By Lata Gwalani Apr. 16, 2019
In Indian homes, closed doors hold dark secrets; they’re a salacious stand-in for “the deed”. Closed doors evoke innuendos, like the suggestive “Hum tum ek kamre mein band ho’n” from Bobby. But today’s generation thrives on the belief that there’s more to fear from closed minds than from closed doors.
“All human beings have three lives: public, private, and secret,” said Gabriel García Márquez. Whenever I read this quote, I can’t help but wonder that the great author had obviously not had a brush with Indians for whom “privacy” barely exists.
As this Mint Lounge piece on “Privacy and Indian culture” argues, interfering Indians have no idea about what constitutes a breach of privacy: “There is also little understanding of private life in India where almost every part of one’s life is open to family, community, village, or society. Community practices and diktats take over personal choices and ownership. For example, a girl may have a personal mobile phone, however it is her family or even the community that decides how she can use it.”
The best symbol of this narrative of interference is the culture of the closed door. Allow me to explain. In Indian homes, doors – especially closed doors – hold dark secrets, considering they play such an integral role in a couple’s ecology. Closed doors is where sinful acts take place. Think about the clever innuendos they have evoked, like the suggestive “Hum tum ek kamre mein band ho’n” from Bobby, which might just be one of the greatest thirst songs in Hindi cinema. Picture a peppy – but prurient – Juhi Chawla in Darr, enthusiastically shimmying around requesting her fiance Sunny Deol to “Darwaza band kar lo”.
Back in my time, closed doors were a luxury: Only married couples could relish the privacy of closed doors, solely for purposes of procreation. But closed doors came with strings attached; it was a double-edged sword, for the act of closing the door ended up being a public spectacle. Naturally, couples were coy about this for it was an uneasy, unspoken declaration to the entire family that the couple was “at it”. On most occasions, the couple would even argue over who would close the door. “You do it,” the lady often instructed her man, absolving herself of an impending sin. What’s especially ironic is that despite this hesitation around the idea of closed doors, Indian households also thronged with offsprings.
Doors are closed for lust and opened for trust.
But even then, the dictum in those days was simple: Doors are closed for lust and opened for trust.
You see, back then, when the Great Indian Joint Family lived together, closed doors swung on the hinges of aspersions, especially if they did not adhere to their prescribed time of closure. While it was acceptable to close doors under the cloak of darkness, closing them during the daytime invited nothing short of wrath. Elders would clench their teeth and work their faces into a scowl. “Why should you close the door during the day?” was the proverbial wolf in sheep’s clothing. Under the garb lay the judgmental and stigmatic character assassination that translated to: “What is this wanton behaviour of doing the wretched deed during the day, under the noses of everyone present in the house?”
Then came the next stage: As the couple started a family and grew in age, so did the taboo around closed doors. When joint families shrunk into their nuclear cells, the haunting question went from being “What will people say? to “What will the kids think?” Waiting for the the suddenly nocturnal children to go to sleep then, was like waiting for Godot.
Perhaps, the best case for a closed door is in the Mahabharata. Draupadi, wife to the five Pandava brothers had set an unwritten agreement: Whenever, one of her husbands wished to be with her, he had to leave his footwear at the entrance to the hut, to signify to the other four men that he and Draupadi were occupied and shouldn’t be disturbed. Yet, it so happened that one afternoon, as Draupadi and one of her husbands were in the middle of their romp, a dog carried away the footwear kept outside the hut. All hell broke loose when the second husband walked into the hut in gleeful anticipation. In a fit of rage and embarrassment, Draupadi cursed the entire canine race and bound them to a destiny of public mating.
You know what could have prevented this mishap? A closed door.
Fortunately, millennials get it. They take their closed doors as a birthright just like RCB and its IPL losses. It’s almost like they seem to be making up for years of needless shame around the mere act of closing a damn door – these are people who remain behind closed doors all hours of the day, every single day. They close doors to read, to lie, to sit, to study, to talk on the phone, or most often to simply be. Even when a friend of an opposite gender comes to their room, the door is promptly closed, without an iota of self-inflicted guilt or overthinking.
If you ever happen to provoke them by insisting that they shouldn’t close their doors, they’ll put you in the spot with a “Didn’t you ever close your door?” It’s not like you can tell them, “The rare times I did close a door, it was for you. Every closed door helped make you.” So you just wait there, until they close the door in your face.
To them, closed doors simply mean “me time” – privacy in its purest sense, not just a prelude to exploring… “pleasures”. So maybe it’s a good thing that today’s generation thrives on the belief that there’s more to fear from closed minds than from closed doors.
Lata Gwalani speaks, writes, reads, and not necessarily in that order, and gets paid for doing so. She has X-ray vision into human psyche, and deduces more than what meets the eye, and is usually wrong. She is wary of people and is highly impressed with Noah for allowing only animals on his ark.