It's OK for men to cry. This is a bromidic topic that social media influencers — mainly women — loved to discuss and write about once upon a time. Thanks to Covid and the demise of patriarchy, men's mental health has got its due share of attention. Men are now portrayed as more expressive and less stubborn. All's fine as long as it's not just another attempt at amplifying gender parity. I always felt women were stronger than men, emotionally and professionally speaking. I guess it's not just OK, but mandatory for men to cry when they feel the desperate need for catharsis. But it's easier said than done.
I want to cry — right now. Cry an ocean of tears. An ocean of shame. An ocean of angst. An ocean of agony. An ocean of remorse. An ocean of compunction. An ocean of nothingness. The question of where I could vent them is more puzzling and worrying than how I could. It isn't difficult to cry, having seen it and done it all by myself at different stages of life. My eyes well up naturally every time I go to a train station or airport to see off someone, not necessarily my kin. Having seen up close the frailties of life, the thought of 'will there be a next time?' always haunts me.
There was this old man, whose daughter, one of more than a dozen children he had from two marriages, happened to be a good friend of mine. Whenever I visited their place, mostly in the evenings, we never bothered to exchange a hello, but the old man, resting in a traditional wooden recliner, would roll out a few seemingly funny words.
"Your host must be in the backyard." With that, his eyes would return to the goddamn job of staring into the infinity. I wished we could talk more. I wished I could peer into his eyes to see if they were damp. "When are you returning?" was the only other one-liner he ever ventured into. Every step I took crossing their dining and kitchen and to the backyard was my baby step into giant lessons in life: to return the love and respect you receive.
And our last meeting was too poignant to ever forget. It was raining cats and dogs, with streaks of lighting attempting to pierce the armour of darkness around the house. As I stood on the front steps dripping wet and saying goodbye, he asked, "When will be your next visit?"
"Maybe a year later."
"Chances are I won't be there." I felt as if a thunderbolt had just hit me in the heart.
He passed a few months later. I cried and cried, hiding in a corner in order not to raise a flag. You never know, to cry for someone unrelated could be haram — politically incorrect would be a milder term — in the modern etiquette. I have since learned to keep my well of tears shut. I have also learned to swallow my sobs.
I now feel tired of drawing a wrong portrait of myself. Pretensions and hypocrisy are not the elements I am made of. I want to cry and baptise myself in my own tears, but I have no church of my own.
"Why is dad crying? Did he lose his latest flame?"
"Is he crying because of an old acquaintance passed?"
"Is he crying because he is unable to pay an EMI back home?"
"Is he crying because his favourite okra fry is burnt?"
"Is he crying because India lost the World Cup?"
"Is he crying because the rupee rose in the evening trade?"
Why do people demean a few drops of harmless innocence? Whatever the reason, to feel sad and tear up is a person's choice. It's none of the world's business. Sadness is part of life, friend Papan called to console. The reason for sadness may not go away at all. Seeming to be superficially happy won't help either. Give yourself a chance to redeem yourself, he said.
So, let me redeem myself. Show me some space to cry.
Women seem to be better placed when it comes to unburdening themselves. If not the mother, sisters or best buddies, there could be their own partner who would happily offer a hug and ask, "Want to cry?" Such goodness never happens to men. I have been in a perennial search for a place where I can sit and cry and feel good.
Take me to some place where I wouldn't be bundled into an ambulance and taken to an asylum just because I cried my heart out in public. Is a restaurant good enough? No, I don't want to spoil everyone's party. Bus, tram, metro or abra? No, I ain't no town crier. A therapist's consultancy? No, every moment spent there is too expensive to wail away. At home or a friend's place? Isn't one mad man too many? In my own car? Don't want to drive with a pair of foggy eyes and crash. Maybe a Crying Corner, one like the Speakers' Corner in Singapore.
Until then, I'm storing all my tears in oak barrels staked in the attic of time. Let them age there like good old vintages before someone pops the cork after my passing to discover their romantic allure.
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