Four days to Valentine’s Day I find myself in the randiest small town in India. Or at least that’s what the Hindustan Times Youth Survey 2011 published last month insists: Indore leads the country in pre-marital sex. Nine women of 10 (92.5 %) between 18 and 25 surveyed stated that they had premarital sex, and seven men out of 10 of the same age group did their bit.
As I sit in an almost empty restaurant (its tagline: ‘Drink, Dance, Dine’) inside the near empty Treasure Island mall on a Thursday evening, I spot a young couple and start staring at them. They leave five minutes later. In the next hour, I see three women — including one auntie-ji in white sneakers and tucked-in shirt and trousers, and a slip of a girl who must be her niece — take nudgingly to the dancefloor as the place booms with — what else? — ‘Sheila ki jawani’, as the waiters lazily look on with an air that may
suggest that it’s business as usual today.
Paris may be the city of love, but Indore, I was all ready to discover, is the city of bodily fluid exchanges. Sure enough, on RNT Marg near the centre of town, there’s the Jains Cow Urine Therapy Clinic, for those not picky about what fluid they are willing to exchange. But for those with a more intra-species taste, Indore offers countless seedy hotels. I check out (not check into) Hotel Rama-Inn in the ramshackle Chawani area. “A standard room please?” “With friend?” Since I had Ronjoy, my colleague waiting in the car outside, I said yes. “What kind of friend?” In my panic to make the thin man behind the computer realise that I was with a male colleague, I blurted out the first thing that came to my mind: “Mukesh.” Which must have led to the question, “One room or two?” I fled.
Hotel Mayur on Chhoti Gwaltoli seemed a bit more respectable, so what if it overlooks a man-made lake of green uric sludge that makes the eyes sting. “How many hours?” asks the man in a safari suit. I fled again — going down the narrow stairway that had pastel-coloured framed pictures of village belles in backless cholis and spotting an elderly couple with a Bisleri bottle climb up.
Well, what did I expect? After all, my first choice was to stay at the nearby Nirmala Lodge, where last month the police had “busted a sex racket” by arresting seven couples in the good old “compromising position”. I was a bit unclear about what they had been charged with, since it wasn’t evident that the youngsters — one of the girls was a class 12 student while two others were college students — were anything but ‘boyfriends-girlfriends’ having some time out from their ‘coaching classes’ (which Indore is teeming with). But as it turned out, Nirmala Lodge was nowhere to be found. As a local resident explained, “It may have changed its name.”
For a town supposed to be on an hormonal overdrive, there are very few public places where you see couples. There are plenty of women on scooters zipping on the roads all with their face covered with dupattas because, I am told, of the pollution. In fact, I saw more girl-on-girl action — women on pillions behind women scooter-drivers — than travellers of a mixed gender.
But streets aren’t the right place to scan for love in Indore. A better place to start would be the shack next to ‘Fantasy: Bakery, Confectioners and Fast Food’ (where the sight of a couple, the girl wearing a multi-hearted t-shirt and a pout and her male companion in a very short-sleeved pin-striped shirt, somehow made me think of that ‘fake orgasm’ scene in When Harry Met Sally). A stone’s throw away from the Vishweshwar Mahadev Prachin Mandir, I meet 23-year-old Sunny Singh, buying a Valentine’s teddy bear for his girlfriend. Sales, I am told by the stall owner, are brisk and not only because of Valentine’s Day. He points to a gigantic teddy with a price tag of R 2,200. “I sold one of that two days ago,” he says.
Sunny, doing his MTech from the International Institute of Professional Studies, is buying something cheaper for his girlfriend who works in Mumbai at an animation centre. “We were schoolmates in Jhansi. But then we lost touch for five years. For the last 15 days, we’ve been talking every day,” on Skype, he adds. He’s off to Mumbai the day before V-Day and he tells me that he has plans. “To...?” I ask him giving him my best guy-to-guy nudge-nudge wink-wink look. “To marry her, of course.” Sunny helpfully tells me to go to the Meghdoot Gardens if I want to see couples ‘in action’.
