(Published in I-Witness, The New Indian Express, on January 3rd, 2010)
“Well, you gotta work all the muscles in your body, honey,” drawls the sexpert, to Oprah, flashing a miniature dumbbell – the most memorable of several other contraptions in her secret drawer which was on display for Oprah’s hundreds of millions of viewers. When Oprah states the obvious and gets a laugh out of the studio audience, the sexpert says, “aww, I had a bit of a tough time explaining these to officials at the Chicago airport.” “Yeah…I’m sure they were in a real big hurry to let you go,” says Oprah, “no…I mean that!” An impressionable eleven-year-old gawking at the television can think of another country that’d be in a real big hurry to let her go…and can never look at dumbbells again without remembering the incident.
Seven years later, an eighteen-year-old and her friends are at a shop famous for stolen goods and pirated DVDs, hidden away in Chennai’s most popular shopping area. Our buddy behind the counter piles a stock of the former as a shield, before showing us the latter (it was a time of turbulence and suspicion, the police were sending out their best men on raids). He quickly shoves away the pornographic movies he unearths, embarrassed by the presence of three women. The mountain of thongs that were his shield, however, is exempted as a possible cause of bashfulness. A few minutes in, a middle-aged woman peeps hesitantly into the store and mumbles, “uh…ladies panties…” The storekeeper points at the pile of fluffy, copper blue, strategically orificed, stringy things on the counter, garnished with DVDs titled “Lord of the G-Strings”, “Buffy the Vampire-Layer” and “Gangbangs of New York.” The woman stares at the pile, back at him, at us, at the pile and is gone with a shriek.
This is why Indian men take such long showers and Indian women don’t get manicures too often. This is why “my phone is on vibrator mode” still makes us giggle, and everyone in the adolescence-menopause range lives in terror of being caught round-handed by a parent/spouse/child. This is why the few tree-lined streets in Indian metros have cars parked under them all evening, and the many haystacks in Indian villages have bullock-carts wobbling inside them. ‘Sex toys’ are banned in thought, word and deed, and so we have little choice but to use ourselves, household implements and each other as substitutes.
Let’s say we broke our shackles metaphorically so we could do so literally – let’s say we had Roleplay Pride Parades, armed with handcuffs, uniforms (this would have the added advantage of representing those sections of the society that can’t speak for themselves – the police, domestic help, the religious celibate etc.), rabbits (‘Sex and the City’ has been on TV since 1997, you’ve got to get that!) and flashlights (oh, well, they DO pronounce it that way in most parts of the country, you know) and got the men in robes, capes and wigs (dude, I meant judges!) to give kinkiness a nod…
Now that the only things on earth that live up to the ancient Vedic principle of doing favours expecting nothing in return have found legal acceptance, we would have to look for ways to circumvent society.
“Saar!” an airport official would make a smart salute, having discovered a pair of handcuffs in a traveller’s cabin baggage.
“Waat is this, madoon?” the same official would bark, pulling out a curiously-coloured thing from a woman’s purse.
“Uh…my…uh…son’s battery-operated balloon. It…inflates, NEVER deflates, and uh…can change shape to a feather…sigh...” or “Can’t you see? My daughter’s toy rabbit! Should I check it in?” should get you out of that one.
Then there’s the helpful-mommy-in-law crisis.
“I cleaned my son’s drawer. You young people are so useless!” she would say fondly, “I found a torch without a bulb, so I threw it away!” And there goes your husband’s bonus (India’s import duty hasn’t changed yet) which did do everything and spared you the trouble.
And then come the helpful neighbours who want to know why a nurse’s uniform, a Batman costume and a Princess Leia bikini are on your clothesline.
“Freelancing,” might not quite be convincing enough.