Somewhere inside this odd and inconsistent book is a sensible little self-help book trying to get out.
In the preface to Don’t Slap Your Wife But Don’t Get Slapped Either, Dr. Sunil Vaid says that, although he agrees that is mostly women who are “suppressed, manipulated and tortured” by their husbands, this book gives voice to the minority of men who are exploited. The blurb, however, gives a different perspective, saying that the book demystifies the trials and tribulations that married couples face, and that it offers wisdom for men who are trying to be better husbands. In trying to achieve these two aims, the author ends up revealing his prejudices and ends up doing a great disservice to the field of self-help.
But let’s look at some positives first. Sunil Vaid’s writing style is simple and lucid. The book is also structured to keep the reader interested. Running through the book is the story of three women who meet regularly and exchange notes on their new marriages. There are also three men who eavesdrop on these conversations and then reflect on their own relationships. Finally, there is the author himself who summarises the issue on hand and provides advice. The text is broken up with jokes, anecdotes, and bite-sized pieces of information.
All of this, however, is overshadowed by the fact that the book is bizarrely inconsistent. Sensible advice and good data are mixed up with sexist opinions and irrational conclusions. On one page, the author gives considered, balanced advice about how to sustain a relationship. On the next page, he lays all the blame at the feet of the women and advises the men to be cautious of their wiles. Sometimes, both women’s and men’s nature are analysed and dissected in equal measure, and, at other times, women are written off as manipulative. A paragraph on mutual respect and love for the other person is followed by a paragraph describing how women never want to solve problems anyway. A section on love and sex advises Indian men to be more sensitive to their partner’s needs. But it also comes with the tall claim that the woman holds the upper hand during sex. Elsewhere in the same section, we are asked to take pity on unfaithful husbands who have been pardoned by their wives. Why? Well, firstly, the poor guy has already been manipulated by the other woman that he slept with. And, by pardoning the act, the wife is also manipulating him. Such is the logic employed at many places.
In an early part of the book, there is some historical perspective about the oppression of women. “The fact is that for centuries, most men have lived pretty self-centred lives, with little sensitivity towards their wives’ or families’ needs”, writes the author. He then proceeds to berate the modern male for still not changing their “cave-dweller” attitudes. But just a few pages later, the author betrays his own attitudes by launching into a rant about women’s liberation, blaming it for all manner of things from increased stress to failed marriages. There is even a full page devoted to showing, through a mix of bad science and sexism, that women are adversely affected by testosterone when they work in male-dominated fields.
The sexism is also evident in the stories of the three women. Strangely, the men in their lives, as well as the men who eavesdrop on them, are one-dimensional characters that the author is scarcely interested in. Surely a book that claims to be the voice of suppressed men would have a greater variety of men’s stories? Anyway, in all the three stories, the acts of evil are perpetrated by the women. The worst that can be said about the men is that they are misinformed or clueless, although there is a small reference to one of the men being rough during sex. (This is quickly dispensed with so that we can focus on the evil acts of the women.) Parminder, the feminist, plots to dominate her husband and his family and is predictably shown, in the end, to have had an immoral lifestyle that leads to her own downfall (she is suitably contrite). There is a laughable sequence that involves a feminist club (“The Libber Cats”!) that meets to coach such women into dominating men. Savitri, the innocent girl, has no mind of her own and is so brainwashed by the feminists and by saas-bahu serials that she starts sleeping around. She first sleeps with her husband’s cousin and then with the landlord. She ends up being punished for this by being abandoned by all three (who all live happily ever after, one assumes). The third woman, Saloni is set up to be the sensible Indian woman, which comes as a bit of relief, if it weren’t for the small detail of another woman (ostensibly another Evil Feminist from The Libber Cats club) accusing her husband falsely of harassment.
One could excuse this away saying they are just stories. But the author then goes on to classify women into categories. Doormats, he says, are usually “semi-literate wives”, whereas Indirect-aggressive types are “products of joint families or girls with many sisters”. The book is rife with such sweeping generalisations.
By the end of the book, we are left with a very unclear picture of the nature of modern Indian relationships and how men (or indeed women) should navigate them. Those who read this book might come away with some good advice if they are able to look past the vitriol against women. But many others will simply imbibe the prejudices of the author. And that would be a pity. Because, as the author says, in one of his clearer moments, the foundation of any good relationship is mutual respect and love. Not prejudice and hatred.