No Condoms, No Cry: The Gujarat Model

Social Commentary

No Condoms, No Cry: The Gujarat Model

Illustration: Akshita Monga / Arré

Acouple of months ago, Gujaratis led a protest against the Sunny Leone hoarding that advised safe sex during Navratri. In doing so, they might just have laid the foundation of the news we are so joyfully receiving today – that now, in addition to beef, porn, and other vices, we’re also not going to be talking about contraception.

Gujarat is a strange land, only truly known by people who’ve lived there, and better known by people who’ve lived elsewhere and then moved there.  The Gujarat state of mind is a legitimate thing; just like the New York state of mind. Only really twisted. In Gujarat, we believe that sex (and alcohol consumption) just don’t exist and we will go to our graves believing it even though there is a crapload of evidence that suggests otherwise.

Gujarat is the land where every woman is a ben and every man a bhai. Here the girls obsess about boys but never play with them in the evening. The boys never talk to the girls, but instead “aata maro” – the Gujarati version of geri – the evening away. One of my friends, who “dared to talk to boys,” had her jeans burnt in a fit of rage, as if the denim were somehow a direct connection to sexual pleasure.

But all of this would change, come Navratri. Those nights, lit up with fairy lights and haunting folk songs (this was before Falguni Pathak became the patron saint of disco dandiya), would be charged with sexual tension so thick that you could cut through it with a dandiya. For those nine nights, all the bundled-up, repressed hormones of the year would come roaring out and the mating dance would commence. The men, dressed like peacocks on a parade, would dance with sweaty, intense fury, making lingering eye contact with the women they passed in their devilish whirling. And the women, all of us with smoky eyes, silver chains, and backless cholis would smoulder in return. The backless choli was the siren song of the “fast girl”, and for those nine nights, everyone was in a race to win. The prize was  furious coupling in dark cars parked in darker lanes.

Navratri has always been the exception in this land of backless cholis and burning jeans, where sex was the word that was never spoken. Which is why, growing up in Gujarat is like growing up nowhere else in the world – on one hand you are besieged by surging hormones, and on the other by a culture that adamantly refused to acknowledge that sex was even a thing. So dedicated were the people of Gujarat to this cause that when time came for us to study biology and reproductive systems, our Class IX science teacher came in and declared Chapter VIII and IX “out of syllabus”. The words penis and vagina would never even be uttered in this hallowed land of Gandhi. In this world, men were not from Mars and neither were women from Venus – they were the same sexless species labelled forever by permanent markers as “ben” and “bhai”.

In Gujarat, we believe that sex (and alcohol consumption) just don’t exist and we will go to our graves believing it.

And yet, sex thrived. We knew there were naughty “key parties” hosted in select houses (we even knew the hostess’s daughter!) We also knew Gujarat as the land of baporiyas – the decadent afternoon sex that is a cultural tradition proudly passed down from generation to generation. And, of course, babies were being born everywhere. There was more than circumstantial evidence that sex was not just being had in these parts, but in fact being enjoyed. But the embargo on acknowledging it stayed on.

Today, I imagine Kangana Ranaut’s little song with the chorus “Coz I have vagina, re” being played in Gujju households, where bas and bens sit open-mouthed in front of their evening farsan, as the bhais behind them go into cardiac arrest.

Gujarat, is and always will be this way. The nation-wide ban on condom ads validates the furore they created over that Sunny Leone hoarding and invites the rest of the country to join them in the fine art of looking the other way. Gujaratis may get to go to the future and travel by bullet train but they’d rather put their faith in the good old “just in time” method instead of wearing a condom.

It is all part of the Gujarat model and the country is being created in that mould. In all of this, the tourism ministry’s ad is proving to be prescient – we’re all breathing in a bit of Gujarat.

This is an updated version of a story published earlier.