As an avid attendee at seminars and with years behind me in organizing these ‘getting people together forums’, I had taken serious umbrage when a management guru and a crony of decades had called them nothing but male kitty parties. It had brutally damaged my male ego and he had rubbed it in by pontificating on something which I knew, that a kitty party is a get together of, usually, housewives. These parties, usually again, are held in one lady’s house( at a hotel, if house is not convenient) and whenever they want it. But what caught my attention was this well established institution of a kitty party, envisioned to pass time had borrowed heavily from the doctrines of existentialism in its concepts. It now made sense.
I knew something about it having managed to spell the word whilst sitting on a peak at minus 30 degrees. I burnt a lot of mid night oil (read Bukhari in Ladakh) and burrowed through copious literature. It was a matter of life and no living. There was this girl friend back home who read Jean Paul Sartre for breakfast who to me sounded more like that chap from Kolhapur. Eventually, the CO (read God) thought I was reading subversive stuff and rescued me. In a jiffy and in a godly act, he had intoned with a sigh, “ That bloody thing (existentialism) means that we must reassert the importance of human individuality and freedom.” His face had fallen at the futility of this reality. As a military man this simple but overarching truth had returned, now to haunt me with the appalling fear that we may have been beaten to the game by women. I had to seek and find convenient truths. Fortunately, organisational behaviour wise, the men had came out on top.
Because in Kitty Clubs one lady gets the collected sum of money and so on everyone gets the money by turn, food is arranged by the hostess, a few games, gossiping, tambola and that is that. To me it appeared infantile and primitive. The men I thought pitched it at a superior plane. Firstly, some body else provided the funds and to receive those monies one set up a non governmental organisation (whilst actually surviving on government monies only). These were of the activist (do tanks) variety and talk (think tanks) variety. But, all one had to do was to select a subject from many available ‘off the shelf’ for example, security (global, regional, national, personal, sexual, family, animals and so forth), economy (all of the above and of effort, words, growth and again so forth), role of women (in all the above spheres except kitchen) and so forth. But I am sad to discover that women have moved in, which is a victory of sorts.
The men created stratified formats and stringently adhered to a class division in which an erstwhile lineage from a government service remained supreme and intermixing of the services at one forum was sacrilegious. In short the distances between the civil service, military, police etc had to be ensured. Exceptions were made only for politicos in hopes of receiving pearls of wisdom and patronage but they assiduously refrained for want of a lexicon. And so were media commentators, who found it, counter productive to rise from the instant to the supposed sublime. Male dominated forums truly welcomed and listened in awe when women spoke . The women reciprocated with realism and venom if the need arose. This existentialism one could fathom.
The actual seminar had a top of the rung retiree as a chairman who used is old clout as a Boa Constrictor to mercilessly garrote an errant speaker who tried to delve deeply into his subject and stray beyond the laid down time. Fifteen minutes had to finish in three. The Chatham house rules were invoked forbidding media and its ilk in linking a byte to a face but they pressed on nevertheless. But the military men did not speak when spoken to and the free wheeling social thinker freely ranted. And they all gossiped during lunch, tea and dinner with their social kin about their own axes to grind. The men did that well compared to women.
The in between periods allotted for Q&A were forums for letting out steam , reliving the past and extremely potent diatribe, all focused at individuals who were not present in that group. Sensitive gestures of bonhomie in the group! Although, one recalls more than once, with some satisfaction, of delegates, invitees and the chair person exchanging expletives in upper class English. This is largely because even women’s forums have also done it and men were not behind in this race. I suddenly suspect that this is India’s chaupal culture. But if the women were there then perhaps the men would have done better with competition. The author a military man is yet to retire