By Urmi Bhattacheryya Mar. 17, 2020
My parents had never had the sex talk with me, so I reasoned that they wanted to hear nothing different from the script – even as a grown-up woman, I never told them that I had sex. Until, my long-term boyfriend asked me to have the talk. What happened next will shock you.
When I was 14 years old, I dragged my mother to the latest Preity Zinta flick with the very cool soundtrack and the denim mini I particularly wanted. Little could have prepared me for what followed: Salaam Namaste was entirely oblivious to my hideously squirming, uncomfortable, wishing-to-disappear-into-seat self and displayed scene after scene of what now seems like laughably PG-13 scenes of Bollywood-approved lovemaking. Nevertheless, I squirmed and I shifted and I cocooned my body into a ball because this was woman and man, seemingly naked – rolling on top of each other and enjoying themselves – all the while thinking of what Maa was going through. I’d assumed the weight of second-hand embarrassment. She must now know that I know what they do, men and women behind closed doors, and I’d forever be judged.I’m not sure Maa even looked in my direction or uttered so much as a single word, except for the sweeping conclusion that the movie was nice, if a tad long. I went home, miserable, convinced that things were forever altered.
A decade later, when I was 24 and visiting home on break from work, my father decided to clean out the insides of my suitcase while I was asleep. When I woke up and discovered its absence, I ran to his room like a woman possessed. It was too late. I checked all its pockets and knew a switch had been made: the shiny, red offending box of ten ribbed ones “for her pleasure” had been moved from one pocket to another, during his cleaning spree. It stared back at me like a horrifying reminder of what he had discovered: Baba knew that I knew too.
Why was it so horrific that my parents knew I knew about sex and that I (horror) had sex? You see, if you’re one of the fewer, luckier ones, you grew up through sit-down sessions about the birds and the bees. Not so with me – and perhaps, a million other teenage girls (and boys) in households across India, where offending channels were quickly flipped – and if they weren’t, you joined the locally accepted brotherhood of watching your shoelaces in fascination until you knew the song/scene/ad was over. I danced this dance for a long time. So much so, that when I started to have sex and started to date, I told my parents all about the boy – and nothing about the sex.
Why was it so horrific that my parents knew I knew about sex and that I (horror) had sex?
Here’s how conversations between Ma/Baba and I have gone for the last 10 years:
“(The inevitable) Ki korchhish?”
“Just returning from dinner with (insert name of boy).”
“Baah! And how is (insert name of boy)?”
“Very well. We just finished dinner and are leaving (insert name of restaurant).”
“So, after he drops you home, you’re going to go to bed?”
“Yes yes. Tired. After he drops me home, I shall go to bed.”
This subtle one-sentence charade that my parents and I have been playing for over a decade has served us well. Neither party lets down the other. They never had the sex talk with me so they want to hear nothing different from the script, I reason. “They know, parents always know,” a wise colleague and father of a teen girl once tells me – but I refuse to believe him. Wouldn’t my parents, otherwise the envy of all my peers for having met every single one of my dozen ex-boyfriends with wonderfully faked enthu, have dropped a hint here or there?
They hadn’t. And so I refused to, too.
Until I couldn’t. By early last year, I’d already been in a serious relationship for close to three years and my boyfriend could no longer hide his grimaces when I did my nightly fib-charades and suggested the unthinkable: “You’re a 29-year-old woman. Why don’t you just tell your parents the truth?”
I gasped. Had I chosen wrong? How could this tall glass of water I loved sleeping with suggest I break the secret covenant between my parents and I? He simply did not understand. I argued. I raged. I was finally won over by (his) better sense and, on my next trip to Calcutta, prepared myself for the apocalypse.
Except – and here’s the beautiful part – there wasn’t one. It is true my “hmm”-ing and hedging and using every euphemism in the book to describe my sex life to Maa would fill a comic act: “You know when I say he drops me home? Well, he doesn’t really drop me home. Sometimes, he sleeps over. I mean, he doesn’t really sleep. We sleep…. well, we don’t”. But the point is, she laughed outright and said, “How could you think I didn’t know?” I decided to let the pent-up “but why didn’t you ever talk to me about it” questions rest. The greater good had been achieved. Boyfriend would be happy and telling dad could wait for a better day.
I basked in the wonderful joy and sheer smugness of a woman who had just discovered her parents knew she had sex – and sanctioned it.
I didn’t have to wait long. A few months later – and a couple of months ago – the boyfriend and I decided to move in together. I internally wailed, but this time, there truly was no way out. I sat the father down and appealed to his love for fixed deposits. “Think of the money we will save, Baba, totally the reason to do this, joint accounts, shared bills, fatter PPFs….” I babbled on, totally losing my head and convincing even myself that I was moving in with a man for solely budgetary reasons, love-shove be damned.
Then the father said some wonderful things. When was I moving in, he asked. Had I decided on a locality? We should probably get a place with an elevator for both sets of parents – and while I was at it, finally open that fixed deposit I had been babbling about. I couldn’t tell you how I felt if I tried, except that I immediately opened a million rent listings for Delhi NCR to seek my parents’ approval on 3BHKs and pre-marital sex. Had they always been this “cool”? I thought through tears I pretended I was crying on that 14-year-old’s behalf.
Thirty years of knowing your parents and they still manage to completely confound you. A fortnight ago, I brought my boyfriend to Calcutta to celebrate my birthday. My parents, without telling me, had cleared out a bedroom for the both of us to stay in. No questions asked. No judgments proffered. The boyfriend wondered if his parents would ever do the same, and I basked in the wonderful joy and sheer smugness of a woman who had just discovered her parents knew she had sex – and sanctioned it.
As for the rest of us, I have very little advice except for the clichéd, tell them anyway. They probably already know. And if they’re anything like mine, they’ll surprise the pants off of you. Should they have sat me on a lap at pre-pubescence and broken down the human anatomy? Probably. But I’m about to have my parents over at a house I live in with a man, and I’m not complaining.
If you think about it, I’m living quite the Salaam Namaste life. Without the unplanned pregnancy, thank you very much.
Urmi Bhattacheryya is an independent journalist, formerly at The Quint, a feminist and chronic pain warrior, trashy-reality-TV-watcher (like you wouldn't believe) and a reader of reads. She's currently authoring a book on survivors of sexual violence. Also, if you ask, she'll channel her inner Bipasha Basu and tell you to do bicep curls. So don't ask.