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Did I, As My Mother Said, Have My Father’s Playboy Genes?!

After all, didn’t they say it was too much to expect a man to be everything at once? What a conceit to want someone who was kind, generous, funny, capable of making conversation, intelligent, wise, a money maker!

In this excerpt, the narrator Maya contemplates a conversation she’d had previously with her mother Mini about her romantic choices. Mini disapproves of Maya serially dating men. She compares Maya to her biological father Burjor, who’d been something of a playboy.

Mini’s outburst made me think once again about my attitude to men. As an exercise in self-reflection, I sat on the chair in my room one night – not the bed since it was too comfortable, hence unsuitable for rigorous thought – and contemplated the history of my relationships. Before Kersi, there was Karan the photographer. A lovely fellow but easily seduced by shamanic practices such reiki and crystal healing. The only worthwhile practice he followed was yoga, the vigorous ashtanga variety. He was terrifically fit and his libido had only waxed at an age at which men slowed down sexually and women, on the crest of a hormonal wave, can think of nothing but sex. There was Imran. He had model-like looks and a body like a mannequin. But he was vain and disapproved of my sloppy dressing, my lack of exercise.

The relationships had all been relatively short-lived, rarely exceeding a year. I’d enjoyed them but the only time I felt truly engaged was in bed. Out of the bedroom, I couldn’t summon a feeling deeper than fondness for any of them. The idea of marriage was farfetched, even though all, despite their eccentricities, were terrific candidates. Even Kersi, if you were willing to settle for mundane conversation. After all, didn’t they say it was too much to expect a man to be everything at once? What a conceit to want someone who was kind, generous, funny, capable of making conversation, intelligent, wise, a money maker! Yet they could all imagine a future with me and struggled to cross the moat I’d dug restricting real intimacy. They were disappointed that I gave them “too much space”, texted and called infrequently, preferred to spend weekends reading rather than hanging out, wasn’t hung up on monogamy.

Was I imitating Burjor, who surrounded himself with an aura women found impossible to breach? Was he simply the average libidinous commitmentphobe? Or did he keep himself at arm’s length to avoid being buffeted the way he’d been in early life? Two figures came to mind: Nietzsche and one of the gurus Shivaji went to during his spiritual phase. Both were of the belief that our natures are moulded by history as well as inherited traits. (That’s as far as the coincidence went.) Nietzsche suggested that we have a fatum, a solid kernel implacable in the face of life’s forces. No matter what, some things about one don’t change. Was the Burjor-like distance I kept from men, a pithy quality sustained by a fearful nature, my inherited fatum?

There was nothing really the men had in common to suggest I was subconsciously searching for a type. What did they see in me? Mini was mystified at the amount of male attention I got but this was partly out of jealousy for she’d been with one person her entire life and shrunk from going any further with Burjor.

“I see the immediate appeal,” Mini said. “You’re attractive, though not remarkable. Skinny. I suppose some men like that. Personally, I prefer curves. But that’s not your fault. You’re smart, opinionated, you can talk knowledgeably about politics, books, Bombay history. But you’re willingly stuck in this dead-end job that’s dulling your brain. Have you thought of a career path? No. You have a laissez-faire attitude to everything. If I don’t push you to clean your room or exercise you won’t do it. It took you years to look into Burjor’s life and only because I was on your case. Your reflexes have slowed, you talk slowly.”

“Stop exaggerating!”

Sitting in my less than comfortable chair, I wondered what I was looking for in a man. I’d recently had a disturbing sex dream involving Karela. He was younger, his face was indistinct but I knew it was him. It had occurred in the shallow stupor between sleep and wakefulness, a moment when dreams forcefully grip the dreamer. When I had nightmares in this state, I could sense myself crying out and struggling against an assailant. Sex dreams that took place in this trance, on the other hand, ended in powerful orgasms that shook me awake.

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After my morning spasm, I woke up and picturing Karela as he actually was, ageing, grizzled, felt repulsed. From what I recalled of the dream, I’d been excited more by Karela’s commanding tone than his blurry physicality. He’d made various sexual demands, which I’d performed, and I was excited to have been dominated. Did I want to be instructed? Was the dream an indication of a desire for authority, an Oedipal craving for a father-like figure? Deprived of an assertive male figure growing up – Shivaji only asserted himself to compare me to my over-achieving Calcutta cousins – was I looking for one in a partner? Like Mini, Karela was encouraging yet brutally frank. And enlightened in a world-weary way. When I met him so many years after school, I’d had the fleeting thought that he was the sort of father I would’ve liked. At the end of my seated meditation, I crawled into my pillowy burrow slightly sickened by the thought that perhaps what I wanted was a bossy partner.

Excerpted from Half-Blood by Pronoti Datta. Published by Speaking Tiger Books, 2022.

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Image source: a still from the film Kaarwan, and book cover Amazon

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