So there I was, walking into a park next to a Sri Sai Baba temple. This was a perfect spot for lovers — quiet, fountain sound, dark stretches punctuated by the occasional lights — as well as observers of lovers who could easily be mistaken as perverts from the big city.
But if I expected to find open snogging season, I was, well, disappointed. There’s no Tinto Brass moment of youngsters breeding like rabbits here, but I do spot at the entrance of the Meghdoot Gardens three stone rabbits with yellow-tipped ears perched as sentinels of love on a small grassy knoll, playing perhaps the role of Indore’s very own playboy bunnies. As the only single fellow in the park, I settle down near two cuddling couples seated on benches in near darkness. As my eyes adjust to the light, I find couples crawling out of the greenwork. From behind a stone hippo, there’s another couple — the girl in a pink salwar and the guy with his arm around her neck. To the strains of Mohammad Rafi singing ‘Gustakhi maaf’ over the public address system, I leave the pleasure plains of Meghdoot... and find myself face to face with Dr S Raj. His clinic — below Ezee Academy (‘Physics, chemistry and maths with PET, PMT, CPMT, AIEEE, training also XI-XII commerce’) — is advertised in the daily, Agnibaan (epaper: agniban.co.in) in the following delicate manner: Raj Health Clinic, inexpensive cures for those suffering from weakness, problems or depression because of bad habits. I figure by looking at the accompanying picture of a white couple clearly in love, there’s no point asking Dr Raj to cure me of my smoking or BlackBerry habit.
He tells me that the men coming to him (“women go to gynaecologists”) are between the age group of 20 and 70. I do see a frail man come out as I enter the office, but I ask Dr Raj whether it surprises him that Indore is so high up on the list of premarital sex. He smiles and tells me, “There is no problem here. It’s quite open. Men mostly come here to get cured of ‘bad habits’. It’s mainly psychological.” Just for the record, I ask him whether by ‘bad habits’ he means masturbation. “Yes. That. They also come for discharge and addiction,” he says with a smile painted on his baby face.
“Premature ejaculation?” I venture to ask. “Yes, yes, shigrapathan, discharge.” “And addiction to sex?”
“No addiction to that. It leads to weakness of nerves, listlessness, loss of appetite...” “Yes, of course” I nod guiltily, thank him and shake his hand making sure once I’m out that I wipe my hand carefully.
What I do note with interest is Dr Raj’s comment that over the last ten years or so, younger men, who earlier would have felt embarrassed, now come to him and the scores of other clinics across Indore to get ‘cured’ of their ‘problems’.
It’s impossible for me to confirm whether Indore, a visibly conservative town like any other non-metro, is really the spot where young India gets busiest under the sheets unless......I am among Indore’s youngsters. Which I am at the Holkar Science College. I’ve landed in the middle of their annual college fest Ullas 2011 and the boys and girls are behaving like students anywhere else -- the usual huddles of girls, the swaggering prowl of guys. I don’t see any hand-holding, no tender moments in front or behind the bushes; just the usual giggles and flirting. The closest thing to nookie I find here are boys and girls exchanging mobile numbers. Well, what did I expect? UCLA prom night in a hot, sweaty Indore afternoon?
At the Indore Christian College, the story is the same. I even go to the men’s toilet to see if there’s any graffiti suggesting a more hormonally active life. I just find small flyers of tutorial classes posted on the walls of the stalls. On my way out, I meet the 44-year-old teacher Ashwini Sharma. He complains about the Madhya Pradesh government’s recent decision to switch to the semester system in all colleges resulting in students losing a year and more. “I’m from this college and when I was young, the authorities increased the fees by a few rupees. Buses were burnt. Kids today are not bothered these days. They don’t agitate,” he says with ‘agitation’ written in his eyes. “Now they’re only after careers and are all bindaas about the real problems.” Which is when I look across at the sprawling college field and spot four youngsters — two girls and two boys lolling about on the dusty grass — and realise what may be happening here in Indore: there priorities may have drastically changed from the hostile outdoors to the much more friendly privacy of the indoors. A sexual revolution I won’t be able to ever confirm or deny.
n email@example.com , ronjoy.gogoi @hindustantimes.com
The first in an occasional series which brings you snapshots of life from across the country