Last night, I pulled out a book I had not touched in years from the shelf when a picture fell out of its pages. It was a picture of me smiling at the camera along with half-a-dozen bikini-clad Chinese girls and half-a-dozen bare-chested Chinese men on a beach. The picture shows us standing around a young man, a member of that young group, who is buried neck to toe in sand. The mischievous group had given him a generous pair of sand-crafted breasts and also a long penis. Once their masterpiece was over, one of the girls found a twig and inserted it into the penis with the flourish of a mountaineer planting his flag on the peak of Mount Everest. Then they all formed a semi-circle and asked me to take a picture, and then one of the girls took my camera and asked me to join the group.
Memories instantly wafted back to that pleasant February afternoon. The year was 2003. Location, an island called Pangkor in Malaysia. We had come there after spending a week in Kuala Lumpur. After two nights at Pangkor, we were to go to the historical town of Malacca. When I say we, I mean a small group of journalists from various Indian cities. It was at Pangkor that I started bonding with Mr K.
Mr K was an established journalist when I arrived in Delhi as a probationer in 1994. Tall, handsome guy with a commanding voice; but very polite and gentle. He was still not past his prime, but his love for alcohol had just begun to nudge him downhill, at least in the looks department. He was very kind to me, almost like a father figure. I enjoyed his indulgence: he was a big guy after all. When I decided to quit the organisation, he advised me not to. "Rolling stones gather no moss. You have been here for not even two years, and you already want to leave? Don't ever make that mistake." These were his exact words. But I had made up my mind to make that mistake.
Fortunately, the mistake turned out to be the best career decision that I've ever taken. Within a matter of months, I began to run into Mr K again, this time, in the corridors of Parliament House. We were now fellow reporters, covering the Lok Sabha or the Rajya Sabha for our respective organisations. Things were no longer the same: we now only smiled at each other when our paths crossed. And that's how it remained till I left Delhi.
Nine years later, we met again, in Kuala Lumpur. The old warmth had returned within a matter of seconds. Perhaps because I was the only person in the group he had known for long, and vice versa. Basically, we made each other feel at home. But considering that he was much older and once upon a time was a father figure, we couldn't have headed for a thigh-slapping drinking session right away. There was still an air of formality as long as we were in Kuala Lumpur.
The air began to dissolve during the journey to Pangkor. The very first evening, we separated from the rest of the group and carried our drinks to the beach and sat on the sands, staring at nothingness. It was impossible to tell which was the ocean and which was the sky. It was all dark and silent. The only noise that was made came from a white couple which was frolicking on the sands, not very far from us. They were tickling each other and laughing. And the woman was scantily dressed.
"What if sand gets into her cunt?" Mr K asked, looking at me mischievously. The question turned out to be the leveller. We were now buddies. We sat on the sands till midnight, discussing, among other things, sex. As far as I remember, we discussed only sex. When sex is discussed over alcohol between two men, the bond that is created is so strong that they can happily lay down their lives for each other.
Mr K and I became inseparable after that night. Sex was often the subject of our discussions. Looking back, I can now see why. When a man is on the wrong side of forties and his love for alcohol overrides every other interest, talking or fantasising about sex becomes more pleasurable and practical than real sex. The mind is willing but the flesh is not capable enough. And in such a situation, if you have a partner who is still in her thirties or early forties, well, one doesn't know whether to sympathise with her or with you.
The two days at Pangkor flew. And long before, we were on the road to Malacca. Kuala Lumpur was vibrant, pulsating with high energy; Pangkor was peaceful; but it was Malacca town that I was looking forward to because of its historical significance (it was listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO just last year).
We were put up in a first-class hotel called, if I remember it right, Equatorial. The balcony of my 12th-floor room gave a fantastic view of the sea. And the girl at the receptionist desk was one of the most beautiful I had seen in Malaysia, or perhaps anywhere else. Tall, dusky, sharp-nosed, with eyes that smiled with a hint of naughtiness: she was the ultimate my kind of woman. Spread out on the bed of my room, I kept recalling her face when the phone rang. It was Mr K. "Why don't you come to my room for a drink?" he asked.
Mildly sozzled, we went out for a walk on the streets of Malacca. It was one of the most fascinating experiences of my life, though it is somewhat blurred by time now. I remember walking on a road flanked by low-rise,old buildings and palm trees. The strong sea breeze gave off a whiff of history: but for the swanky cars parked by the pavement and the pulsating music emanating from the night clubs, this road could have belonged to the 16th century and Mr K and I could have been Portuguese soldiers out to have some fun after a hard day's work under the tropical sun.
We walked into a nightclub but moments later walked out. I wasn't sure about the rules. It is best to go to these place if you have a local for company. The fear of being fleeced was very much alive in me because only months before, I had been stripped of fifty pounds -- yes, fifty pounds -- at a so-called striptease joint in London. Now, fifty pounds is not a small sum: it is a substantial portion of an average Indian's salary. If I had got an eyeful, I wouldn't have lamented the loss of the money. But I didn't get to see even a cleavage.
