Why So She-rious?

Scandalous or humorous? A defense of Shobhaa De’s article on Raghuram Rajan.

BySandhya Menon
Why So She-rious?
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So Shobhaa De once again has taken the morning in her deft fingers and set it aflutter. She’s taken Raghuram Rajan, who she called the Ranbir Kapoor of the financial world in a tweet some time ago, and elaborated on his attractiveness some more. Suave, impeccably educated and desirable, Rajan has become the latest object of affection among women across a band of ages (even my mum is kind of impressed), with many of them expressing on social media what is the online equivalent of scratching initials in a heart on wooden benches. And for most them, that’s where it ended – but De has put honest words to their schoolgirl crushes. Suddenly though, all these women, bless their infatuated hearts, have taken a step back, cringed and put De in a corner, blaming her of innuendo and objectification.

I say there’s no innuendo (only straight talking) and hardly any objectification. She’s given a respectable paragraph in her Economic Times piece to his credentials, even mentioning his IFS childhood, hinting that he’s well-travelled and therefore, not only illustrious and good-looking, but also sophisticated with a kind of erudition that comes from having seen much of the world really early.

Apart from those terrible sobriquets that she’s bestowed on him – messiah of markets, poster boy of banking (cringe) – here’s a woman who’s said exactly what many others think about a good-looking man, who is especially attractive because he’s so bright and powerful. So she mentioned dropping the towel a la Ranbir Kapoor. Big deal. She was being tongue-in-cheek with her readers and that’s terrific, because she just brightened up a really boring (however diligent and informative) financial newspaper. How many times a week do you see a pink newspaper go just a bit nutty over a man in the way De’s column has gone? And she hasn’t even done that, she’s just written a fun, honest-to-woman piece on the man who everyone has a crush on anyway.

I’ve always wondered why we keep things serious when it comes to men and women in power, especially in the financial world. We do golf interviews with men CEOs and in-your-home features with women ones, or how they achieve work-life balance with oh-so-busy lives (kill me, stereotyping). We call those light, not-so-serious interviews. We catch pictures of these men and women at parties, looking dignified and serious as ever, as if they had no other personality trait but one of boring respectability. But you rarely ever see a piece that openly declares how “hot” a corporate/fiscal biggie is. It just might be that there aren’t that many hot men in positions of power in the country to write about. Because god knows if a woman were written about as hot (refer Obama’s “best-looking attorney general” slip-up or the scores of men writers who have commented on Marissa Meyer’s good looks), there’d be mayhem and us feminists coming down on your head. And rightly so, unless you acknowledged her achievement, position and every professional thing she stands for.

Part of being comfortable with your femininity is being comfortable with your desire. Part of that desire is to, quite simply, want to see a Niall McCann or an intelligent and good-looking man, take his shirt off more often. I am not saying De wanted any of that when she wrote about Rajan, even though she did obviously say so. De’s tone is of levity, fun and, no doubt, admiration for someone who is simply a very attractive man. What exactly is wrong with that? Rajan is going to definitely keep making news, for more reasons than his eye-candy status and therefore, the women are going to be watching him, as De says. Is that creepy? No. Just a tribute to the attractiveness of a man from a woman who obviously likes attractive men.

We live in a time when it’s almost impossible to write a fun piece about an object of desire without seeming like you are from the Middle Ages. So often, in print a subtle sense of humour, or a tongue-in-cheek piece is lost because of its medium. And so was it with De’s piece on Rajan. I should have said this right in the beginning but I have never defended De’s writing, be it her books or her columns. As far as I am concerned, her superficiality is greatly off-putting. But I do give her credit for her complete confidence in herself as a person, so much confidence that she writes her books without wanting to hide in a far off island. So much confidence that she speaks her mind even when it means she talks about that much-feared concept of female desire. Behind De’s levity and fan-girl-ism is a perhaps-unintended expression of desire, which is almost always spoken of in intense academic terms, if not in high-brow prose or flaming poetry that mostly the erudite read. In De’s piece, it brings out desire in a simple, regular way. If she were to simplify what she wrote, she wouldn’t have much of a column. All she’d say was, “Sigh, I have such a crush on him” in much the same way I’d talk about the aforementioned McCann or you’d say about a non-actor looker of your choice.

My point is simple. Why have double standards when “objectifying”? Why only lust after a Suriya or a Hugh Jackman. Why make those in the entertainment business lust-worthy, and only them? Brains turn women on, no? So here’s a man with brains, sophistication, education and a huge responsibility towards the country. That makes him truly worthy of a crush, or lust, or whatever it is that you’d like to term it. And that’s all Shobhaa De said, in that open, fun way she has of saying things.

Should you cringe at that, being a woman? No. Will Rajan take offence at what she’s said? I doubt it greatly.

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