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Men and Kohl

Free the man with “kohl” painted eyes from his religious trappings which endorse kohl as part and parcel of its theological culture, and he becomes an object of plural intersections. He is a bizarre spectacle to behold-yes a spectacle and a bizzare one too. The accountability for his “bizarreness” might be multifarious, having facets to it which the wildest of fantasies may fail to yield.

For a heteronormative bigot who feeds on  and draws nourishment from gender stereotypes,the man with kohl is worthy of unleashing scorn at its maximum potency. Kohl, effeminacy, transvestite temperament and homosexuality get enmeshed in a complicated network of intricacies through more intangible ways than one. Hence such a sacred offering cannot be any less welcome. In the eyes of a glitzy fashion-obsessed minority he is a “blue-eyed boy”still.Why won’t he be? He comes with the promise of offbeat inspiration. Odd is mod and turns out, odd sells. Odd also stands out. He will woe many a coming-of-age lovebird who would evidently fall for the streak of meterosexuality in him (It’s in and it’s flashy and boyfriends are meant for flaunting, right?) A certain fraction of the masses (Oops,they are the majority) will just choose to sit over the fence-something I would define as “decisive ambiguity”, a willful refusal to take sides so that each side remains equally available to use to their credit. For a few others, he would pass for a rebel to add to the already condemned bandwagon of silent rabble-rousers. But rarely, if ever, would there be somebody in this motley crowd of  onlookers (Remember, he is a spectacle to behold.) who would embrace him for what he is-a man who loves to wear kohl (Nothing more, nothing less!) It is perplexity interesting how the same kohl which makes a woman the cynosure of all eyes, troubles still waters when it adorns the eyes of a man solely for beautification and aesthetic appeal.

When did kohl and men become so distant that the only trace of the tryst they share comes with religious sanctions? Antiquity might help us seek an answer and explain the evolution of kohl at present for good or bad. As we turn over the dust-laden pages of history, it is intriguing how the kohl surfaces both as an agent of religion and spirituality and as a make-up or beautification tool,common to men and women.The earliest records indicate that kohl was first used in Mesopotamia and Egypt as early as 10000 BC. Prepared from natural ingredients, it was believed to act as protection from the sun and other harmful ailments.The practice of using kohl for beautification and contouring of the eyes had no less stronger a foundation. Kohl-marked almond eyes were a hallmark of Egyptian paintings on papyrus and the eyes of the gods were equally smeared with the elegant strokes of black as were those of the goddesses.
Kohl has been used in India as a cosmetic for a long time and it wouldn’t be too far fetched to conclude that it is a gift of the Orient to the makeup industry considering its singular popularity in South-East Asia, Africa and the Middle-East since ancient times. Kohl and men were united by religion and the bond stood the test of time. However kohl,as a makeup tool, as a beautifying agent, progressively became a monopoly of women down the years.

At this juncture, it is also comprehensible why a “man in love with kohl” for the sake of it, challenges the established gender-monopoly of kohl makeup and serves as a threat to a society that is primarily organised on the lines of gender bipolarity. He comes as a whiff of social surprise because the concepts of “beautification” and “masculinity” are twisted out of shape to deliver the illusion of them being at loggerheads with each other(courtesy social learning).We have been taught that a man is handsome and he is not beautiful. He is handsome with his career and salary, with his steadfastness, courage and dependability, he is handsome with an eight-pack and puffed up chests-qualities which make him an ideal provider and a protector. But beauty is surreal, aesthetic and sensuous…it is beyond the material. And in the eternal rat race to prove himself as a provider and protector man forgets that he is beautiful, as much beautiful as a woman is. He forgets that the arch of his brows, the wilderness of his chest hair, his beard, his moustache, the shade of his eyes drunk in neon lights, the fullness of lips are poetry in their own right.

Kallol Datta

Society would not stand the staunch stature of a patriarch stooped and bowed down in surveillance before the mirror in admiration of his beauty. It wont and so it concocts labels. And hence the evolution of the label, “metrosexual” describing a man (especially one living in an urban,post-industrial,capitalist culture) who is especially meticulous about fashion and grooming,a lifestyle typically associated with homosexual men.While the label latently suggests that a metrosexual is heterosexual, it can be used to refer to anyone with any sexual orientation.A label, discriminating as it may appear on the surface,is ironically a shelter too. Men are considering personal grooming and body aesthetics seriously and they are not afraid to admit it anymore. The metrosexual trend has already been set into motion for quite sometime by some bold personas in the likes of Johnny Depp(as Jack Sparrow in The Pirates Of the Caribbean Series), Kallol Dutta, who sparked a generous amount of interest in kohl and its worthy substitutes such as Guyliner and Manscara. The mens’ makeup industry is growing wings,thanks to Calvin Klein’s exclusive range of guyliners and manscara seconded by the mens’ cosmetics from the houses of  L’Oreal, Revlon and other make-up giants who never fail to gauge the skewness in market demands.The next thing mommies are going to be proud about is their boys drawing their eyes better than them!


Aritra Chatterjee is a student of Psychology at Asutosh College, Kolkata, and is engaged as a contributor for ExPress Magazine.   He has a very uplifted sense of Fashion and his interests lie in writing, abstract painting and symbolism, doodling, grapholohy, reading into people to top the list!

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