Thursday, August 27, 2009

Paid Sex

This afternoon I posted this link as my G-talk status message. In the evening, a well-meaning friend pinged me. Her message was short and firm.

"I have a thought: You should take that link off."

Without wasting a moment I changed my status message. "But I liked it," I protested later.

"Whatever, but don't forget that your book is going to be out soon. You don't want people to associate you with just sex, do you?" She had a point. In fact, the thought had crossed even my mind when I was posting the link, and that is why I removed it the moment she asked me to. I was not very comfortable with the idea of displaying -- as my status message -- the autobiography of a man who took pride in sleeping with 1,300 prostitutes. I myself do not believe in the concept of paid sex, not because of moral reasons, but because I simply cannot come to terms with the fact that a man has to pay for sex.

I have been to a brothel only twice in my life, on G.B. Road in Delhi, when I was 27 or 28. On both occasions, it was curiosity that took me there: the urge to take a look at the human hiding inside the prostitute. There had been times when my friends narrated their experiences in red light areas, and the only question I asked them was: "What did you guys talk about?"

"Talk? What is there to talk? We only do."

"But still, she must have had something to say."

"All that I don't remember." That was their standard reply. They were puzzled that I should ask such questions.

So when I went to the brothel on those two occasions, my sole purpose was to talk; to check out the woman behind the whore. Whore is such an obscene and ugly word, come to think of it, but then, it has been coined by the world and not by me.

Both the visits were impulsive: me and a bunch of colleagues being dropped back home past midnight, and suddenly we decide to take a detour. The driver had no problem driving us all the way to Old Delhi as long as we paid for his cravings. Fortunately, there would always be a colleague who felt too shy to come up. He would stay back in the car, looking after our wallets and watches. It made sense to leave them behind, because once you enter the brothel -- at least this was the case in Delhi -- they suddenly hike the rates and then make you take off even your socks to see if there is any money hidden apart from what you are already carrying in accordance with the deal struck before entry.

During my first visit, the woman assigned to me was jovial. As soon as we entered the cubicle, she took off her salwar and lay down on what looked more like a small-time doctor's examination table. In different circumstances, I could have been a gynaecologist following a patient into the cubicle. But in this case, it was the patient who called the shots: she handed me a condom. I told her it was of no use. We chatted for about 10 minutes during which she told me about her family back in Andhra Pradesh, and in the end kissed me on the forehead, saying how I reminded her of her younger brother.

During my visit no. 2, the encounter with the woman assigned to me was not so cordial. She was a fat, foul-tempered woman, whose hometown -- or 'native place', as they say -- also happened to be in Andhra Pradesh. "You are so drunk, are you even capable of doing anything?" she asked me.

"But I only want to talk."

"Talk? Talk about what? If you want to do it, do it. Don't waste my time. Who asked you do drink so much before coming here." She put her clothes on.

On both occasions, once we exchanged notes after coming out of the brothel, we realised it was only the driver who had extracted the full value for money. No one else really had the courage. The thought of paid sex can be very tempting, but once it comes to you on a platter, you are likely to look for ways to escape holding the platter in your hands. I mean no offence to gentlemen who happen to be connoisseurs of paid sex. It is just that I would like to be counted out.

But why, then, did I post the scandalous link as my status message? That's because the whole thing is so well-written. If a piece of writing makes you want to clap for a man who takes pride in having slept with 1,300 prostitutes, then there is a lot to learn about the art -- of writing, that is -- from him. And it is not the style alone, but the content too. He is being honest. He speaks the truth -- at least what he believes is the truth -- and nothing can be more seductive than the truth.

And when it comes to sex, honesty is like gold, for no one ever speaks the truth. You like sex, but you can't be honest about your cravings. You don't like the sex you've just had, but you still can't be honest about your disappointment. You have your own ideas of good sex, but you can't spell them out. But this man does:

The great thing about sex with whores is the excitement and variety. If you say you’re enjoying sex with the same person after a couple of years, you’re either a liar or on something. Of all the sexual perversions, monogamy is the most unnatural. Most of our affairs run the usual course. Fever. Boredom. Trapped. This explains much of the friction in our lives—love being the delusion that one woman differs from another. But with brothels there is always the exhilaration of not knowing what you’re going to get.

