I was chuckling over Terri’s account of PDA at a ball game and, this being the patriotic season and all that, it set me to thinking about all the times I’ve had to pay attention to DAs, P or otherwise, as an Indian.
Human beings are social animals and Indians spend a lot of time worrying over society at large, so perhaps it’s not surprising that the male-female dynamic is the thing that strikes us most when we leave our hometowns or our shores. My father, for instance, once told me that he acclimated far more easily to the language and food in Paris, where he spent the 1960s, than the sight of everybody constantly making out. “I’d look out my window and they’d be kissing under the lamp post,” he said aggrievedly, while my mother looked on as if she’d have liked some of that lamp post action. “The whole street is deserted but they would only kiss under the lamp post!”
The girl-boy thing is definitely what strikes me first about a place. When I was fourteen, for instance, my father decided to retire and move our family back to our (then) sleepy little hometown. A Delhi girl to the core, I was not thrilled at the prospect. I was especially unhappy when it gradually dawned on me that one of the bigger reasons behind my father’s sudden longing for a town he’d always condemned as a dinky little hottub of busybodies without any claims to civilization (I’m paraphrasing here), was Me.
Daddy, it seemed, didn’t relish the thought of his baby daughter growing up into one of those party-hopping young females who hung out in Delhi’s ‘farmhouses’ (dude, it’s Mehrauli!), getting high on drinks mixed with “something” by perverts, which could lead to “God only knows what”. Translated from dad-speak: he was afraid I was gonna get date raped by some sonofabitch who liked to get his women via the services of the friendly neighborhood roofie dealer.
Well, our hometown was the right the antidote to that, all right! I’d known for years that there wasn’t a place in town that I could go on my own without my mother getting hourly updates from some aunty I’d never heard of who’d seen me coming out of this shop or getting into that one. It didn’t matter that I didn’t know anybody in town. Everybody in town knew me. Just what every adolescent wants to know.
But none of it prepared me for the first day of school. My new school was run by the Navy and as I’d grown up around Army families I thought I knew what to expect. So I sauntered into class in my hideous navy blue (what else?) pinafore (!) and was immediately confronted by long lines of students literally separated by a vast gulf of gender. Girls to the right, against the windows; boys to the left, huddled by the wall.
Behind me lay Delhi with the slowly unfolding dances of thirteen – the previous year, the entire five sections had come together to observe the courtship of two of our number. He was a Punjabi from D, she was a Bengali was B – and never had East and West met under more mushy circumstances. There was the day when she’d begun to sob hysterically during our annual class trip (Hang nail? Frizzy hair? Catfight? What tender things have been erased from this accursed memory of mine?!), and could only be comforted by his manly voice saying: “Ey! Stop crying, na!”
In front of me lay my own first brush with romance, conducted under the interested gaze of the entire senior section (“They don’t think much of your glasses but other than that they think you’re hot!” were his romantic words to me, I remember). They were far more thrilling days than any I could’ve managed in Delhi – a trip to the ice cream parlor was fraught with danger (what if the owner, my cousin by marriage, should see us canoodling?), as was a lunch at the Taj (what if my dad’s friends saw us there?). We did manage to go to the movie theatre in peace but then spent all our time worrying whether the owner (family friend to half the known universe) had come by to check the collections and noticed us.
For the most part, we held hands in the school bus home: sweaty, tired, squeezed in at all sides, our hands (hidden under piles of heavy schoolbags thoughtfully provided by all our best friends) getting more and more slippery with perspiration as we made conversation with those same friends who were standing guard in a semi circle in front of us against any inquisitive teacher-type eyes.
We did this so well for two years that at the end of it a couple of teachers took my best friend aside and told her how sad they were to see her “behavior”. They thought she was dating my boyfriend. Heh heh heh. But that’s another story. Point is, just hanging out with a girl was enough to get both you and the girl into trouble. You didn’t even have to actually go out with each other. You just had to look like you were.
Then there’s the story of Bangalore. My best friend, a Malayalee, told me her entire family disapproved of girls who’d studied in Bangalore because they were all a little fast. Bangalore was basically Sodom and Gomorrah rolled into one with a little bit of Vegas thrown in (not the gambling or anything but… you know – what happens in Bangalore, stays in Bangalore?) if you were willing to invite that sort of “filth” into your family. I guess Vendakka Gundappaswamy won’t want to marry me then. Or is it Jincy Mincy Quincy Joseph? Well, boo hoo anyway.
But all this new fangled “fastness” is slowly drilling its way into the chaste heartland. If all our ‘innocent’ boys and girls aren’t imbibing all this ‘western’ behavior from the ether (or Bollywood movies although, have you noticed, all the kissy bits take place in the middle of a deserted field or far away in Switzerland? And when they do flirt in public on Indian soil, they’ll sing songs like: Khullam khulla pyaar karenge. A sort of pre-emptive strike), then the Westerners are bringing it with them. Talk about dilemmas: do we want their tourist dollars (and pounds and euros and what have you) enough to handle their hugging and kissing in public? Today they kiss each other (on the mouth!) as they say goodbye – tomorrow they’ll have sex on the beach and not the alcoholic kind either!
Hey, it could happen. Haven’t you seen From Here to Eternity? People who have sex in the middle of WWII can have sex anywhere! Tsk, tsk!
Anyhow, I’m here to bring you news that one day, sooner rather than later, you or someone you know is going to actually hold hands under a lamp post. It could be your mom and dad or your kids or your wife (maybe, preferably with you?). And when it happens, please don’t leap into the air with fright and scream, “Naheeeeen! yeh paap hai!”
Because it’s not. It’s kinda nice. Try it some time. After all, pyaar kiya toh darna kya is more than a song.
PS: that bit about my mother and lamp posts? Lies! I don’t like to tell too many people this but did you know I’m the result of immaculate conception? Fact.