(Published as "The Lion is Likely to Have the 'Hardest' Time" in The Zeitgeist, The New Indian Express, 20th September, 2008)
"What do you know about golden loins?" someone I have the misfortune of knowing asked, right when I was trying to work my way around a piece on the nuclear deal.
"The golden loin. What do you know about it?"
At 5:30 in the evening, no journalist wants to think about loins, golden or otherwise. Your carnal instincts remind you of time that could be spent in more fruitful indulgences than analysing what politicians say, while your intellectual leanings conjure up disturbing images of mediaeval chastity belts, what with talk of metal and loins.
"The golden…what…," I managed, with as delicate a balance of cultured civility and stiffness as I could. Brazen questions have a way of rousing one's ladylike prudery.
"The golden loin award."
All right, this was reaching its limits. Whatever one's qualifications for the golden loin award were, they certainly did not deserve to be brought to my notice while I was thinking about the nuclear deal. I met the enquiry with my coolest gaze, only to hear the impatient explanation, "The Wenice Golden Loin Award!"
My heart went out at that moment to Mickey Rourke. Albeit his character was fatefully named Randy "The Ram" Robinson in The Wrestler, the movie which won the Venice Golden Lion Award, his just deserts were not quite the golden loin award. A few months of hoary jokes from the cast and crew must have ensured the money was hard-earned, without the ignominy of being crowned the winner of this particular award, while his colleagues were walking away with Academys and Emmys.
Soon enough, though, Mickey Rourke's plight faded into the background, and the institution of a Golden Loin Award became a topic of interest among me and a couple of friends. We'd designed the plaque in our heads, and were considering the criteria. For instance, should it go to, let's say, a Kamla Devi and a Surender Kumar who'd raised nineteen children? Or should it go to the sixty-five-year-old nomadic tribe member who had managed to have a child at an age when most of her contemporaries were choosing names for great-grandchildren? Or, perhaps, be a tribute to the generosity of the woman who, about a year ago, decided to play surrogate for her daughter and son-in-law? Or, in keeping with mediaeval traditions, go to the Paros of the world, who died without compromising on their celibacy?
At home, though, my attention turned to the rather unfortunately named King of the Jungle. I mean, whichever way you look at it, the royalty of the fauna kingdom doesn't seem to have much of an escape route from innuendo-laden puns. The makers of proverbs haven't been too considerate either. The Italians wisely say, "The lion and the lamb shall lie down together, but the lamb won't get much sleep", while the Africans are more demanding, with "The lion does not turn around when a small dog barks". And for that particular one, I'm sure my Jamaican friend would salute her ancestors. One of the most pragmatic Italian aphorisms goes, "The lion had need of the mouse", while the Gaelic say "the lion is known by the scratch of his claws."
So, however you put it and whichever culture you turn to, the lion's likely to have a pretty hard time (no pun intended here). So it looks like the males of the human species can take comfort from the fact that they have it relatively easier than the lion; while overhearing girl talk does induce a sense of horror in men whose faith in the mildness of the fair sex had hitherto remained unshaken, it can't compare to the torment a lion would have to endure after a bad date. Under the circumstances, it is perhaps understandable that the last few Asiatic lions went into hiding after Ajit declared in Kali Charan, "saara sheher mujhe LOIN ke naam se jaanta hai!"
(With many thanks to my friends Moushumi Ghosh and Pathikrit Sen Gupta, brainstorming with whom inspired most of this column)