By Damian D'souza Jul. 07, 2016
Over 9.5 million humping and heaving bodies officially live in one-room homes with paper-thin walls, and sniggering aunties. This makes sex pretty awkward to say the least.
I’m standing in the buffet line at the wedding of a friend’s brother, waiting for the chance to show Rogan Josh who’s boss, while simultaneously trying not to die because of the 1,000-yard stare from the server attached to the spoon. My Oliver Twist-esque plea, “boss aur ek piece dena”, is met with a sharp glare and a piece of mutton the size of a baby’s pinky begrudgingly shovelled into my plate. Behind me, four of the groom’s friends, who had been drinking whisky-Pepsi out of a 600 ml PET bottle, and doing a piss poor job of hiding the fact, talk in hushed tones, while looking at the chicken tikka masala as if it were displaying some wanton, attention-grabbing cleavage.
Tonight’s topic for debate on “Four Buzzed Guys at a Buffet” is the impending consummation of tonight’s marriage, with bonus commentary about the groom’s sexual proclivities. Friend number one starts off with a monologue about how sex is the only good thing that comes out of marriage; friend number two chips in with sage advice about love and sex; number three, the most verbose of the quartet, makes an observation about the heights of the bride and the groom, and goes on to pitch in about the logistics of the act.
What I do pay rapt attention to, though, is number four, and his speech about how passions are extinguished when you live in a 10×12 pigeonhole with five other people. The very thought that bumping uglies with your spouse is sure to be heard by everyone, including your neighbours, is enough to send your libido on a one way trip to Nevereverland. Number four’s got a point; the walls of a chawl are as thin as paper and the idea of parents sniggering to a mid-coital chorus of “ah”, “oh” and “just like that”, is enough to put you off sex forever.
With half of Maharashtra now officially living in one-room homes (that’s over 9.5 million humping and heaving bodies), life in a cramped 100 sq ft space with up to 7 other people squished up against each other has been fairly well documented. But the question few have asked is, “How does this burgeoning middle-class make love?”
The middle-class is a confusing one. The very mention of the word “sex” is treated with contempt, yet here we all are. How? Did a stork drop us off in a rickshaw? Were we picked up from a babywallah after haggling about the cost to weight ratio of a babbling baby? No, it’s because we did the dance with no pants – several times over.
The newlywed’s family, far kinder than Mrs Middleclassaunty, spares themselves the audio entertainment and leaves you to your devices on the weekends.
I’ve lived in chawls all my life, and frankly, there’s nowhere else I’d rather live. There’s something about the bonhomie that is born when so many bodies huddle in such close proximity. Most homes in chawls come with a loft colloquially called a “mala”, a sort of crawl space measuring 10 feet by 6 feet. Whenever wedding bells ring, one of the first things to happen, sometimes even before the dowry is decided and menu is planned, is that this storage space gets a makeover – a fresh coat of paint, a new mattress and the all-important curtain for added privacy. Think of it as a sort of cubbyhole where the newlyweds can gain a modicum of privacy and cum in peace, away from prying eyes.
But there’s a catch. Curtains aren’t always soundproof, and the wooden boards that make up the floor of the loft, often creak. The family politely pretends nothing is happening, but your neighbour, Mrs Middleclassaunty, who appears to be tuned in to her daily soaps, suddenly develops a superhuman sense of hearing. You know you have an audience but you still go ahead with all five minutes of the act. (Foreplay, just like a commode, is not a luxury you can afford.) The walk of shame after the deed is something that’d make Cersei Lannister’s iconic walk through Westeros look like an episode of Dora The Explorer.
When Mrs Middleclassaunty bumps into you in the common passageway, she looks into the depths of your soul with a look that says, “I know what you did. Bummer it didn’t last too long. Hope you enjoyed yourself.” Meanwhile your neighbour two houses down, Mr Taxidriver, shoots you a look of encouragement that says, “Buck up and slow down next time.” You hear his advice, keep your head down and continue walking.
The newlywed’s family, far kinder than Mrs Middleclassaunty, spares themselves the audio entertainment and leaves you to your devices on the weekends. Since the husband, whose occupation is almost always listed as “service”, has weekends off, the two days are respectfully reserved for couple time. The family makes itself scarce, often on the pretext of visiting relatives, to provide our newlywed jodi some relative privacy for the day. This generosity tapers off in a few months and then you wind up heading to places with names that end in “shwar” or “ala”, just to experience the feel of fresh sheets on your bare ass, and blow a considerable chunk of your wad in the process, only to return home two days later to your cubbyhole within a pigeonhole. This goes on until you finally have a kid or two and then, boom, it all ends anyway.
I’d like to end this piece by talking about myself; I’ve told you how my neighbourhood fucks, but what about me? I belong to a growing breed of middle-class millenials who’ve grown up in these spaces, but grown out of the prudishness they represent. Our families will certainly not turn their ears politely away, nor will they hand over the family bed for my weekend trysts. Which is why, most of the few times I’ve managed to get laid, has always been at the other person’s place. I’ve ditched the “your place or mine” line altogether, for the more low-key plea, “can we go back to yours”. I use it so much that I’m thinking of adding it to my Tinder bio.
Of course I do know that one day, I will succumb to parental pressure to bring home a bahu for my maa. When that happens, what happens to me? Would I have to sound proof my home? Would I need to rent a room at a seedy hotel? None of the above, I’m hoping. The future hopefully holds a proper flat with my name on it; one with a separate bedroom and thicker walls, so Mrs Middleclassaunty won’t be able to hear my climactic incantations and have to die without knowing how long I last in bed.
Damian loves playing videogames. If all the bounties he collected slaying zombies were tangible, he wouldn't need to write such bios. Seriously though, Damian used to be a cook who wrote, now he's just a writer who cooks.