The problem with normal sex is that it leads to kissing and pretty soon you’ve got to talk to them. Once you know someone well the last thing you want to do is screw them. I like to give, never to receive; to have the power of the host, not the obligation of the guest. I can stop writing this and within two minutes I can be chained, in the arms of a whore. I know I am going to score and I know they don’t really want me. And within 10 minutes I am back writing. What I hate are meaningless and heartless one-night stands where you tell all sorts of lies to get into bed with a woman you don’t care for.

It is obvious that this man is a talented wordsmith. And it is sad that a talented wordsmith should have to pay for sex. But then, he likes it only that way and in no other way, as he makes us believe with his convincing wordsmithery.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Lost Lines

Lines you don't hear in Hindi movies these days:

1. "Main maa banne waali hoon": I am pregnant (The announcement by the girl usually arouses extreme reactions -- either that of joy or shock, depending upon whether she got pregnant before or after marriage).

2. "Sharam nahin aati badon se zubaan ladaate huey?": Aren't you ashamed to argue with elders in this fashion? (Usually spoken by the mother to the rebel son who is rude to his father. Occasionally, the line is accompanied by a slap).

3. "Beti, bhagwaan ke ghar der hai, andher nahin": My child, there might be delay in god's house, but never darkness (Usually mouthed by a kind-looking, lean priest, to a hapless woman, who has become a victim of circumstances).

4. "Main is shahar ka ek shareef aur izzatdar aadmi hoon": I am one of the city's decent and respectable men (This is how a small-time criminal who has now become a big businessman and even a bigger criminal introduces himself to the new police inspector in the locality).

5. "Khabardaar jo kisi ne hilne ki koshish ki": No one dare move (Spoken by the man who holds the gun: he could be the hero, the villain or the police inspector).

6. "You are under arrest" (Spoken, of course, by the police officer, usually towards the end of the movie).

7. "Geraftaar kar lo in sab ko!": Arrest these people! (This line ends the fight between the good guys and the bad guys, and also signals the end of the movie).

8. "Order! Order!" (That's the judge).

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

I Am What I Am, Or Am I?

Dear S,

I should have been ideally writing this letter to you with a fountain pen, on a fresh A4 piece of paper. I have a bunch of expensive fountain pens sitting inside my wardrobe. They have been there ever since I lost a Mont Blanc from home. But who has the patience. I would possibly end up striking out every word I write and then tear up the sheet and take a fresh one. The 'delete' and 'backspace' buttons have changed the way I think. There would be a dozen paper balls on my desk before I could write a decent letter. It is so much better this way, though not necessarily as enjoyable.

Why I am writing to you tonight is because I have not written a real letter in a long time. I have been writing for the paper, I have been writing for this blog, I even managed to write a full-length book -- but in all those I have been a sort of performer who is deliberately selective about what is to be written and what is to be held back. The blog, however, gives me the liberty to be as myself as possible, but even there, of late, I realised that I am no longer able to write what I feel.

There was a time when I wrote essays on subjects like sex and fidelity. I wrote about sex and fidelity even after I got married. But today, I no longer have the courage or inclination to write about such subjects. Is that because I have already said whatever I had to say? Is that because I am beginning to worry too much about what people will think or say? Or is it that I am getting old? Or is it that I have stopped feeling?

If I analyse, I think it's the last one. I have stopped feeling. A few weeks ago, Gulshan Bawra, the lyricist, died. I felt very sad that he died, because only a few months before, I had bought a CD in which he pays tribute to R.D. Burman on his birth anniversary. For fans of R.D. Burman, this CD is a must-listen. Speaking in Punjabi-accented Hindi, he recounts anecdotes concerning himself and Pancham that were crucial to the creation of the eight or nine songs featured in the CD. Anecdotes such as, how during the making of Kasme Vaade, Pancham came for dinner to Gulshan Bawra's house and started humming to his wife Anju in a certain tune,

"Sarson ka saag tu banana Anju
sarson kasaag tu banana Anju...
Pehle tu mera ek peg banana
pehle tu mera ek peg banana...

