(Published in Zeitgeist, The New Indian Express, dated 14th June 2008)
I was struck by the irony of my circumstances on June 8th. I had tickets to Sex and the City, and an hour to kill. So it turned out that a Tamilian girl was sitting in an Italian coffee shop in the north of the country, reading Bhibutibhushan Bandyopadhyaya’s account of his travels in the forests of the east, waiting to watch Everywoman’s story set in Manhattan. But the most incongruous thing I saw that evening was yet to come.
They were a pair of red shoes. With my mind travelling between the banks of the Godavari and the skyscrapers of New York, Manolo Blahnik was occupying a rather prominent spot of his own. So, when these beautiful red shoes with the steepest heels and the most graceful arch I had seen caught my eye, I stared, transfixed. Then, my eyes did a slow tilt upwards, in the style of the opening sequences of the hero-driven movies of the eighties and nineties. When I discovered the shoes ended in a man’s face, I did a double take and stared again. But yes, I was right. Holding hands with another man whom I assume was his partner, this guy, with immaculately shaped eyebrows and the most gorgeous women’s shoes I had seen in real life, was definitely a man above the ankles.
When, I wondered, did we start flaunting our little eccentricities in public? Especially when they bordered on gender issues? Maybe the asymmetrical haircuts of the eighties started it all off. Or maybe it was the bellbottoms and polka dots of the seventies. Or more recently, the metrosexuality of the turn of the millennium. Or, even more recently, the trend of men getting their eyebrows done, and opting to undergo the female initiation ritual of waxing. Whatever it was, they had all culminated in my mind in the sharp-featured, good-looking man with a seven o’ clock shadow and pretty red slippers sitting a few feet away from me.
What Freddie Mercury had brought to television, this man had brought to reality. And he wasn’t even dressing up and sweeping his sitting room floor; he was sitting cross-legged at a coffee shop in a mall. Soon enough, he would get up and draw the eyes of most women to his shoes, and possibly the eyes of most men from his shoes, and cause them to shrink back in horror to discover the feet that had drawn their attention belonged to a man.
With stay-at-home dads becoming less of an exception with each passing day, and hot working moms taking the place of the comfortably plump homemaker, are we on the verge of a role-swapping revolution? Will we see the day when men decide it isn’t enough to watch women in designer shoes, or even make those designer shoes, when they might as well try them on themselves? And if it began with hair and reached up to shoes, what else could it cover?
In my mind’s eye, I saw an array of men catwalking across the floors of the New York Stock Exchange, sitting cross legged in formal skirts at international conferences, comparing Fendi and Louis Vuitton handbags and showing off Manolo Blahnik and Jimmy Choo shoes. All of these have at least one advantage – it would make the task of picking out birthday presents for men a whole lot easier!