“Order me one too,” a friend said as I secretly purchased a vibrator online during a class so boring, I don’t even remember what it was about.
Now that the vibrator has your attention, I want you to know something about stories. No story is linear; often when we think we are walking a straight line, we are actually in a web – walking back and forth in different directions. My sexuality, I’ve come to realize, is not mine alone – it is as political as it is personal. I may have had the agency to influence parts of it, but a lot was influenced by media, friends, family, school, and structures I am not even currently aware of. All I know is that until twelfth grade, the most Sex Ed I had gotten was information about HIV and AIDS, which was imparted in separate classrooms for girls and boys. So yeah, I kind of depended on my friends to guide me around this thing that I wasn’t even thinking about.
Fast-forward to an unintentional Sex Ed lesson I got from my college peers while basking in the gorgeous winter sun. I did not know then but some of my friends had begun having “palang-tod” (literally bed-breaking) sex with their partners when their parents were not at home. (I wonder what excuse they made for the broken bed!) That day I realized how ill-prepared I was to deal with my body – I did not even know that pee comes out from a place different from the vaginal opening! It felt like being told something absolutely revelatory about my teeth after years of brushing them! Koi pehle kyun nahi bataya?(Why did no one ever tell me?) So being the wallflower I was (and in some ways still am), I observed as friends who I considered sisters trembled under even the slightest touch, danced and flirted through life, and negotiated condoms while discussing the pros and cons of using them. By the time college ended, I was ready to have sex and I had the condoms.
Then one day a pyari saheli (a deeply loved friend), during post-grad, exclaimed, “You’re a slut!” and we both laughed. “Yes, I’m a slut!” I responded. We both knew our bodies and we decided what we wanted to do with them. If that makes me a slut, toh bula lo yaar (If that makes me a slut, then you can freely call me that). This conversation was referring to a few ‘Tinder dates’ I had been on recently, for which, by the way, the same friend helped me pick an outfit, took the guy’s number from me for safety purposes, and made sure I had condoms –again, for safety. .
When I was younger, safety meant something else. It meant staying away from cigarettes, alcohol, and guys who “only wanted one thing”. How did I know? Because we talked about it – my pals and I. Lunch was about how many guys Tina was dating, was Anjali going to second base with Rahul, and all of us going “hawwww” together. When the school prohibited any touch between students, banning even the jadu ki jhappi, a magical hug, that the film Munnabhai MBBS had made so famous, we were convinced that this decision was correct. I refrained from ever kissing my first boyfriend. But I thought about it. A lot.
A lot of things changed since then, and I now wonder if we do frandship with people who are like us, or do we change to become like the friends that we have?
Two-minute break to reflect
Now imagine a hostel, a tiny room that accommodates three but has been made to fit four because of budget cuts. One friend had come frustrated to me in June of the previous year – her ‘self-care’ activities were severely affected because the room was never free. In my room, on the other hand, there was a set system (spoken of only once or twice). We’d ignore muffled sounds coming from the beds once in a while and we sure as hell knew to knock (or not return at all) when a fellow roommate finally had the space to herself. Non-verbal cues were enough to know what the last roommate would be doing in her room alone. Five years ago, masturbation was a secret that I kept even from myself. Though I was ‘trying my hand’ at it almost every chance there was, I did not allow myself to think about it during the day or bring it up with my friends. After all, if it were okay to talk about it, wouldn’t they have mentioned it or spoken about it once in a while?
In the Delhi school where I studied, though everybody was dating somebody (I was secretly hoping a cute guy would have a crush on me) ‘no physical contact’ was the rule, and I was convinced that sex before marriage was bad, holding hands was bad, and calling someone gay was the right way to make fun of them – and all of this was reinforced by my tightly-knit group. As time would have it, I eventually entered a ‘liberal’ space where ‘discourse’ became a favourite word. This was a world in which the people around me were having casual sexual encounters, and I was dealing with the complexities of desire. While one friend struggled with wanting to cheat on her partner, my desires were expressed over phone calls discussing how cute X was and how I wanted to see Y wet and naked on Holi (the thought still makes me blush!).
Nudity has its own story. In school, we were the ‘good’ girls: the kind, as one computer teacher said, that guys eventually want to marry. Our skirts were never an inch too short, our socks were always rolled up well, and we wore cycling shorts during sports classes and skin-coloured stockings when instructed to do so. We stood by our belief that we were more than just skin and very carefully covered all of it up, even from ourselves. That became a little difficult to do when I started living with a roommate who did not like to wear pyjamas in her fortress. Six months later, I transformed into the vocal, proud, love-being-naked hairy feminist that I am today.
Two-minute break to reflect on how cool that is
Then the world burst into flames. Or my memory returned. Geet said “I just gave the best blow-job of my life,” as I sat wide-eyed, learning how she liked it because of the feeling of control it gave her. Simran came excitedly to say, “I tried anal and I liked it.” Umrao mentioned that baby oil is a good lube,but then Preeti looked it up and said it was not. Veera regularly texted me about her experiments with sex (25+ positions!). Umrao came back with a suggestion of a delicious edible lube (yet to try it myself). Pushpavalli came to my room to look at my vibrator before she ordered one for herself, and Jhilmil said she wanted a dildo. Zara looked up gynecologists because she couldn’t get wet. And dear Gayatri stuck with me during a date because I was high and worried about consent – I wanted to kiss him but did not want things to go further.
All these women made life the masaledar (spicy) filmy piece of Bollywood that it is today. But this time they have made sure that this heroine isn’t stuck on being the ‘good girl’ who keeps waiting for the guy to make the first move.