All is a big word for a small word. Some woman of immense wealth said that no woman could have it all. Everyone responded, mainly tch-ing and tcha-ing and sniffing and saying that she was wrong. I think she was right. No woman can have it all.
The question: can a man have it all? N is married to a nice woman. She has given him two sons, and he, not in exchange, of course, has given his family a six-bedroom house in a new building in central Mumbai. He works hard to keep that home going, to keep the loans repaid and everyone happy. Only, no one seems happy. His sons don’t see much of him because he is constantly travelling, and his wife doesn’t see much of him because when he does come home he tries to make up by spending quality time with his sons, trying to give them crash courses on masculinity. He is worried that one of them might turn out gay. “Not that I have anything against gay people, of course,” he says hurriedly. “But, I just hope he won’t be a pansy-type. They have it really tough.” Indeed, they do.
So, what if you’re gay? Then, you have a lot more money because you don’t have kids, and kids are money sponges. But, then, in this country, you’re going to be spending the money on blackmailers. Since the Supreme Court, in its wisdom, has decided to turn ten per cent of the nation into criminals, blackmail may flourish.
What if you’re gay and philoprogenitive? That means, what if you want children as well? How many years do you think before that will be possible? Take a look at change.org, on which there’s a petition to the prime minister to decriminalise homosexuality. They hoped to get 1 lakh signatures. They’re limping even before they’ve hit 10,000.
So, who has it all? The man with money? To be sure, money makes things easier. Would you rather be dying of cancer in the general ward, worried about where the money for your treatment is coming from? Or, would you rather be in an air-conditioned room, secure that whatever it costs, your family can afford it? Right now, so many people I know have cancer that it seems like a disease that’s just waiting around the corner.
That’s why N prefers the six-bedroom house and the frequent flyer miles to the company of his children. (Not really, but this is what his wife says to him, and it hurts.) But, here’s another all. My friend R complained that his annual bonus was going to be a miserable 12 lakhs. He cannot imagine what to do with 12 lakhs. I can’t either. Because he has his car and his house and he wants to travel. He wants to go trekking in the Andes. I suspect he knows only vaguely where the Andes are, but he says this all the time. In between saying this, he leans back and opens his eyes and squirts eye drops into them. He has dried out his corneas from peering into a computer screen. I wonder how he will manage when clinging to a piton that is only somewhat safely embedded in the schist. No, I don’t know what I’m talking about. I have never wanted to climb mountains, especially not because they are there. If they are there and I am here, it seems like a zen thing to leave this situation as it is.
M seems to have it all. He wrote a novel and showed it to me. His first line was about his bonus. It was 12 million dollars. I returned the novel to him, saying that he should not write about what he does not know about. Most of the middle-class authors writing about being rich sound fake. He smiled and said, “What makes you think it’s fake?” I gawped. He added kindly, “That was what I made in the last year of my employment.” He has now retired, married someone and had a child. He seems to have his head around the way he wants his world. Only, he wants to be a writer. That’s a long hard road, I can’t help thinking gleefully, and there is no high road.
Or, is there? A is not a friend of mine, though he seems like a perfectly nice person. He is a writer of bestsellers. At a literary festival, he is said to have revealed the way to create a bestseller. You write a book and you get someone to publish it. If not, you publish it yourself. Then, you buy enough copies to get on the bestseller list. Then, you take your next novel to the publishers and say you had a bestseller last time round, so can they give you money? The money you have spent buying the hundreds of copies to make your first a bestseller? You get that back on the second. But, you have to be rich to begin with. If you’re rich, isn’t that enough? Isn’t that what everyone wants? Apparently not. You have to be rich and famous too.
What do the rich and famous want? Do they have it all? If you have several homes and cars and two children and a wife and a mistress, would you think you had it all? Would you be puzzled if your wife tricked you into donating your sperm and then took it to a doctor and got a relative of yours to play surrogate so that you could have your third child?
So, do you have it all?
Do you want it all?
Have you defined all?
JERRY PINTO’S NOVEL EM AND THE BIG HOOM WON THE CROSSWORD AWARD FOR FICTION AND THE HINDU LIT FOR LIFE LITERATURE PRIZE.