The BCCI sent show cause notices to cricketers Hardik Pandya and KL Rahul after their appearance on Koffee With Karan created an uproar on social media platforms. Host Karan Johar’s line of questioning was provocatively focussed on the cricketers’ dating lives. Fortunately for Johar, whose TV show has been depressingly lacklustre of late, his freewheeling conversation actually took off and the duo unwittingly ended up sharing plenty of salacious details. It turns out viewers were outraged that Pandya confessed he couldn’t even remember the names of the girls he hooked up with. Bizarrely, Pandya’s also been accused of being racist for saying he was influenced by “black culture”, an unfortunate choice of words perhaps, but this is a needlessly harsh interpretation of a very innocuous statement. In an apology issued later Pandya said, “I got carried away with the nature of the show. In no way did I mean to disrespect or hurt anyone.”
In 1978, The Rolling Stones released an album called Some Girls and when asked about this strange and arbitrary name Keith Richards replied, it was because they couldn’t remember their (groupies) names. This banal cataloguing of sexual adventure is painfully enough, as old as humanity itself. But when I watched Pandya and Rahul on the show all I thought was they were giddy headed with delight at the greatest perk fame brings: girls. They are hardly the first cricketers to cultivate a playboy image. In keeping with the Tinder generation, they are like many people their age very open about it. Whatever one’s personal opinion on casual sex as a lifestyle, admitting to it on national TV is not #MeToo as plenty of articles that have come out post the airing of this show have suggested it is. At worst, its roll-your-eyes tacky, and juvenile. But saying that Pandya is inherently misogynistic and is objectifying women is to say that the women had no agency or choice in the matter. There was no coercion, and so far, no one has complained. While we are on the fraught question of gender equality, surely it isn’t entirely out of the realm of possibility that the women, in a reversal of sorts, were also enthusiastically tabulating their own conquest of Pandya?
Every issue between men and women in the spotlight needn’t be coloured by speculation. Sometimes it’s just a difference of sensibilities and opinion. Many urbane young Indians don’t carry the burden of guilt and secrecy around sex that an older generation does. Unless you’re living under a rock you can’t help but notice the sea shift in cultural attitudes, and that hook up culture is the prevailing norm in Indian cities. Koffee with Karan is not exactly Tim Sebastian’s Hard Talk. It makes no pretense of being anything other than light-hearted, naughty banter. Consider, the one standard question on Johar’s famed quiz: Have you ever drunk dialled your ex and hooked up in a public place? There is something to worry about though, that audiences have the power to impose their moral criteria so much, that Pandya saying he discusses his sex life with his parents can get the BCCI to contemplate banning cricketers’ appearances on shows that are not sports related. Write him off as an immature wannabe if you will but it bears acknowledgement that sexual encounters can be shaded and complex, and there’s no black and white, one size fits all, way to judge what’s right or wrong.
Of course, we make instant judgments about people based on what they say and how they come across, all the time. From that point of view, Pandya has fried himself because life lasts a lot longer than a cricketing career. When your world is expanding and you’re at the top of your game, you may wrongly surmise that even indiscreet bragging from you sounds really cool. Floating in the aura of your own greatness it’s easy to miss that we’re living through a historic moment post #MeToo and the conversation around women is dangerously conflicted. A quote can become a weapon too quickly but let it not shut down the conversation — rather, broaden the scope of the argument.