Tears are funny things — tending to slip through any discipline of occasion or propriety. Women are supposed to have a bigger reserve, an assumption that is alternatively held as a reflection of their “gentler” selves, and “weaker” ones. So, life teaches them to be judicious about expending them — making one wonder if two women crying in Parliament equal two men doing so.
But then, while men crying in public might have social approval in the 21st century, for women the thin line remains a tricky terrain. I have found tears desert me at the most inopportune moments, as I dreaded the social opprobrium, and come pouring down when least expected.
Take my wedding. Much as I wished — as I glanced at my father who can barely survive a film without a weeping fit — I could hardly summon tears at the momentous “parting”. The thought that I was moving just 30 minutes away kept drifting in. As did the fact that a dizzyingly restless photographer was waiting to capture at least one shot of a smudge around the eyes. I managed by resolutely not lifting my head. Still, one of the remarks that came my way was how “the bride couldn’t stop smiling” — the dubious whites captured against a bright pink pallu (the pink gets more shocking every passing year) by that same photographer.
Another occasion when tears famously escape me is family goodbyes. When my sister leaves for the US after her India visit, I try hard to draw on my reserve of tears — and come up dry. Thankfully, she, the more emotional, expressive and kinder of us, was also dry-eyed at the last such farewell — a substantial load finally off my chest.
Over the years, at personal tragedies that are television news, we have seen names hide emotions behind sunglasses whose size spells status. The stoicism, they told us (or, did at least) was a sign of dignity. That was a big word, dignity, not one we usually encountered in our daily lives.
So, for lack of equitable sunglasses, we learnt to hide tears too. And emotions. I remember being disturbed for days at the loneliness facing the eponymous character in Edward Scissorhands at the end of the film. And crying over a child of Partition who prayed that his pregnant mother would deliver a bicycle, which he longed for, in Rahi Masoom Raza’s Topi Shukla. We didn’t know we could discuss this in open forums, much less find people interested enough.
Age though has a way of redefining one’s inhibitions. Some years ago, I found myself unable to get through most stories in my children’s books, without sobs. Premchand’s Eidgah was a particular disaster, with the two of them waiting gleefully for that exact moment when my voice would break —and it would, every time.
I couldn’t help tears flowing either when I saw children perform at school events. The thought of how earnestly they tried, at the urging of teachers, for the pride of parents, at whatever that had caught the school’s fancy that particular evening, had a purity we often don’t credit in our children.
While the children were still small, another momentous event occurred — a film called Taare Zameen Par. The deluge of floodgates it opened in the audience changed the course of many a youngster whose parents had dreams of sending them to a hostel.
In recent years, I have revisited all —Scissorhands, Topi Shukla and TZP. They affected me not just differently, but at moments other than I recalled. Tears were few.
As a solution with the blase name of ‘Tears Plus’, to lubricate dry eyes, becomes a constant companion, I wonder sometimes if that is to be our fate. A society unable to cry. But then I think of the chimta in my kitchen — turned black at the edges, the survivor of many a disaster, the soldier of many a battle, the fighter of many a fire, the teacher of many a learner — and of Eidgah’s Hamid, who imagined ambitions as varied for his chimta, and for his grandmother. The tears now just hover behind a smile.
Whatever that moment in Parliament might or might not have meant, for a few very long minutes, a nation and its MPs stood still, as the PM struggled through several muffled sobs and breaks for sips of water, before a drop seeped out. Let’s not be crybabies: the eyes have it.