Call me old fashioned if you will, but I am deeply concerned about a less talked about species that is on the brink of extinction. It goes by the name of ‘gentlemen’.
The number of this sub-species of men in our world is dwindling at a frightening speed and all we are obsessed with is saving the Bengal tiger? Save the tiger by all means, but humanity also needs to spare a thought for some of us impacted by the loss of gentlemen. Before we know it, they would have become extinct and the world will be poorer for it.
The world I grew up in was a world of men in uniforms. In the army, it was naturally expected of men to be gentlemanly in behaviour, why else would the young boys graduating from the Military Academy be called Gentlemen Cadets? The men I grew around were lacking in neither charm nor chivalry and their stature as men did not diminish by offering women common courtesies, if anything, it only grew.
And so it was, that the men one met stood up and greeted you politely, got the door for you, pulled out the chair for you, spoke gracefully and offered to help you put your coat on.
You could accuse me of making facile generalizations, but I would like to mention that outside of the army, one encountered courteous and chivalrous men too, although they mostly belonged among the educated elite and rarely lived within the geographical boundaries of the UP, Punjab and Haryana.
A lot has changed since then. Lately I look around me and notice men sorely lacking in etiquette and manners. When women began to aspire for liberation, they asked to be liberated from male dominance and oppression. We did not ask to be liberated from classy, considerate behaviour and civilized men of good breeding.
Women find urbane men attractive, and we do not feel offended if a man offers to help us with our coat or our luggage. I’m not saying that women should be doted on and treated like goddesses, but I think we need to be bring some class back to men in general.
Just the other day I watched an elderly lady struggling to stow her luggage in the overhead cabin on a flight to Delhi and offered to lend her a hand even as a healthy, well built man standing right behind her decided to look the other way. I see it all around me. There is an epidemic of ungentlemanly chaps out there.
Then there is this stellar example of a man that my dear friend K in Manhattan was dating until recently. Over cold sake in a small Japanese restaurant in the East Village she told me that every time they went on a date, her boyfriend of two years waited for her to pick the tab and asked the taxi to drop him home before her on the way back. I found his behaviour odious and my friend’s tolerance alarming. I had a little chat with her about it and now he is her ex-boyfriend.
I only wish I was this effective in weeding out uncivilized men from the rest of the planet as well. I recently had to put up with one such specimen myself. Just last week, my friend P was visiting from Bangalore and we decided to meet for a drink at this new swanky lounge in town. P is loquacious to a degree that can only elicit admiration even from someone as voluble as myself and she has “close” friends in almost every major city of the world. I was informed that one such “close” friend was to join us at the lounge for a quick drink or two.
I am a borderline misanthrope and tried to remind her in my usual subtle ways that three was a crowd but P would not let my misgivings stand in the way of her social multitasking. Her friend AK, who is somewhat of a corporate highflier arrived even before we had ordered our first round of drinks and spent the rest of the evening telling us about his childhood and youth (both of which happened a long time ago, incidentally). Over his single malt and our vodka sodas he managed to impress upon us the fact that he owned a large estate in Kunoor, that had a pool, a mini golf course, a battery of handpicked servants and some such.
He also casually brought up the fact he was one of the highest paid corporate honchos in his peer group.
On a more modest note he recalled his days as the son of the then governor of Punjab and his father’s close ties with the Nehru-Gandhi family. The alcohol in his blood stream had perhaps created the illusion in his mind that we wanted to sacrifice an entire evening listening to every tiny detail of his b&w life. (I say black and white because whenever someone who is a few generations older than me talks about their youth, for some reason my mind’s eye adopts a black and white palette.)
P had obviously heard all these stories before because AK had been availing of her husband’s generous hospitality in Bangalore ever since they became friends two years ago.
Several rounds of drinks later I asked for the cheque because I had enough material to write his biography by now and I thought I could only handle so much information about his “amazing life” in one sitting. The cheque arrived inside a coffee mug and what ensued was a silly tug-of-war between P and myself about who would settle it. And while we fought over the cheque , Mr Highest Paid Head Honcho sat there poker faced, not making as much as a feeble attempt to reach for his wallet. Finally P and I agreed to split the bill while our friend insouciantly continued to stare at the ice cubes in his malt.
I found his behaviour odd. It wasn’t that we wanted someone else to pay for our drinks, but it was odd that a man twice our age, who wasn’t a buddy or an old pal, calmly watched us pay for his drinks instead.
If this wasn’t bad enough AK then offered to call for a cab for P, who was more or less headed in the same direction as him. He had his own car and driver but clearly this man did not want to put himself through the inconvenience of taking a little detour to drop the lady off, long after midnight.
P was feeling equally aghast and kicked me from under the table to acknowledge our mutual horror, but since she had more vodka and compassion in her veins than me, she continued to smile benevolently. I, on the other hand, was only trying to rein in my homicidal impulses.
“Did he think he was honouring us by gracing us with his presence at our table? Did he think it was our good fortune to pay for him?” she asked me over the phone later that night.
Whatever his reasons, I think the sooner we accept that chivalry is dead, the better it will be for us.
We may as well contend with living in a world where men listen to Yo Yo Honey Singh and Eminem and think that “Yo B****, whattup?” is a form of greeting. Or we can prevent gentlemen from becoming folklore like dragons and the yeti by urging the men we know to sign up for a class in civility and etiquette.