Literally speaking, what Pancham was telling Gulshan Bawra's wife was this: "Anju, make sarson ka saag, but before that, fix a drink for me." But Gulshan Bawra got the message: Pancham was actually indicating the tune so that he could write the lyrics.

Eventually, the 'Sarson ka saag' humming became immortal as:

"Kasme vaade nibhayenge hum
milte rahenge janam janam...
Tu hai mere jeene ka sahara
barson ka khoya hua pyaar aisa mila...

Sung by the one and only Kishore Kumar and Lata Mangeshkar. You know the song, don't you? It is picturised on Amitabh Bachchan and Rakhee.

There were so many anecdotes like this in that CD. I did not feel sad about the passing away of Gulshan Bawra just because I was still listening to the recently-bought CD when I heard the news. It was very natural for me to feel sad in any case. Apart from Gulzar, Bawra was the last surviving Pancham lyricist. Both Majrooh and Anand Bakshi died a few years ago: pick out any R.D. Burman hit and it would be invariably written by either Majrooh or Anand Bakshi. But it was Gulshan Bawra who wrote the most youthful and hummable numbers for Pancham -- be it Khel Khel Main or Jawaani (remember Tu Rootha To Main Ro Doongi Sanam?) To tell you the truth, most of the R.D. songs that I truly like are the ones written by Gulshan Bawra: tell me S, can you beat the songs of Yeh Vaada Raha?

And yet, I did not write a post about Gulshan Bawra when he died, even though he is one of the pillars of my childhood as well as adolescence. Have I stopped feeling? I think so, S. Of late, there have been times when I want to write about something but then I let it be. You know something, there are at least 15 posts sitting as 'draft' on my blog that have not been posted. I start writing with great enthusiasm, and but after about 500 words, I ask myself: "Is it really worth it? Why should anyone be interested?" I save it as 'draft' in order to work on it the next evening, which never comes.

This was certainly not the case till about a year ago when I wrote whatever I felt like. These days, even provocations don't seem to work. The other day, a reader, perhaps a well-meaning one, asked me,

"You have given so much about yourself in this blog - including the sexual adventures. Whats your take on facing people in real life? I mean, you are not writing all these under some pseudonym. Is it a "I don't give a damn about what you think about me" attitude? Most people can't dream of writing like this under real name and going to office next day!"

I began writing a post in reply:

I don't know what is so scandalous about my writing that I should be ashamed of going to office the next day. My office happens to be a newspaper office, not a seminary or a monastery. If you go by the essence of what I write and not just the words I clothe my thoughts with, you could actually visualise me sitting in one corner of a giant, quite hall in a monastery, meditating upon life. Moreover, there is very little of me in my blog, leave alone my sexual adventures -- may be I need to return to my old posts.

Time was when this blog did not exist. What was there was a column I wrote for the paper -- my sole weapon then to claim my place under the sun. When I look back now, I realise that I wrote far more scandalous stuff in that column. Even today, when I happen to recall some of those pieces, I momentarily shut my eyes in embarrassment.

I wanted to write more, but after two paras I clicked on the 'Save as draft' button. I had run out out of patience as well as the urge to explain. I am what I am, I thought, why explain?

But S, am I really being what I am. I seem to have become a well-settled citizen of blogosphere who no longer feels the need to assert his existence by speaking out his mind. That's not my idea of life. At least I am aware that I am slipping into inertia. That way I am safe, because I also feel the need to get out of it. I will, someday soon. That's all for now.


Monday, August 24, 2009


We sat on the balcony of the hotel, overlooking a vast expanse of darkness -- so dark that you couldn't tell where the sea ended and where the sky began. Just a solitary star up there. The waves came charging at the rocks with such force as if they were being sent ashore by the broom of a frustrated maid who was trying to empty the water from a flooded room; and the breeze so strong that the full bottle of Smirnoff on the table kept shaking. But right below the balcony, if you looked down, was the brightly-lit road were the weekend Pondicherry crowd milled around.

