I had this insane notion that men don’t cry. I used to think that tears were for the ladies, the weak and from the occasional onion. Sure, a tear or two might spring up from your eyes if you were kicked in the gonads but those were involuntary tears. You had no control over them and hence it was considered acceptable, as long they did not turn into a downpour. I remember the times I had shaken my head in the negative whenever some kid in class asked me if I had ever cried before. I remember the prickle of pride I used to feel at this so called achievement. If you could hold your nerve in the face of relentless shaming by the teacher, then you were considered a man. If you wanted to rise in the classroom hierarchy, then you just had to hold your breath and zone out when you were shouted at in front of the whole class. That was the only way to prove to your mates that you were one of the tough guys. A man’s man, willing to ride the storm and come out dry eyed and stout hearted. Anything less, maybe a drop of tear brushed away hastily when returning to your seat, was considered a sign of weakness.
I recall the many lunch hours I had whiled away listening to empty boasts by kids trying to act tough, only to find them snivelling later when berated by the teacher for the late homework submission. This made me toughen my resolve to never cry. And for a long time I was able to hold on to this dogma quite rigidly. When I failed to get my expected percentage in the 10th Board exams, I did not cry. I just assumed that it was bad luck and moved on. When I was shouted at by my Physics professor in front of the class of 90, I stood my ground. Even as he hurled abuses I steadily looked down at my 12th standard physics note book and focused on how I would break his arms and legs outside the campus. Of course I was too much of a coward and that never happened. When my team lost in the inter-class talent competition in my second year of under-graduation I did not shed a tear. Despite the hours we had spent on the script and practise we did not win the coveted prize; yet I did not cry unlike a few others. I just looked at them with disdain and moved on. I had heard stories of students succumbing to drugs as a way out of their emotional turmoil. I personally knew a few who had turned to alcohol to drown their feelings of misery and failure. But for me, my choice of drug was movies. I always knew that a movie was a good antidote, at least for a couple of hours. So I used to binge watch a few movies just to get over my failure and it stymied any tear that dared to creep up. And it was one such movie that broke my resolve.
I had decided to watch the movie ‘The Fountain’ by Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan and Noah) on the night I failed to meet the cut-off marks of the big national entrance exam I had prepared hard for. I had spent months working out questions and following a daily regimen, but they failed to yield any fruit. So I decided to get hooked up with this movie. I had heard good things about the movie, so I decided to go for it, hoping that I would end the day on a positive note. As the movie progressed, a curious feeling started growing within me. It made me uncomfortable, as this was totally alien to me. As I watched Hugh Jackman try to save his wife and his queen, I had this knot developing in my throat. My eyes were burning and I tried blinking several times, hoping it would go away. As the movie reached its climax, the knot grew tighter and tighter and made it difficult for me to breathe. And when Hugh Jackman realized the truth behind the tree he was trying to save, my mind had gone numb. As I watched the visceral images of Jackman floating up the sphere suspended in space towards the super novae, my resolve broke. The beautifully haunting images in front of me and the powerful music combined together to break the years of self-imposed tenet. Hot tears poured down my cheeks and sob after sob wracked my body as I sat in my darkened room, crying. Like Jackman I had finally realized the truth. Years of pent up rage and frustration finally broke through and was swept away in the tears that washed over me. After a few minutes that seemed like eternity, I stopped. A hiccup escaped my throat. I looked blankly at the end credits that were rolling up the screen. I realized I was not a lesser man for having cried my heart out. I realized that I had not cracked my hard external shell when I broke down, because there was no such shell to begin with. As I wiped away the tears, I silently thanked Darren Aronofsky for bringing me to my senses.