Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, consoles Kailasavadivoo Sivan. Picture: Facebook
Opinion - Is it okay for men to cry?

I ask this because two emotionally-draining events in the past few weeks should have had me shedding tears. But my eyes were dry.

First, I lost my only brother, 18 months younger than me. He passed away suddenly.

I will be lying if I say I enjoyed a close relationship with Thamo in the past two or so decades.

Both of us never made the effort to meet to stoke the fires of sibling love. Our different priorities in life, jumbled with the politics that attend marriage, drew us apart.

But our shared history - like the single bed we occupied as growing boys - was a powerful, sustaining bond. We would play truant from Tamil school and get up to all sorts of mischief.

We would walk home after spending the bus fare on orange slices sprinkled with chilli powder and salt, bought from the Barrow Uncle.

We would swim in dangerous muddy ponds. We would steal sugar cane from Blue House Aunty’s garden. When we got caught, Thamo would blame it all on me - “the older one who should have had more brains”, as my parents would be wont to say.

As I kissed his cold cheek moments before his mortal remains were confined to the glowing orange furnace at Clare Estate, I was instantaneously conscious of the fact that, even during this act of a final “goodbye” to my beloved brother, I did not cry.

A week after the funeral, I was in Chennai, where my daughter had enrolled to study at university for the next two years.

As the days passed and the time approached when my wife and I would have to leave Saranya, our daughter, in the care of a doting, elderly woman, a heaviness invaded my heart.

I was well aware my precious daughter would be safe, in the city she refers to as her “second home”.

Her affable nature would quickly win her friends. Her determination to research in a chosen field of study would keep her busy, fulfilled and happy.

Yet there was a pain in my heart because of the anticipated separation from a child, who has been my veritable shadow when she was not attending lectures.

Before she left Durban, I dare not enter the local supermarket without her because a dozen aisle staff and cashiers would enquire, as if they had been chorus trained: “Where is your daughter?”

From the time she was born, I saw to her night-time feeds, while her mother slept soundly. Saranya has insisted that I be present at every visit to a doctor. We share a wicked sense of humour and can finish each other’s sentences.

Little wonder then that I was not sure how I would handle the situation when I would have to bid her farewell. Would I burst into tears?

Thankfully, there was nothing like that. In fact, my girl helped the situation by being so strong and cheerful herself.

We hugged, and hugged, and hugged, and then I jumped into the waiting car to head to the airport. I did not shed any years.

I asked myself if I was normal. Did I not have a heart? Surely, events that have strong emotional consequences should cause me to cry.

Or did years of being a journalist, attending arenas of mass political killings, and accident scenes where I helped to match severed limbs with torsos, leave me unfeeling and cold?

I quickly realised this cannot be true. I can be emotionally touched. I am not heartless.

Listening to MS Subbulakshmi’s melodious rendering of Manavyala in raga Nalinakanthi, can leave me deeply moved beyond words.

The beautifully-crafted holocaust movie Schindler’s List hit me right in the bottom of my stomach - even if I did not cry. When Axel, our faithful German Shepherd, had to be put down, I felt numbed for days thereafter.

I may not shed tears but that does not mean I am callous, cold-hearted or uncaring.

Perhaps I have conditioned myself not to shed tears in public because there is a pervading idea, especially in western culture, that big boys don’t cry.

Personally, I believe it is fine for grown men to cry. That I why I was angry when Kailasavadivoo Sivan was criticised for crying in public.

You see, about a month ago, the Indian Space Research Organisation’s most ambitious mission, Chandrayaan-2, failed to go according to plan.

The Vikram Lander lost contact with the mission control on the ground, just 2.1km from the lunar surface.

Later during the day, Sivan, who is the chief of Isro, was seen on television shaking hands with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, with the latter hugging and consoling Sivan, who was in tears.

While it broke the hearts of some watching the Isro chief crying like that, after 10 years of solid work, some criticised this display of emotion and said that he should have maintained professional decorum.

The reality is that Sivan would have shed blood and sweat for this space mission. It was totally normal for him to express his emotions publicly and shed tears.

During the 2016 Euro final, an injured Cristiano Ronaldo broke into tears as he was carted from the field, just 17 minutes into the game.

Rather than poking fun at the forward for showing vulnerability, French and Portuguese fans rose to their feet in a standing ovation.

Former President of the US, Barack Obama, cried openly on live television, as he delivered a speech about his government’s measures to tighten gun control, in the wake of the continued mass shootings in the country. 

Closer to home, a tearful Justice Raymond Zondo, during his interview for the post of the deputy chief justice, recounted how he was determined to study law. However, his mother had lost her job and the family were struggling financially.

He approached an Indian businessman Suleman Bux, in Ixopo, told him his story and asked for a loan to support his family while he studied. The shopkeeper supported Zondo’s mother and his siblings until he finished his degree.

When Zondo returned after his studies to pay the shopkeeper back, this is what he told Zondo: “No, don’t worry. Just do to others what I’ve done to you.”

Has crying at his interview, while recounting this act of philanthropy, made Zondo, who is heading the State Capture Inquiry, a lesser man? No, it only shows he is human too,

Emotion doesn’t have anything to do with biological sex. 

Men and women alike should feel free to wear their hearts on their sleeves.

Devan is a media consultant and social commentator. Share your comments with him on: [email protected]

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