Review: White Tiger

Winner of the Man Booker prize 2008, White Tiger has been read and loved throughout the world and surrounded by constant controversy in the sub-continent. I had been planning to read the book for ages but the hectic life of an MBBS had not yet allowed me to enjoy the thrilling masterpiece. So on the first day of my summer vacations I rushed to the nearest bookstore and bought it from a road-side book stall (the ones thronged with fat bearded men with caps discretely looking for sexual material) which would be my food and water for the next 48 hours. Continue reading “Review: White Tiger”

Of Balls, Testosterone and Pappus: Love in Odd Places

Education at cadet colleges often comes off as insentient and inanimate; snubbing and rebuffing all human emotions. However, standing alongside roads in apparent bliss, gathered around a sheesha in obvious joy and amassed outside girl’s colleges in those moments of open, guilty pleasure; boys of civilian colleges in their adolescence have ample opportunities to satiate their hormonally aroused impulses. Now bring into the picture the ever popular cadet colleges – six long years of heavy endurance! An endurance that evokes the very “human” it is supposed to curtail. The custodians of this strict and disciplined educational universe have failed to fathom that within the realms of their extremely trained, ordered and structured system lie actual human beings; highly (read: hormonally) pumped and emotionally charged. They are divided into houses that compete against each other in testosteronic fervor, they change in front of their dorm-mates with nothing but a wrapped towel to conceal the privates and they chat with the person in the next cubicle while taking a shower. How can a system snuff out emotions when it is in fact responsible for kindling them?

In our college it was called the “Pappu” phenomenon. In a sister institute, it was the “Cheekoo” culture. “Chokraa” and “Chick” are other two popular terminologies, the latter associated with our military academy at Kakul.

Bring to your minds the “straight” heartscapes of co-ed schools, where cute couples sit side by side in those pink cuddly moments of sheer cuteness which make us all go “aww”, and apply the same phenomenon to another school, just that it is all-boys. And the babe is in fact a fair-skinned, well toned and popular guy, the “Pappu”. And the alpha-male is the regular guy with no attributes besides the fact that he blew our babelicous Pappus heart away. And they are jogging, masculinely, to the cafeteria after the evening games, drenched with sweat and smelling of stale socks. Awwww? Anyone? Never mind.

My cousins and friends often used to make disgusted or confused faces when I told them tales of this pseudo-homosexuality. They couldn’t dig it: how can a guy date a guy when they aren’t gay or pounding each other in their rears, they questioned. And I would go into my heartfelt tirade of how bad is it there being no girls so “yaar samjha karo, banda kya karay?” Their religious rebuttals were no valid arguments for they all were avid porn watchers and poondi-doers and would definitely have laid someone too if given the chance. Hence I always won; at least my stories were more riveting than their trivial straight romantic fibs.

So here it is, once you enter a cadet school, you are classified by your seniors and staff alike into the un-dateables, the Pappus and the alpha-guys. Of course all alpha-males have to spend the first year or three in the Pappu realm of the college to graduate to the socially high-up arenas of alpha-males. My best friend was a Pappu from the day one, and I never find it a scar on his masculinity, neither does he or the rest of our college. What’s bad in getting a few free dinners and gifts after all? He overshadowed all Pappus – they were not classy or bold, he was the national silver medalist in debating; they were average-looking and wore the same common-place blue knee length shorts during swimming unlike him sporting a black mini-costume that would entice the crowds into moments of lecherousness; they would have nothing good to talk about (typical Pakistani dudes), he would have topics ranging from social issues to political instability to random general knowledge. The ballooning feelings that he evoked in our college fellows couldn’t be contained anymore and in poured a dozen greeting cards and invitations for a date during the recess, daily.

After four relationships, all serious emotional ones, and ending in bitter breakups, we entered our senior classes where thanks to our age we couldn’t be Pappus anymore. It was biologically, chronologically and sociologically not possible. So began the search for a possible candidate for our now-single Fabio. Guys desperate for attention, popularity and masculine support to shield them from the bitchiness of their class-mates (the classic chick-vying-for-the-hot-guy-via-being-bitchy syndrome) were all dying for the lucrative post as my friend’s “Pappu”. He never got one good enough for his tastes.

And now we are all in professional institutes; he is dating a pretty hot girl from his class. End of story.

During those four relationships, yes they did kiss. Yes they did have sex, something called inter-crural sex (go Google it). Yes they did stick to their vows during vacations, when enough (and eager) ladies were around. And yes they did love each other, deeply. Well, at least they claimed to, and I’m no one to judge. And my friend with his four boyfriends as not the only example – the college was teeming with a hundred other couples. Where there was no dating involved, sex was on the cards. Rubbing each other’s thighs was the best past-time during dull Physics and, ironically, Islamiat lectures. Checking out guys as they went to the mosque in their white shalwar kameez was a norm reserved for all. We would be told by strict staff-members that “between two unaccompanied males is Satan”. If you had it, you would flaunt it during the swimming hours. Rooms would be abuzz with discussions after new admissions over who is the hottest in the young lot. Even the teachers, married, could be seen flirting with their favorite boys. It is a classic remake of the American high-school stereotype – just add to it other masculine stereotypes like bad-breath and smelly socks as consequential musts.

I know all of this sounds heavily gay, but I am still unsure if it can actually be called gay. Is it just an effect of what happens when you lock boys in their adolescence in a segregated all-male environment? Or does this prove an argument in the favor of homosexuality that guys can naturally fall for guys as they are working on almost the same paradigm? Or does this expose one of the many hush-hush secrets of the human heart: of how in times of stress and loneliness we can take to the one we love, irrespective of gender and religious conduct; of how the dynamics shift when the burden of a social taboo is lifted and emotions are allowed to flow freely; of how between the brazenly laid rules of order and society, one guilty pleasure can furnish so much happiness. Maybe the truth can be explicated as Jacques Benigne Bossuel said “The heart has reasons that reason does not understand.”