Soon we would join the crowd to find our way to Satsanga, the French restaurant. But presently it was time for a few drinks in order to be in good spirits by the time it was midnight and my wife's birthday. The most seductive thing about French Pondicherry is its calm: there was calm now, amid the crashing of the waves and the squeals of the holidaymakers, and there was calm then, when we walked down the maze of streets to look for Satsanga. And there was calm again, when we got back to the hotel and had one more drink in the balcony in the company of the waves; the crowd had gone. And then we went to bed, looking forward to yet another trip to calm -- a walk through the French streets early in the morning.

My eyes opened at six. Through the glass doors of my room I saw a deep orange streak running horizontally across the sky. And then the spectacle began unfolding: the orange gradually began to change the black of the sky into deep blue and soon a small reddish ball began emerging from the horizon. The world calls it sunrise.

It was a new day, also my wife's birthday, and also the birthday of Lord Ganesha, the God of new beginnings and the remover of obstacles. Too many coincidences, I thought. So I sat on the bed and let the rays of the sun fall on me. For me, they were messengers of a new beginning and a bright future. I felt good. And calm. At a time when you are desperately seeking peace and a place under the sun, nothing could have been more soothing than those rays.

Here's the sunrise, as seen through my camera:

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Mole

But one morning
during my visit to Sensitive Mounds
I lost my way.
Standing alone in the valley, amid
miles and miles of white velvety stretch.

I called her to ask for directions
She giggled and laughed and refused to tell
"You are experienced, you should know,
you come to the Mounds often
sometimes to write, sometimes to rest."

But this morning, my darling
I am drunk on lust. I am all alone
and there are millions of bumps
Have mercy and show me the way
At least tell me the nearest landmark.

I heard her blush and then giggle:
"Ok, take a left. There you will find a mole
from there go right and take a left again.
Confused? Ok, call me once you reach the mole
I shall guide you from there."

After a fulfilling morning at the Mounds
I thought of the mole: how foolish he is --
he is there to make the flawless flawed
but amid the velvety sands,
he is an oasis called the beauty spot.

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Search For Answers

She was 16 when she fell in love with him. He was a young Army officer who had just returned from Sri Lanka after fighting the LTTE. His palms were made of steel and his voice, when he sang, as silky as Hemant Kumar's. Which girl wouldn't fall for him? Their eyes had first met during Durga Puja, and then they began to meet. At first under the roadside tree outside the school, then in restaurants in the neighbourhood. And that summer, when the entire class went on an excursion to Bombay, he followed her. There they roamed Chowpatty, hand in hand. Holding hands was a big deal in 1987. It was the present-day equivalent of kissing. But unlike kissing, which only fuels your desire to explore further, hand-holding, at least back then, brought about a sense of contentment. The average couple knew that they had reached the maximum permissible limit, and that the rest would follow only once they got married.

She was 20 when she got married. She was still preparing for civil services exams. The groom was an engineer, a product of IIT Kanpur: a soft, intelligent, good-looking guy. Her parents had netted the prize catch after combing the matrimonial columns of the Times of India for months. She glowed on the night of her wedding. That year, she also got through the civil services exams. Engineer husband, bureaucrat wife: what a life. Two years later, she had her first child, a girl. And two years after that, a boy. Living in an old British-made bungalow, they lived happily ever after.

'Ever after' is a relative term; its periodicity can vary from five years to 50 years, but once you've cross the 20-year mark of living happily, you've lived happily every after. In their case, they've already crossed the 20-year mark. She is almost 40 now, he is 45. He is the vice-president of his company; she is the managing director of a government-run corporation (she has also published two slim books on poetry, and she blogs too. Though not many people who leave comments on her posts know her real identity. She blogs by the name of 'Sunaina', who describes herself on her profile page as 'I am what I am.') They no longer live in British-built bungalows, but in a bungalow of their own. One happy family: neighbours' pride, society's envy.

