The western power couple is quite different from the Indian version, in which the male is born great – or thinks he is – and the female has greatness thrust upon her.
Hollywood's power couples offer twice the envy
Now that the Oscars are over, the usual lists of Hollywood (and other) power couples are making the rounds.
There is something about the notion of power couples that makes you want to sneer, mostly because they appear to be irrationally exuberant. While the rest of the world is barely managing to have dinner with their spouses, these power couples seem - like Energizer bunnies - to keep going.
They are super-achievers; tender spouses and red hot lovers to boot. Heck, what's not to hate?
In the West, power couples fit certain criteria. They are married - either after a seemingly fairy-tale romance (the Obamas); after an unwanted and usually sudden pregnancy (actress Kim Kardashian and musician Kanye West); or after adultery (Brangelina post Jennifer Aniston). They glow in public and not just because of the suntan lotion.
They are devastatingly good looking unless they wear a toupee. They have to have good teeth. They evoke equal parts awe, nausea and envy. Most important, with respect to sending signals, western power couples always hold hands in public, in private and possibly in the bathroom. To pry open their interlinked hands is like removing a corpse from a casket; or asking the male peacock to stop shivering when he sees a potential mate. It goes against the DNA of power couples.
The two halves of the western power couple play certain Shakespearean roles. The woman usually works in fashion, although works is a loose term. She could be a model, actress or designer. Lingerie models are preferred, particularly by men who wear dentures.
The man, on the other hand needs simply to have a ton of money. It helps if he is tagged as a "mogul" in the press - as in "media mogul Barry Diller" or "real estate mogul, Donald Trump", although bothcould use toupees.
Most of these moguls are ruddy in the face because of high testosterone, a hormone directly linked to power. If a woman wants to take over the power part of the equation, all she needs to do is ingest massive doses of testosterone, following which she will either flame out spectacularly or erect giant statues in her name.
The other formula for power couples involves an athlete marrying a musician or fashion designer (the Beckhams); a music mogul (see what I mean) marrying, well, another music mogul (Jay-Z and Beyonce); a schmuck marrying an heiress (former US presidential candidate and secretary of state John Kerry* and the Heinz lady); or a prince marrying his long-suffering girlfriend (Will and Kate). Western power couples are usually well matched in terms of looks (the Clintons). They tend to look leonine and aquiline. Their make-up routine includes lots of mascara that gives them a look of perpetual surprise - unless they happen to be Tiger Woods or Eliot Spitzer, in which case they get that "How did I get caught", deer in the headlights look.
None of these factors apply to Indian power couples. In India, power is inherited or grabbed. The male half of the power couple is born great -or thinks he was; and the female half of the power couple has greatness thrust on her through a wedding ring.
In terms of looks, the law of inverse proportions seems to apply. Husbands can look like toads and frequently do. The wives, on the other hand, have to balance out the genetic pool. In cases where the woman holds the reins of power, she still has to look good; or constipated. The husband has to look resentful.
The world needs to turn this outdated practice of anointing power couples on its head. It needs to make power more egalitarian, perhaps through a contest, like a marathon or the Olympics. Power couples could freely self select, morph and forge alliances. Like those heroes of Greek mythology, they will have to leap over chasms and conquer challenges. If all else fails, they could do what most power couples end up doing: divorce.
Shoba Narayan is the author of Return to India: a memoir
* Editor's note: an earlier version of this story misidentified the US politician who married the Heinz heiress as John McCain, rather than John Kerry.