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The trophy boyfriends 
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Illustration: Bhaskaran

Forget literary fireworks and mighty issues involving caste, class and talent. The biggest takeaway for a lot of eager attendees at the Maha Kumbh of words and wars in Jaipur this year was the official unveiling of the ‘trophy boyfriend'. It was really something else.
Unveiling new titles suddenly seemed so insipid, so yesterday, as several gorgeous ladies used the platform to flash their latest acquisition—The Boyfriend. Imagine the sweet irony—last year's status symbol, the pricey Birkin, was smoothly displaced by the flashy BF. Overnight, as it were, one of the world's most coveted handbags appeared slightly passé in comparison to the dazzle of besotted couples happily flaunting new partners.
The Jaipur Lit Fest is like that. A great equaliser, really. And it is possible to delude oneself during those five, all too brief days that there is a massive love fest going on under those beautiful neem trees dotting the dusty grounds of Diggi Palace. Nostalgia lovers try hard to get into a languid Woodstock mood, as they relax on charpoys making goo-goo eyes at their newly-minted lovers. Late-night parties which, disappointingly enough, never convert into full blown orgies, but are described as ‘insane' regardless, provide the perfect ambience for coy declarations of naya naya pyaar vyaar. Whether the JLF love affair dies a swift, inglorious death like the many controversies generated on the very same lawns, is another matter. But Cupid certainly finds enough aching hearts here. Which is quite a wonderful spin-off really, especially for those in search of more than just literary stimulation.
I love the idea of today's accomplished, confident ladies bringing their favoured men to the venue for the official coming out party. It is most apt, given the charged atmosphere here. Add to that the unbeatable comfort provided by the presence of like-minded friends, and you have the perfect setting for a good and proper show-off session. This is certainly a big and bold change from the sneaky old days when single, attractive ladies were expected to keep their lovers under wraps till a ring was produced and the relationship was suitably sanitised. How boring!
In today's far more relaxed environment, it is only fair that the official boyfriend is regarded with no extra special interest. He is looked over, assessed and post-scrutiny, given appropriate marks—as is his woman! The JLF has become some sort of a litmus test for relationships. If you make it here as a couple, you can make it anywhere.
What I do not know at this point is this: are the men comfortable with the new positioning? I read a quote recently which made me think about this from a man's perspective. It came from a talented actor called Randeep Hooda, who for years and years was known simply as Sushmita Sen's boyfriend. He sounded miffed. Some of the other boyfriends of famous women I have met don't sound as miffed. If anything, they appear mighty pleased to be linked to influential, successful, high-profile career ladies.
Years ago, I had written a column on a similar topic. The boyfriend in that column was a good-looking young actor who had been acquired by a grande dame. Today's boyfriends are a different breed altogether. They are not toy boys. They are adventurers. They lead reasonably successful lives themselves, but do not enjoy as much fame and recognition as their partners. They are obviously turned on by power women. At the JLF, there were at least 10 such combos.
Of course, the couples attracted a fair amount of attention and gossip. But what the hell. I liked their attitude. The women were unapologetic as they did the social rounds. The JLF was their old stomping ground, after all. And the men seemed pretty cool, too. I did overhear someone say in utter astonishment, “What do you know! The boyfriend is intelligent... and he actually reads!” Take that for a between-the-lines barb, if you wish. But girlfriends of famous men have heard worse. It's the turn of the boyfriends now. Deal with it, guys.

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