Then, one day, Orkut came knocking on the door. And the first person she searched for was -- of course -- the Army officer. She was in luck. Once an officer, always an officer: he looked just the same in his album on Orkut, only that he had greyed. But the salt-and-pepper hair made him even more desirable. Once she had had a good look at him, her eyes widening and narrowing alternately, she turned her attention on his wife. "Is she more attractive than me?" that was the first thought that escaped her mind. The thought was so loud that she could hear it. She at once felt jealous. She heard another thought escaping her mind: "This is my man, how could she have him!" Just then, the bell rang. The daughter had returned from her salsa class. She went to the kitchen and hurriedly made sandwiches for her daughter: her mind was on getting back to the computer as quickly as possible, just to look at the pictures all over again.

Four months have passed ever since she was reunited with her first love, courtesy Orkut. Today, Google Talk keeps the old love aflame. Really, only the internet can bring back dead things to life. And you know what the profile picture on her Google Talk shows these days? It shows a young man and a young woman standing next to each other, rather awkwardly. They want to get closer, perhaps put their arms around each other, but they are aware that the world -- at least the photographer -- is watching. The result is cute as well as disastrous: if I am ever asked to write a caption for the photograph, I would say, "So near, and yet so far." Well, this was the picture taken on Chowpatty, way back in 1987.

Now, ladies and gentlemen, this is not a short story that I am attempting to write, but a true story that has made me think. Though it can also made into a thought-provoking short story provided one has the skills. After seeing the Chowpatty picture on her Google Talk profile for several weeks, I asked her one day, "Aren't you going to change it? Or are you still in the nostalgia mode?" She replied, "What to do, I happened to love him so much." Now that made me think:

1. Should she forever curse life for having denied her her first love, or be thankful to life that she spent 20 blissful years while being married to a man who she did not choose but who not only gave her happiness and two beautiful children but also enough breathing space to write two books of poems?

2. Or is it that she is mistaking lust for love? When you are 40-plus, and your husband a few years older, the bed is the place where you only have arguments. Once upon a time the bed might have been a place where toes touched, but today it is the venue for pointing fingers. In other words, there is no sex, except whatever goes on in the mind. In such a situation, when a handsome visitor appears on the horizon, then... well. And if the visitor happens to be a blast from the past, then.. well. You know what I mean, don't you?

3. Does love retain its potency and its intoxicating properties as long as you don't achieve it? And lose its charm the moment you achieve it? I am asking this because, had Sunaina married the Army officer, wouldn't she have got bored of his constant presence after 20 years of marriage? Maybe she would have searched for other people on Orkut. Maybe she would have searched for me.

Please answer these questions for me, will you?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Keeping The Mask On

The image in my previous post is self-explanatory. I would be lying if I said I am not excited. But sadly, I am not going to go through the book, for the simple reason that I am always embarrassed -- and at times appalled -- to read anything that I've written a while ago. There is always this urge to rewrite. Others, however, are encouraged to buy the book and read it and, better still, reread it. It should be in the bookstores by the month-end.

I do not know how long its shelf life is going to be, but I certainly know that the shelf life of my excitement is going to be horribly short. As long as you are waiting for your book to be published -- after having travelled the length and breadth of the country and put your descriptive skills to test -- you are some sort of a hero in your own eyes. But once the book is published, the readers take over. If they like it, you remain a hero. If not, you are reduced to being a zero. I am already bracing myself to answer questions like these:

"Weren't you writing a book? What happened to it, is it out yet?"

"Yeah, it came out four months ago."

"Is it? How come I didn't notice! Where can I find a copy?"

Chai, Chai was written over a period of two years. During the first year, I did all the travelling, and during the second year, I did the writing. During these two years, what kept me going, in spite of the vicissitudes of life, was the knowledge that I was writing a book. An imaginary cover for the book -- which, fortunately, is not very different from the real cover that has been reproduced in the previous post -- and an imaginary reader reception kept me going. In other words, my life had a purpose during the past two years. There was something to look forward to. But once the book is out, what will I have to look forward to?

I decided not to take a chance. Last week, I signed a contract with the publishers for my next project. It will be a book on Chennai -- a portrait of the city I have been living in for the past nine years. It will be the most definitive book ever written about the city till date. That's all I can say for now. It will be released next August, to coincide with Madras Day celebrations in 2010. In other words, I get to keep the mask of self-importance on for another year.