Saturday, October 23, 2010


During the Commonwealth Games, many parts of Delhi began to look 'world class'. That was not because of the many flyovers, the Games Village, the sporting facilities or the potted plants that visitors saw, but because of what they did not: dogs, beggars and jhuggis. Stray dogs and beggars, being portable, were banished from Delhi while the ugly jhuggis were banished from sight by giant billboards. Basically we wanted to make-believe that if something ain't visible, it don't exist.

Dogs and beggars have returned and jhuggis are back in full view. No one is upset because everyone has been seeing them all since they were born. But, yesterday, something else came back into view, something that we thought did not exist because it hasn't been visible for a long time. So when the Honourable Supreme Court decided to show it, some of us took off against what they believe is is a very regressive and oh-so-desi expression that is insensitive to the dignity of a woman etc.

The Apex Court, to put it briefly, has put long-term live-in relationships at par with marriage in so far as the right of a woman to claim maintenance is concerned. It goes without saying that parameters of such a relationship need to be well defined. To my mind that is what the court has done too. But in doing so, it has put in front of our faces the long forgotten word "keep", and found itself at the receiving end.

I simply fail to understand why women should be so incensed with the use of this word. Indira Jaisingh says in Hindi it means 'Rakhail' and, therefore, is "male chauvinist and derogatory," and that in the 21st century the Supreme Court should not use words like these! Will keeps stop being kept if they are called, say, "paid pleasure providers"? Will beggars stop begging if they are called "donation-seekers" or something like that?

A live-in relationship is one where two people live together full-time as equal partners and engage socially as a couple too. Sex is not a paid-for commodity and the relationship subsists due to mutual consent, not due to the obligation of one party to accept demands of the other in exchange for compensation asked for and given. For alimony, therefore, a live-in woman gets the rights of a wife.

Who is a keep? A person who is paid by another for providing exclusive sexual services to him. One who receives money for such services from more than one client is called a whore, hooker, prostitute, sex worker, call girl etc. Since 'fidelity' is expected from a keep till her services are required, she is often provided shelter too, among other things. To put it bluntly, a keep is a one-man-at-a-time hooker.

Has this practice stopped? Or has it merely acquired an acceptability and respectability not associated with the word because of the background keeps of olden times came from, and because the West has made the deal glamorous, even aspirational? We know, for example, that Hugh Hefner's teen twin keeps -- and many others like them -- were called his girl friends.

Is that why willing toys of the rich of today, some in the business because of monetary greed, not need -- and a few others -- are enraged because, all of a sudden, sexy billboards have been removed and they are being exposed to and made to look at a reality they had put out of their consciousness? Is that not why we as a people don’t like movies like Slumdog Millionaire because they force us to see the filth of the slums that have become invisible to us even though we pass by them every day? Is it not because we want to continue to live in denial by whitewashing what we need to wash?

Times have changed. Today many women are independent and rich. They too can afford to keep -- and some do I believe -- male keeps. What should we call them? Boyfriends? Is that going to make them any different? Or will it help them too to be given the status and entitlements that are due to a husband, including alimony, from their keepers?!

To keep or not to keep the word keep is the question. A rose by any other name remains a rose. Some will argue that saying 'shit' in English is not the same as saying it in Hindi and that 'keep' falls in the latter category. Should we put up the billboards again?