The bare skin, similarly, can assume many forms. On the pages of Playboy, it becomes erotic. On the bathing ghats of Haridwar, it might assume a holy glow. On the operation table, it is as lifeless as a piece of cloth. In a Page-3 party, it stands for glamour. On a fly-infested pavement, it becomes synoymous with poverty and pity. In the bedroom, it blends into the rest of the wooden furniture -- at least eventually.
But there are occasions when bare skin can make your heart leap out. In most of these cases, however, the skin gets covered even before the brain could send appropriate signals down the spine. The accidental -- or incidental -- dropping of the pallu. The hitching up of the saree while the beauty on the opposite berth is blissfully asleep. The woman in skirt sitting carelessly cross-legged. And, in the 21st century, the peeping butt cleavage (there is one thing I still can't figure: why do these babes keep pulling their top down to cover the cleavage? Is that a way of saying, "Look, I don't intend showing it, but what to do, my jeans is so low." Sadly, all the women I fancy either wear long tops or jeans that aren't low-waisted).
Once upon a time I lived in a house where the opposite flat, a floor below mine, was occupied by a middle-aged couple. I don't know what they did during the day, but in the nights, they sat in front of the TV most of the time. Their window offered only a below-the-waist view. I had never noticed them for years till one evening I stood by my window, smoking a cigarette. I almost burnt myself when I noticed their window: the nightie hiked well above a plump, fair pair of thighs. The garment was so high that she could have been wearing just a panty. She kept crossing and uncrossing her legs, the cocktail of lights from the TV reflecting on her milky skin, and I didn't even realise when my cigarette had turned into a stick of ash which was ready to crumble and fall off any moment.
A man's mind works strangely. He may not be so much turned on by the sight of a woman in a bikini as he would be by the sight of a saree or a nightie hitching up to the bikini line. Even though the amount of skin on display is the same. I guess it is the principle of prohibition. When you are not supposed to watch something, but happen to watch it accidentally, the pleasure is doubled, perhaps trebled.
Soon I had an army of friends trooping in every evening, and my window would become a trench. Lights would be turned off and about half a dozen people would kneel and take positions. All respectable people -- fellow journalists, theatre artists, a doctor, a civil engineer. And all for just a glimpse of a pair of bare thighs. If the same woman were to be sitting naked in my room, most of these people probably would have excused themselves. That's the irony about nakedness.
The subject of nakedness came to my mind when I had a long chat, over MSN messenger, with a friend-cum-fellow blogger-cum-fellow journalist. I will call her 'T'. She was narrating a story about how she had once lost her clothes to the sea at the Kovalam beach. "I was almost hauled up for indecent exposure by this cop," she said. But I wondered, wearing a bikini in Kovalam did not amount to indecent exposure. That was when 'T' added, to my total horror: "I had taken the bikini off as well. I just like the feel of water, you see. I can even jump into sewer water as long as it is water."
Perhaps the sea was horny that afternoon, and it took her bikini away. And there she was, trying to use the waves as a curtain. But a Mallu cop had noticed her by now, and he started walking towards her ('T' is a Mallu as well). The two had an argument in Malayalam. The cop thundered: how could she! She thundered back: what could she do! "All this while, he kept looking at me in the eyes," she told me rather gleefully.
I asked her: "Did you not try to cover yourself -- at least with your hands?" Her reply shocked me again: "Every part of the body has a role to play. So what do I cover, and what do I leave out?" Anyway, to cut the story short, the cop quickly went off in search of her friends who had wandered off, and one of those friends lent her his shirt.
Once I got over the shock, I wondered: what am I doing in Chennai, writing silly essays and blogging? I should have been in the Kerala police, and I should have been the constable on duty at Kovalam that afternoon. Are you listening 'T'? I wonder whether I should be scandalised at having you as a friend. Or proud. Or simply glad.