That evening, I was strolling around Soho, a place I had fallen in love with during my stay in London. I had often walked past these so-called strip-tease joints, where women sought to entice you, "Five pounds, five pounds, sir, just five pounds, come, come, come." Till then, I had resisted my urge to go in and take a look, but that evening, I don't know what overcame me. I found myself stepping into one of the joints.
"Just five pounds, sir."
"You sure? No hidden charges?"
"Absolutely not sir," the slut said, pointing to a notice pasted on the wall. "Look there, you only have a buy a glass of beer. Another five pounds. But that's mandatory." Five plus five is ten: not a bad deal at all to see at least a couple of women take their clothes off. I was shown down the stairs that led to a dingy hall in the basement. I took a table and the beer arrived. I had barely taken a sip when the bill arrived as well: sixty pounds!
"Why sixty?" I asked the slut who brought the bill.
"That's the hostess charge, sir."
"But I don't have the money."
"In that case talk to the manager, sir. Please come this way."
The manager -- may she rot in hell -- pounced upon me. "Gentleman, this is a licenced club. If you don't pay, we will have to call the police."
"But I don't have the money."
"Give me your card," she thundered.
I gave her the visiting card of my newspaper.
"No, not this card! I want your credit card."
"But I don't have a credit card."
"Damn! Show me you wallet."
Fortunately or unfortunately, I was carrying only fifty pounds that night. The slut-in-chief took them all away. She pretended to be enraged and asked me to get out. When I walked up the stairs to freedom and once again smelt the invigorating air of Soho, I realised I hadn't spent even 10 minutes in that joint.
Stripped of all my money, I walked back to the hotel. I went to bed hungry. It was too late in the night to have a meal without parting with another twenty or thirty pounds, which I simply couldn't afford considering I had just spent fifty pounds for nothing!
The fears returned to me at the night club in Malacca. Maybe they were completely unfounded, but I did not want to take a chance. I was at the fag end of the tour and running short of cash. In any case, Mr K was not the sort who would have liked to dance. We walked back into the silence of the night and hailed a cab. We decided to go shopping to the Tesco mall -- till then, I hadn't seen a mall as huge as that.
Once there, I couldn't resist buying a couple of shirts. I also bought an economy pack of three briefs. I was down to my last 30 or 40 ringgits. At the checkout counter, I noticed stacks of various brands of condoms. I bought a couple of packs of the 'Madonna' brand, just for the heck it. I had no use for them, but still I bought them, only because this was foreign land and I didn't have to look over my shoulder while buying this symbol of sin. In India, a 10 gram pack of condom often weighs a 1,000 grams, thanks to the burden of embarrassment that accounts for the remaining 990 grams.
The next morning, while the rest of the gang was taken out on a sight-seeing tour of historical Malacca, Mr K persuaded me to go shopping with him. He needed to pick a few things for his family (we were to leave for Kuala Lumpur airport in a few hours). Once again, we were out on the streets, this time under broad daylight. We went to the nearest mall.
"Is there a sex shop around?" he asked a security guard. The guard pointed to a shop. It was indeed a sex shop. The female attendant, who was clearly not used to having customers that early in the morning, treated us like privileged customers.
"Well, I am looking for a sex toy. You know sex toy?" Mr K said, seeking to explain his need by holding an invisible object between his thumb and index finger. I pretended to be invisible.
"There, sir," the attendant said, pointing to the shelf. Mr K carefully examined the dildos showcased. Half of them were too small for him, and the remaining half too big. "I want this size," he kept telling the attendant, showing the space between his outstretched index finger and thumb.
"No sir," the attendant said, "as you can see, we don't have anything of that size. I am so sorry."
"Is there any other sex shop in this area?" Mr K asked. The attendant smiled and gave him directions. As we walked in that direction, Mr K apologised to me: "I am sorry I asked you to come with me. I know you are getting bored. But what to do, this friend of mine has asked me to get a sex toy. It's for his wife."
At shop no. 2, Mr K faced the same problem: most of the dildos turned out to be too big. There was a small one though, but far too small for his liking. "Don't you have something of this size," he said again, indicating the space between his stretched out thumb and forefinger. "No, sir, I am sorry," the attendant, this time a male, said.
At shop no. 3, the only dildo available was so big that Mr K didn't even consider holding it in his hands. And that's when I realised who he was dildo-shopping for actually. If it was really for a friend or friend's wife, he wouldn't have been so finicky about the size. For him, every milimetre seemed to matter as he went around rejecting the dildos.
I was now on the verge of losing my cool with Mr K: we had only an hour before leaving for the airport, and here he was, trying to find the perfect dildo and pretending that it was for a friend. I finally told him: "I think I will get going. I will see you at the hotel." He was visibly upset. "Fine, you go ahead," he said, before proceeding to ask a passerby, "Excuse me, is there a sex shop around?"
I didn't wait to see the passerby's reaction. I walked back to the hotel, taking long strides. One group of journalists was already at the lobby, waiting to check out. I next met Mr K at the airport. His face was shining with happiness. Had he finally found the dildo of the right size? I did not want to ask.