilip Ghosh are epitomes of the low level of debate. The guardian angel of West Bengal’s culture had called the prime minister “kimbhut kimakar” (grotesque) and Union Home Minister Amit Shah “Hondol-Kutkut” — something like Humpty-Dumpty. And Dilip, it is well known, is a “goonda”.
Two issues came uppermost in my feeble mind as well as a well-positioned opinion piece in Anandabazar Patrika. First was how Ghosh could recommend that Banerjee should wear Bermuda to manage her injured and well-bandaged foot. Bermuda, I could gather, is slang and cannot be recommended to a chief minister, that too a woman, to wear. Even the well-manicured lady from the carefully chosen audience in the TV show — incidentally arranged by a sister company of the same newspaper — felt insulted by this recommendation. The suggestion of Dilip Ghosh that by sporting a pair of Bermuda the injured leader would manage to show off her ‘injured’ leg more conspicuously than with a clumsily clad sari was found an insult to women. As a fan of Bermudas in summer, I consoled myself, believing what her eminence said was that three-quartered pants on women was an insult, not on men!
The kimbhut kimakar who came from outside, bahiragata in West Bengal, addressed the state’s guardian angel as Didi, elder sister, she is known popularly. Here, the rising star in India’s parliament saw the character of the street urchin in Narendra Modi. She told a channel, “There is something we have in Bengal called ‘rock-er chhele‘, which means a street-side fellow who sits on a wall and who basically calls out to every lady walking past, saying ‘Didi, ei didi‘.” No wonder, he was called a Hondol-Kutkut by the caretaker of West Bengal’s culture. Feminism!
This brought me to the original point that etiquette is gender-neutral unless you are a man. Women can claim equality in debate, political slangs, opinion pieces and even occasional use of gestures — the doorkeeper of West Bengal’s culture is well known for that — but a man has no right to call a spade a spade. “How could you behave like this to a woman?” asked her eminence when Dilip Ghosh branded her comments as nyakamo, an untranslatable Bangla word meaning “the art of pretend coyness, coquetry, scheming, whining, attention-seeking, and everything in between.” (With due acknowledgment to Poulomi Das).
Women, as even Das in her lovely article said, had a right to nyakamo without being called so by a man, and that too by the president of a political party during election time. And what audacity that Ghosh could even say that her vote did not matter to his party. The vote of an ordinary Bengal belle does not matter to Ghosh! But didn’t Ghosh refuse to accept her as ordinary? That extraordinary claim of ordinariness so refuted had hurt many a heart who watched the two-hour-long show.
The question is how the not-so-ordinary women voters of the state view such anti-feminism of two top BJP leaders. In the public meetings of the prime minister, the loudest giggles are from the women who sit in the front. During the Nandigram election on 1 April, we saw women making fun of the guardian of West Bengal culture for her bandaged foot. Evidently, the divide between the knowledge haves and the have-nots is wide. As the manicured well-modulated voice of the critic in the TV show said, it might be that their target audience that toils, suffers and survives is ‘keener’ to listen to plain unvarnished truth than listening or reading five-star discourses.