Column: Love for Gold Is Gender-neutral

By Sandeep Sahu

The Indian women’s fascination for – even obsession with – gold has long been the subject of much mirth, ridicule and unflattering jokes among men. But what has gone under the radar – perhaps because it’s the men who dominate public discourse – is that Indian men are not far behind their female counterparts when it comes to the love for the yellow metal. And no, I am not saying this on the basis of the pounds of gold the pandas of Puri wear around their necks.

Look around you and you will realize what I am talking about. It is not exactly uncommon to find men wearing two, three or more gold rings on their fingers and one, two or more gold chains of varying thickness around their neck. [Let me clarify that I am only talking only about those who can afford it. The vast majority of Indian men, like women, are anyway too poor to buy gold at a time when the cost of the metal is threatening to breach the Rs 40, 000 mark!] Ask them about wearing so many rings and chains and they will, in all probability, explain it away in one of these two ways. “Look, this one was given by my mom, this one by my in-laws at the time of marriage, the other one is a gift from my wife. How can I possibly part with any of it?” Or “Only one of them is a gold ring. The others are there just to hold the pukharaj (or ruby or whatever) stone that a Baba has asked me to wear to counter the effects of ‘graha’.”

At a get together of old friends recently, I noticed a friend, a contractor by profession, laden with gold all over his body; fingers, neck, ears and wrist. “How much does all the gold you are wearing weigh?” I asked the friend teasingly. But the friend, unable to see the funny side of it, started counting his old ornaments in all seriousness. “117 grams,” he said triumphantly after the counting was over. “With so much gold on your body, you run the risk of losing your life because of it, my friend,” I quipped in mock warning. The friend just smiled sheepishly. The contractor community, of course, beats others hollow when it comes to the number and weight of the gold they wear. The thickness of their chains and bracelets would women to shame!

For the same reason, I have never quite understood the obsession of fast bowlers around the world with gold. “Why wear a gold chain around your neck and then take the trouble of tucking it into the shirt after every ball” I have always wondered.

In the Indian scheme of things, gold is seen as a worthy investment because its price rarely falls drastically irrespective of whether the economy is going through a recession. Unlike land, house, money and other assets, it can be easily hidden from the tax authorities. This rationale makes sense and is hence understandable. But what is difficult to explain is the urge to put it on public display. One possible motivation for men wearing gold could well be the impulse to show off wealth and prosperity. It is the wearer’s way of telling the world; “Don’t mess with me. I am rich.” The other could be the urge to get noticed, maybe even envied.

But little do these exhibitionist Indian males realize that they are opening themselves up to the grave risk of mugging, even murder, with their penchant for showing off. Chain snatchers who have proliferated phenomenally in our cities and towns – the Bhubaneswar-Cuttack Twin City, in particular – usually target women because they are the ones who normally wear gold. But of late, even men are being targeted – for the same reason. A friend had his gold chain snatched away by desperadoes while returning home late in the evening one day. He has promised never to wear one even though the miscreants did not cause him any bodily harm. [They could well have, if he had resisted!]

I am not too sure if men’s love for gold is a recent phenomenon or was always there. But there is little doubt that the fascination for the yellow metal among the affluent, modern Indian men is gender-neutral.

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are the author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.)