Observed annually on November 19th, International Men’s Day celebrates men, highlighting the positive contributions and roles that men play in society. It provides a dedicated platform to address and raise awareness about men’s well-being, mental health, gender equality, and the diverse ways men contribute to the world. This day acknowledges the importance of promoting positive masculinity, challenging stereotypes, and working towards building a more inclusive and understanding society. The one man who embodies all of these qualities and more is Nikhil Taneja.
Nikhil Taneja is the co-founder and chief of Yuvaa, a youth empowerment organisation that recently completed 5 years, and the creator/host of the podcast series “Be A Man, Yaar!” He is the epitome of warmth, kindness, and empathy while embodying the most non-toxic masculinity that is truly vulnerable and honest. Society knowingly or unknowingly ends up boxing men into certain roles and doesn’t let them sway too far away from those. It’s about time we challenge the status quo and allow men to express their true, authentic selves.
He says “Our greatest challenge is to help men learn to be compassionate to themselves. Only then can they be kinder to others and themselves. I’ve heard from young men who have shared about being bullied each time they tried to be vulnerable, and from young men who admit to having been bullies because no one was ever empathetic to them growing up. I’ve also heard from a huge number of women who have all wished there were more such conversations that would both help women understand men better, and for men to understand themselves better.“
What pushed you to start your podcast “Be A Man, Yaar!” and what do you hope to achieve through it?
When it comes to women, you see this very wholesome sisterhood. On the other hand, when it comes to boys, they talk about career pressure which is just the number one problem, or they talk about heartbreak. They feel that they can’t talk about any other emotion. The normalised emotion in pop culture for boys is heartbreak. So, they talk about their heart. And if they are being very authentic and honest and considering the safe space, then they will talk about how lonely they are.
But unfortunately, unlike girls, no boy comes to them and says that I am here for you. And it’s not that they don’t want to talk. It’s just that they don’t know how to express this in a vulnerable manner. So, I would hear this. I would see this. I would feel really bad about this. And I would be like, man, come on. We have to do something where boys realise it is okay to talk to each other, where you are able to just sit across each other and be vulnerable with each other. So, that’s where the show really came to my mind.
We talk so much about brotherhood in general, male friendships are considered very strong and like that. So, where is the gap coming from?
I feel that boys can give their lives for each other. But they can’t cry in front of each other. You know, this I find is a very odd thing. Like, hey, if you want to beat someone up, call me. I will come. ‘Tera bhai dekh lega.’ And at the same time, when you are going through something, you need a tool like alcohol to be able to express yourself. This also comes from the fact that unfortunately, many boys in our country have not got that space from their fathers. Mothers have been the ones who give you love, hug you, and create this warm space for you. Whereas fathers are like this ‘chal chal.’
Again, I’m not saying that men don’t have those emotions. They just don’t know how to express it. Because nobody has expressed it. So, it’s become a vicious cycle. And then it becomes almost awkward to express to another man. They think like ‘I don’t want to be the first one to do so. Because otherwise, they will judge me.’ And they’ll feel like, what kind of a man is he?
Do you think there’s a taboo for gender identity also when men get, you know, too comfortable with other men?
I think it depends upon different parts of the world and different circumstances. It’s more like a condition in our mind that something strange is going on. Because we’ve never experienced that warmth. And when we see that warmth somewhere else, we almost cast aspersions on it. If you grew up in such an environment, where you’ve had enough female friendships, you learn warmth from there too. If you’re part of a group, you’ll notice that even men are warmer with each other. But when you’re just in a group of boys, you might not see that.
I mean, when you see the friends of fathers, there’s still camaraderie, there’s love. But the expressiveness, you know, it might not be that much. And so you also think that it’s a weird thing. I think we need to now forget these ideas. Every gender has a conditioning. That you can be like this or you can’t be like this. We should now tap into our humanity – just forget about these rules and regulations. Be yourself, man. That’s actually something I keep learning from your generation, from younger folks around me – That it’s okay to be who you are, and it’s not a bad thing.
