In the good old days, when 'Kaun Banega Crorepati,' India's version of 'Who Wants to be a Millionaire?' began beaming into our homes, it was a common question that the host Amitabh Bachchan posed to all contestants. He asked each one of them, " What will you do if you win a crore?" Many men responded readily, "Go on a date with Aishwarya Rai!" Those were the days before Ms. Rai became Mrs. Rai Bachchan, FYI. Amitabh Bachchan would laugh lightly, ask another sundry question or two, and continue on with the game. The Aishwarya Rai answer became so common that I never gave it a second thought. Everyone was half-jesting, of course.
Then one day, my Dad remarked (after hearing yet another contestant say the same thing), "Is Aishwarya Rai a prostitute that she will go with anyone who is rich?" He said it without any kind of anger or annoyance. It was a simple question, rhetorical one, of course. But it made me stop and think. I had also bought into the "commodification" of Aishwarya Rai with my complicity in the universal joke about a game show winner going out with Ms. World.
If you think I am a feminist, you now know where that comes from.
My 70-year-old Dad, born and raised in a traditional family in Kerala, went to school in his home state, moved to Bombay for work in the 1960s. It is not an uncommon story for many men from that generation. Yet to me, it is special because it tells me that neither education nor upbringing are sufficient factors when it comes to having a broadminded and progressive attitude. I know that there will be many who will refute this argument of mine but I continue to believe in it. I have seen examples of so-called educated men and women having awfully regressive attitudes. And the opposite is true as well.
Maybe my sister and I imbibed some of those truly cool values! I say that because both of us have (deliberately or not) chosen life partners who live the same values that my Dad practises… without a murmur or any kind of fanfare.