Exploring Patriarchy – Chapter 21
Those of you who live in India will understand the term Building-Uncle even though it might be new to you. For those who don’t, in India, all elderly men are called Uncle wherever they go, and elderly women, Auntie. Building-Uncle is the older man who lives within the same housing society or building.
Microwave Madam (MM) has seen many different kinds of Building-Uncle’s and she’d categorized them based on behaviour. Some might fit into one category and some in two or more. And there might be some who don’t fit into any, because MM has not noticed them and therefore not listed them.
The Family Man – who takes his grand-children down for a walk and is friendly and respectful in his interactions with all people.
The Career Man – who is only seen when he’s going to work, or returning from work. He’s friendly when anyone speaks to him, or when his knowledge can help someone in the society.
The Helper – who actually gets involved in day-to-day society issues and gets things done.
The Good Politician – He is friendly and helpful like the Helper, but unlike him, he always has a motive. He wants power, influence and respect and is willing to be useful, promote unity within the society, and do a lot of good work for the housing society to stay in power.
The Bad Politician – who thrives on divisiveness and creating discord within the housing society. It’s unfortunate that many mistake him for the Good Politician, and support him, but that’s the way it often goes. He works for power, but also sometimes, for money. And wants his ‘hafta’ (financial cut) on every work contract he negotiates for the society – even those with small scale vendors and work-contractors who are struggling to make a living.
You’ll spot him in action when there’s a transfer of ownership on death of a member of the housing society. That’s when he’s really visible as he tries to get the family (especially if it’s a senior citizen living alone) to hand over the flat share certificate to him, so he has bargaining power to earn his ‘hafta’.
MM had much experience with this kind of Building-Uncle as she’d helped a few relatives with their flat ownership transfer on death of their parents.
The Feeler Upper – who makes sure he touches every women when he passes them by. In the lift. The staircase. Or at any other opportunity. Women learn to keep elbows, bags and umbrellas handy and some like MM are quite willing to stamp heavily on feet and pretend it was a mistake.
MM was very practised with this, as she had grown up in a housing society with a Feeler Upper and taught him to stay far away from her when he passed her by in the staricase. MM’s mother had taught her well!
MM felt that she must exude some vibes that keep the Feeler Upper’s away from her. Because, in all the buildings she’d lived in post-marriage, she’d only heard stories about Feeler Upper’s, but they stayed far away from her.
The Chest Talker – who can look men in the eye when speaking but only talks to women’s chests. Unless his wife or family is around. He’s easily dealt with. MM had a practised and unwavering stare that stayed on him silently until he ran out of hello-how-are-you’s and was forced to look up.
MM would smile and chat with his wife and drop her smile to a straight-face when she wished him. And if this could happen in a way his wife couldn’t see, MM’s straight-face would look very grim. The Chest Talker would re-discover and practise the art of speaking to a face very quickly, so MM didn’t face this once she knew everyone in the building.
The Singer – is a man who is happy with life and is unaware of where he is. And hums to himself while he walks by. He usually reserves his singing for those special days when life is sunny and bright.
If he’s a much much older man, and is on the verge of losing his grip on daily living, he’ll be singing everywhere and you’ll even find him serenading the local dukaan-walla (shop vendor-man). MM felt that he should be put into a singing hobby class, because learning something new, and learning music especially, helps stave off decline in the elderly.
The Creepy Singer – is like the Singer, but he only sings when young girls or women pass by. MM felt that this was a sign of discomfort with women who didn’t dress and speak like his wife and daughter. The only way, for a man who has been raised in a single-culture society with very rigid gender roles where wishing elders is not the norm, to cope when faced with women from cultures where the young wish their elders good morning.
MM learned to spot the Creepy Singer and to stop wishing him as she didn’t want to be mis-understood. Some of the Creepy Singers are the dirty old men – the kind who feel up timid young women on public transport.
She felt this kind of Building-Uncle might have watched too many Bollywood movies where cheap trashy behaviour like stalking and singing are put across as courtship. And good girls never wear western clothes, though good men do.
Other Building-Uncle’s – There are many more types of Building-Uncle’s that MM has never met, so don’t get bothered if the older men in your society don’t fit here.
This post is about the Building-Uncle excludes the Building-Auntie because some of these categories only apply to men. The Building-Auntie might sing in public if she’s very old, but by and large, social attitudes that would humour a man singing in public, censure women doing the same. And creepy women haven’t been a part of MM’s life experience.
Men by and large, are decent and respectful of women, but every building has at least one who isn’t. One who might make the society unsafe for a young child, on a quiet day when no one is watching.
What is unfortunate, MM felt, is that mild disrespect for women within the housing society, corruption and hafta, or harassment of seniors, is often ignored. Women who speak out are shamed. And where seniors are harassed, it’s often a person on the managing committee, who has the full support of other members of the society, who is doing this.
The man who invades the personal space of a woman, girl, or any child, learns that he can get away with it. As long as he, or his family is of use to the society. That’s all it takes often, for people to look away.
I invite you to read all chapters of Exploring Patriarchy and walk with Microwave Madam as she explores the impact of patriarchy on her life and on society. And looks for solutions.
2 thoughts on “Microwave Madam on Building-Uncle”
An interesting look into Indian society. There are always a variety of personalities in a neighborhood – but not to the same extent as the building-uncle!!
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Ha ha! Thanks for reading this.
Honestly the nicer ones far out-number the bad, but living in a housing society puts those who are vulnerable in closer proximity with the bad, so we must look at this in it’s entirety I think. And not be afraid to let these discussions enter our homes.
I think it takes strength for a society to be able to look at it’s failures, no matter how small, and face them head on and I believe that India has that strength.