As a family, we have always been uncomfortable about sex.
Not uncomfortable but petrified – literally. As such, when I first developed a crush on a classmate, I had to rummage through my then limited vocabulary to come up with words that were loosely associated with love. My mother, the consummate jerk that she was, listened calmly to my petition and replied, “According to the Hindu culture, there are four stages in the life of man. Why don’t we go over that once again?”
Of course, the first stage talks about abstinence from any form of contact with the opposite sex.
For a long time, I was forced to believe that my sister just popped out of thin air. (And no, thin air is not a euphemism for the fun parts of women.) It took me years to understand the logistics of the world’s most pleasurable activity. There was no “Son, do you know about the birds and bees?” talk. So when I reached the chapter called Reproduction in my Biology text-book, and my good natured class-mate – who also happens to be one of the most brilliant students that I have had the misfortune of being compared with, sat me down to explain to me what transpired during adult fun time – I went, “Oh. Oh! That’s something!”
We were also notorious at deflecting such topics. Now my sister, is a good eight years younger than me. While that is excellent family planning (or not: I will never know, and I definitely don’t want to know) – it sometimes leads to tactical goof-ups. As a father and son duo, we have hardly ever sat down together to watch a football or a cricket match. On one of the rare occasions that we did, we ended up watching a very enticing blonde gyrating suggestively with the most exotic fruits around the world and how they supposedly excited her. For a while, both father and son watched intently as we tried to wrap our heads around the commercial. When it finally did sink in, we did a mental “Oh, okay” each and like well-read middle class gentlemen, decided not to have a word about it. Until my sister, wedged comfortably between the two of us, innocently asked, “What’s that woman eating, baba?” My father, the insufferable sod that he is, floundered for a moment and said, “Why don’t you ask your brother?”
I wanted to say out loud, “That’s great parenting.” Instead, I composed myself and said, “That’s a very expensive candy from Europe, I think.” The misery continued – “Have you ever tried it?” I cringed inside and replied with a straight face, “I don’t like fruit candies.”
I thank my stars that she doesn’t recall the conversation having ever taken place. I am not too intent on reminding her, either.
My formative years were spent in a Roman Catholic school, where I used to be routinely whacked with a cane for a variety of reasons. The sprawling fields were dry, dusty and warm during the summers. They would turn lush green during the rains and I’d sit by the field to watch my friends play football in the mud. And winters meant Christmas break and annual sports day. It meant facing rejection at athletics trials year after year – for either being fat or short or both. Every year the rejects would invariably be lined up for an embarrassing drill in costumes that rivalled those of cross-dressers. We would mostly dance to Britney Spears or some other teen pop sensation. A part of me would die every year with the said drills. But what I remember most about those bright, cool and dry wintry afternoons were the reduced hours of study, the extended hours of conversation about cinema, books and our intertwined lives – as we sat beneath the ancient, tall trees and played with the broken grass, twigs and dirt – the shadows on our backs and our lives shortening and lengthening with every passing day.
My parents’ obsession with not letting me grow up was at best, embarrassing. Take for instance the fact that I was the only one who wore shorts till I was in the ninth standard and was not allowed to shave. At best, I could pass off as a sepoy from the pre-independence era. My partner in bed and crime will testify to the same – she could hardly hold back tears of laughter (and joy) in her eyes (she likes to collect these specific moments and use them against me during arguments involving our families; needless to say, these end up trumping any form of accusations I level against her) as my mother called me something only Bengali mothers possessing the imagination of a thousand Tagores could. I died a little that day.
Or the instance when my father answered the phone when my crush called on my sixteenth birthday.