It was quite a show stopper. You had to stop doing all the important things one catches up on while watching news on television – folding clothes, writing text messages, downloading movies on to the laptop, etc. etc. – when you suddenly caught the most powerful man in the world brushing away tears rolling down his cheeks. You couldn’t miss them. The cameras were trained firmly on them and the light glistened brightly on them, his cheeks were wet indeed.
The words that preceded them gave you no inkling something so big was about to happen. Barack Obama was supposed to announce stricter gun control in the new year so it was no surprise he was outlining some measures to that effect at a town hall meeting of families who had lost their near and dear ones in America’s depressingly frequent acts of “non-terrorist” gun violence. More than half way through the speech, the US President said, “Every time I think the about those kids, it gets me mad.” And that’s when his eyes welled up.
Predictably enough, social media has been flooded by those who believe he was sincere and was genuinely overcome by emotion and by diehard Obama haters and gun lobbyists who think it was sheer play acting and wholly bunkum. Maybe it was, maybe not. But I prefer to believe it was truly a moving moment and not just for those in America.
To begin with, it was nice to see a grown man cry openly and not feel the urge to brush it off as “something in my eye” or “the lights were too bright” or some such patently lame excuse just to avoid appearing weak or “like a woman”. Of course in this day and age of metrosexual men, the male of the species showing his softer side is no great crime but it’s still not that common either.
That is why the “boys don’t cry” ad, broadcast on our television channels shortly after the ghastly Nirbhaya incident in Delhi, was so talked about. By tracing the roots of all sorts of violence against women to this adage that is dinned into the heads of every male practically from the day he is born the ad made a great plea for letting boys (and men) cry their heart out. So a world leader bubbling in public is salutary indeed. Let all get the message: evolved men are not ashamed of shedding tears in public.
Even better when the weeping male is a politician to boot. We are so inured to politicians who don’t care, who are in it for all they can get out of it that we have lost all faith in politicians as human beings. Wouldn’t it be great if politicians felt compelled to demonstrate that they really cared about whatever they were trying to sell to the voters with a dose of real emotions? And it won’t all be play acting. Not all politicians can be such great actors that they would be able to fool all the people all the time with their histrionics (or they would have been in Bollywood instead). People would soon be able to make out who’s faking it and who’s not.
This is all the more important when it comes to women politicians, and we have a fair sprinkling of them in our midst. Women in public life feel even more compelled to show that they are not swayed by emotions, that they are not saps in short. Maybe it began with Indira Gandhi, who used to say, “As a prime minister, I am not a woman. I am a human being.” Ignoring her gender was her way of becoming “the only one to wear pants” in her cabinet.
Whether it is Jayalalitha or Mayawati or Mamata Banerjee, the emotion our women politicians do not find embarrassing to display is anger, often venomous anger, but tears, never ever. Mamata Banerjee would rush to the homes of almost every victim of rape or other acts of violence when the Left was in power in West Bengal, she would vent her spleen at the then ruling dispensation in no uncertain terms but tearing up was just not an option. Once, enraged by the machinations of her fellow party men when she was still in the Congress, she threatened to commit suicide in public with a black shawl she had wrapped around her, but even then there were no tears of rage wetting her cheeks. Maybe it’s time we had some lachrymose politicians amongst us, if not for any other reason than to add some variety to our forever steaming television debates.