Buying a condom, like blowing your own trumpet, can be a deeply embarrassing experience. Of course, Rishi Kapoor in Hum Kisi Se Kum Nahin does blow his own trumpet without any trepidation, and most of my friends have had no problems ever buying condoms. But somehow, I have always shuddered at the prospect of going up to a shopkeeper and asking him to add a pack of rubber to my (pointless) shopping list.
I normally don’t blame advertising for any of my shortcomings, but with condoms, it’s the packaging that has had me go weak-kneed — all over. Much before I actually ever met any of the blighters, I had regularly passed paan-shops on Park Street in Calcutta proudly displaying the ware. Well, they were more like miniature Hustler centrespreads all out in the open — reeking of something illicit (as pictures of bare-breasted women do if displayed in middle-class Calcutta thoroughfares) and at the same time kosher (as nobody seemed to mind the ladies). In other words, they were ‘adult’ — like French movies.
But passing by colourfully packaged condoms is hardly the same thing as buying a pack. When it came to actually procuring a box, I would seek out the most straightforward, medicine pack-looking, pink packet. But that too would be a harrowing affair. It was bad enough that I associated condoms with busty, blonde women pretending to want to partake in sexual congress with the buyer. Matters were made worse by the terrifying prospect of being branded by the shopkeeper behind the counter as a pervert, a sex maniac, a regular at the local brothel, or worst of all, a lonely soul who never really had any use for a condom.
But with age comes courage. And with courage comes a fake voice that assumes bravado — not to mention, a libido. “One packet,” I would say sternly with an early cigarette quivering non-manfully between my fingers. I never said ‘please’, and I never looked into the shopkeepers’ eyes. And I always — ALWAYS — bought condoms from shops at least outside a 10 km radius of my mohalla — away from neighbours and family and anyone who knew my face.
I still haven’t overcome the fear of buying those packets. Like the way I simply can’t muster up the courage to buy women’s lingerie. But somehow, with my teeth gnashing and my brows furrowing, both activities do get done.