What, according to you, should be the things in institutions and as well as campuses and offices that can make a change in what men have perceived till date?
Unfortunately, we live in a patriarchal world. So most institutions are also led by men only. So what you’re saying about how to create a better place for men, voh aadmi log ko hi create karni hai. And what we do is, we put the burden on women. We say you fix it or you help, you know. And men also go to women when they require safe spaces. And I think institutions also can overcome them by just creating these softer spaces. We require leadership with empathy.
There needs to be a balance between, of course, professionalism and discipline, as well as kindness and inclusivity. How do you create spaces where young, where every, all people feel that they are part of it? Men who have owned these institutions should first take, recognize and take accountability that we have ruined the status quo in a lot of places by forcing men to work 100, 150, 200 hours, For not giving parental leave, because that’s considered only a woman’s job. So, just being unfair.
There is this set idea of an “ideal man”? What are your views on it?
This is one beautiful quote that I’ve read that I really love that says that “Patriarchy benefits men,” which is true, right? It helps us get into positions of power. “But it oppresses everybody, including the boys.” And I think that’s the most important point. When we are children, when we are boys, we are told to be men. We are not allowed to tap into the human parts of ourselves.
And because of that, there is this idea of being a man, which we now need to break. So, in fact, my show is called Be a Man, Yaar. Because I want to reclaim this idea. Why does being a man only have to be about being strong or, you know, being, you know, strong? Or not crying and not expressing and, you know, being, you know, groups of hyper-masculine thought processes?
You can be any kind of a man. But the accountability, I think we have to start with taking ourselves and creating better spaces. I don’t think we should put this accountability on other genders. We are so glad that finally in 2023, we are having these conversations.
We know about your love for Shah Rukh Khan. Your show is in a way an ode to him. What example does he set for men, according to you?
He’s the person who has taught a lot of men how to be vulnerable, you know. I remember at that time, the funny thing used to be that people used to call Shah Rukh Khan a metrosexual. Because we didn’t understand that a normal person can do the things he does. But he’s a magician. Shah Rukh is a metrosexual because Shah Rukh is expressive. He’s emotional. He shaves his chest. He uses skin-paint products. He would do Luxe ads in the bathtub. And people were like, he’s not a normal man. But Shah Rukh is the reason why so many of us growing up in the 90s and 2000s are actually a little bit more in touch with our emotions. Because he made it okay for men to be expressive.
Have you had any role models throughout this journey that you were looking forward to?
In cricket, I used to really admire Rahul Dravid. I really love that he has this dignity and this grace, which is something that I’ve always just admired about leaders. Those who speak with a sense of grace versus anger and aggression. He would never have like a bad word for anyone. He would just focus on his work and he would just do such a great job. And he wasn’t even out there seeking validation. He was just who he was.
Dhoni has had that, he’s always been the person. When you see him taking the World Cup, even if he takes it, one second he’ll take it and then hand it over to the younger team member saying you take it. You know, and I think that’s leadership. That’s masculinity. Where you are so happy to share the success with everybody else around you. You know, those are things that I really admired about people, who are unselfish and kind.
Roshan Abbas, is someone who I just deeply admire. There’s Varun Duggirala and Nakuul Mehta, who I think are just one of the most wonderful men. My partner, Anand Amrit, again, so much I learned from them. Gurpreet Singh and Sudeep Lahiri at One Digital have always been someone I’ve really looked up to.
In 2024, Real Men Are _____?
In 2024, Real Men are kind to others and to themselves.
Conversing with Nikhil Taneja really feels like a warm hug. He makes you feel so seen, heard, and comfortable. His kindness and warmth are definitely his biggest achievements. We would like to congratulate him for being so kind, and humble despite all the success he has experienced. Our one aim with this conversation is to let all the men out there know that they can be vulnerable and their honest selves. We truly appreciate you and everything you do, Happy International Men’s Day to all of you! 🙂