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Six pack abs, designer stubbles and tattoos

The world over, comfortable middle class urban living is seen to be at odds with the idea of masculinity. We instinctively believe that ‘real men’ grow up in tough circumstances – rural, small town, economically disadvantaged and hence toughened.

The cowboys of Marlboro, the countless rural heroes in Hindi cinema who conquered urban villains and heroines, the eternal street child played by Amitabh, Sehwag - the Jat of Najafgarh, Dhoni – the railway ticket collector from Jharkhand, small town Chulbul Pandey, the battery of ‘fast’ bowlers from Irfan Pathan to Munaf Patel to now Shami. And most importantly in recent times, the poster boy of masculinity – the tea selling kid who grew up to be the man with 56 inch chest challenging the elitist dynasty which could only offer a bumbling pappu as alternative.

The easier, affluent, urban life is seen to be corrosive. Best underlined in the iconic Rocky series, where the struggling club fighter’s hunger takes him to glorious heights only to bring him down with crushing defeats each time his success and comfortable living softens him up. In many of the movies he goes back to slummier gyms or even rural Russia to win back his meaner, hungrier instincts.

As real life increasingly makes such notions of masculinity redundant, making creativity, intellect and emotional quotient greater pre-requisites for success, it creates a dilemma. The urban males are torn between embracing increasingly redundant, but powerful symbols of masculinity and what life today demands.

Enter urbane masculinity.

Symbols of masculinity that strike a balance between the two seemingly conflicting worlds. They are essentially of decorative value and therefore are re-born in a designer avatar, losing the raw edge their predecessors had. Be it the carefully cultivated stubble in place of the beard, the sculpted muscles instead of the beefy brawny look, the tattoos or even the designer leather bags slung over the shoulder retaining faint memories of the hunter gatherer nomads.

One of the poster boys of this urbane masculinity today is Virat Kohli. (In fact this note was triggered by my efforts to decode his ‘brand’). Brought up in comfortable upper middle class Delhi, Kohli’s brand of aggressive masculinity is a huge reassurance to the growing base of urban big city males. That they needn’t choose between being urbane and being masculine.

Come to think of it – it is hard to imagine Kohli without his stubble, sculpted muscles and tattoos, isn’t it?