Article Published in THE HINDUSTAN TIMES

The eligible bachelor

Navtej Sarna

He learns over the years that he has something up his sleeve that is wanted, and as long as he holds on to it, he is one up. NAVTEJ SARNA writes that while it lasts, the eligible bachelor has an enviable existence.

I WATCH wonderingly as he bends over the billiards table and executes the none-too-easy cannon with consummate ease. Cultivated and talented, this well-dressed man is just over forty. He walks with a confident swagger and knows that he is fun. As he stands in the club, relaxed and cool in his Sunday morning outfit while others of his set help the children with their homework, he falls automatically in the only possible slot in my mind. The eligible bachelor.

They come in all ages and in differing degrees of flamboyance. Find them on golf courses and tennis courts, surprisingly young and accomplished. Find them at parties, nattily dressed and very aware of the attention that women half their age give them so readily. The eligible bachelor learns over the years that he has something up his sleeve that is wanted, and as long as he holds on to it, he is one up. Other men’s wives love his company, while their husbands give him envious looks and start thinking of ways to get him married off.

When you really get down to it, eligibility is like class. You either have it or you don’t. You may, of course, be born with it, in the till-recent manner of Prince Charles. It is a painstaking thing to acquire but as any recently married man will tell you in an unguarded moment, it remains a ridiculously easy thing to lose.

But while it lasts, the eligible bachelor has an enviable existence. View first the material fittings. He is a man of means with a coveted job, very hardworking and prosperous ancestors, or a business which landed in his lap. But he will rarely talk about such things. He knows that people know.

He is the man to whom the life of pleasure beckons, and he responds like a trained cat through the hoop. For this, sartorial excellence with a marked stress on casual elegance is a sine qua non. The scarf or tie is immaculately knotted, the shirt front ruffles just the right amount in the wind, all shades melt gracefully into each other and the trouser crease is as cutting as the wind on a winter night. The ineluctably captivating whiffs of cologne will explain the dozen odd bottles with French labels on his dressing table. This, we may mention in passing, was merely one of a set of gifts from one of his longstanding girlfriends who holidays in Europe when she is not in Latin America.

Come to his set of rooms. I’d rather come here any day. The overriding air is one of casual comfort. All done to the wishes of one. You can see that if he felt like buying the huge armchair or the blue and white carpet, he simply went out and bought it. There was no long debate with utility-cum-budget conscious wife. There was no compromise on shades or sizes. The spacious couches, the drinks cabinet, the favourite paintings, the hanging racquets, speak volumes for his taste. And all the wives who visit him also find it all very tasteful-but for some reason never let their husbands follow suit. Do not miss the shelves of books, each one inscribed with the name of the place where he bought it, a sort of diary of his travel around the world. The music plays softly in the background and the collection is large enough to cater to any mood and a Saturday night party. There is a marked absence of flower arrangements, amateur wall hangings and cups, which the children win at school.

And , of course, the car. You name it and he’s got it. Or had it before he bought the sport model.

Below the outer crust is a man with a tremendous ego kick. Half jocular, half-envious remarks feed this image. His conversation has the unconcealed hint that he is a mar with a past which would be the combined envy of Don Juan and Casanova. He remains a name on many old letters tied together by a ribbon, a faded photograph in many albums, a favourite “uncle” to many loving kids.

His image, whenever it starts slipping, is bolstered by other such bachelors. They immediately and informally form what Wodehouse would call a Bachelors Anonymous Club. Whenever one of them feels sentimentally inclined after a candle-lit dinner, the others rally around. They warn and advise, they rub the palms of his hands and cool his fevered brow until the madness passes.

At times, however, the careful observer, if he is doing his job assiduously, will notice the existence of a myth in this popular image. This is the time when the eligible bachelor’s figure is encased in a shadowy loneliness- his charm and wit missing and his twinkling eyes narrowed with emotion. He might even tell you the real story of his life. Of cold dinners and long evenings. Of people who had mattered and somehow still did. Of many might-have-beens. At such times, the windows of envy open into the happily married home-the cozy domesticity, the pitter-patter of tiny feet, the slippers by the fire, the quiet cup of tea-components perhaps of yet another myth!