Sex and language can be inconsolable bed-mates. Best friends with benefits. They can go out for a coffee, talk unabashedly about life, and get drunk on each other. They can wake up in each other’s arms, with one pretending to have already freshened up. And the other playing along for the kisses and giggles.
But I used to feel odd whenever I have tried to write about sex. However uninhibited I may have thought I was, I found myself in a state of imbalance. And I ended up regurgitating bedtime fantasies. Like the rose petal scene from American Beauty. It is the most Indian-influenced piece of Hollywood. I expected Kevin Spacey’s leg to tip over a glass of milk, as nine months go whizzing by and then – a baby’s squeal is heard behind closed doors.
Perhaps, it is because of where I grew up. The land of the Kama Sutra and the home of the prude.
It is tough to pigeonhole Indian metropolitans. They are Dickensian by nature. Often, their identities shift, like tectonic plates, under the pretext of urbanization. All the while, they play a game of cat-and-mouse with the past, whether good, bad or ugly. They are works in progress or experiments in terror, depending on how you see it.
Similarly, citizens of metros can seldom be typecast. I figured it out a week after my city suffered from its worst natural disaster ever. During the chaos, we bonded together, like squealing piglets suckling on a giant loving mammary gland. Everyone talked about how brave and selfless we were. A mere week later, we went back to being weak and indifferent – with flashes of politeness. But nobody was paying attention to us, by then.
I was born, bred and fed in this city. I am a son of the soil, for all practical purposes. But I don’t like filter coffee. I have no memory of attending any Carnatic music festival. And maybe, I have been three temples throughout my life.
I get stuck in traffic while going to the office every day. During this time, young women in rags approach my vehicle to beg for alms. Emaciated babies wedged in-between their hips and the dull tangerine sky. It is an amphitheater of despair. A showcasing of les misérables. Well, we are all miserable. But if you are reading this, you probably have it better than them. I know that I do.
Because it boils down to simple and cruel economics. Money matters. Some have so much of it that they do not know what to do with it. Many others cannot seem to put their fingers on how much would be enough, so they work to earn until the day they are bed-ridden and dying; staring at the ceiling, listening to the cold and mechanical buzz of the air-conditioner, and wondering if they will ever see a slideshow on the shit they have accumulated, as an acoustic guitar plays in the background.
The universality of curse words may suggest that we aren’t too comfortable in our own skin. So many expletives seem rooted in human sexuality. Maybe, we don’t respect our bodies the way we ought to. Why else do we liken people to reproductive organs and expect them to be offended by such inane comparisons?
In fact, why are body parts even perceived as constituting to obscene language? Is the human anatomy so repulsive that the very mention of its most intimate parts insinuates emotions such as anger, disgust, and confusion?
I know that you aren’t sure why you feel depressed. You try and hide it because you can’t find its source. You fear judgment from others. The ones you know and those you cherish. They won’t understand what you are going through because you don’t either.
So you avoid thinking about it, but it doesn’t go away. Whenever it comes, you feel sick in your stomach. Your press your fingers against both sides of your scalp to assuage the dull quaking in-between. But there is no escape. No crack in the wall through which you can squeeze yourself out.
No hole in the ground you can fall through and disappear for a while.
Like many children of the 80s, I used to be an obsessive gamer. My dad brought home an Atari 2600 home console sometime in 1988. It came with two 8-bit games – ice hockey and tanks. At once, I understood that it was going to be a spectacular end to the decade. And he knew it would be a stressful, annoying and expensive one.
I was introduced to 16-bit games during the early Nineties. It led to a large chunk of my life being devoted to the Mario Brothers franchise. It gave my life a sense of purpose. Not that I was interested in the changing dynamics of gaming technology. I only wanted to save the princess.
Staring is India’s creepiest pastime. It is either a reflex action or a defense mechanism. We are like frightened and / or frustrated deer caught in the headlights of shrinking geographies and fading belief systems. It isn’t a problem exclusive to women either. Victims include people from other countries and young couples.
A theory is that our conservatism has made us meta-judgmental. Buzzwords like tradition and culture have stitched xenophobia into the fabric of our communities. It is so woven intricately into our mindsets that hyper-sexual gazing is a permissible social activity. Another theory is that we are sociopaths. Sort of like Lionel Richie in that music video in which he stalks a blind girl. And insinuates sexual tension before asking her “hello is it me you are looking for?”.
There are several Rufous Treepies in Chennai. During winter, many of them visit the guava tree in my neighbor’s backyard. They sound like singers with speech impediments. But people just don’t seem to notice them.
I struggled with a severe stammering problem for about two decades. I could barely speak a few words without a prolonged stutter. Unlike the treepie, I drew attention to the muffled staccato notes. It was the first and last impression that I left people with. Nobody could see past the stuttering, including me.
In a perfect world, nobody would feel guilty about listening to any sort of music. But we do. And it’s not just because the world we inhabit is, at best, a tragicomedy. Music isn’t an art form anymore. It is a business unit in the entertainment industry. Success has as much to do with talent as it does with marketing budgets and social media strategies.
I do more push-ups when I listen to Madonna’s Ray Of Light. When she sings “and I feel like I just got home”, I am inspired to work out a little extra. But I feel terrible after it. I want to cleanse myself in unicorn milk, button-up my shirt, backcomb my hair and be a good boy.
As a writer, you are probably more self-absorbed than the average person. You find it cumbersome to socialize. You hate confrontations when it is your turn to listen. I am not saying you can be moody too. Just that there are motherless honey badgers in the Kalahari dessert with shorter fuses. Only in language have you found the comfort you need, without feeling inadequate about expressing your emotions. For you, writing is more than a celebration of the art form. It is your bomb shelter. Your refugee camp. You take it way more seriously than you should.
It is perhaps why you egg, at times, those you interact with to physically harm you or give up their respective belief systems to consider placing a voodoo curse on you. So here are five things – as a writer – you (we) can do to avoid getting punched in your (our) faces.