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Thou shalt not! The pleasure of doing the forbidden

What is it that makes the forbidden fruit so sweet?

brunch Updated: Oct 14, 2018 00:05 IST
Rehana Munir
Rehana Munir
Hindustan Times
rehana munir,ht brunch,forbidden fruit
The forbidden apple somehow tastes that much sweeter than a legitimately procured fruit from the local organic ethical famers’ store(Photo imaging: Parth Garg)

Cake for breakfast. A two-hour nap. No shower. Drunk-dialling an ex while sober. Ordering that long-lusted-after illustrated book on sale at that Evil Corporate Retail Store. Leaving the bed unmade all weekend. The dishes unwashed. The cupboard unkempt. Calls avoided. Work shirked. Wearing a denim shirt two sizes too large and two decades too old. There’s a special kind of pleasure in doing what thou hast been told not to by that prefect in your head. So where does this joy in the forbidden spring from?

“I can resist anything but temptation.”

Said Oscar Wilde, Lord of the Epigram. And at the turn of the last century, this was a damning weakness indeed. Wilde was, of course, fond of boys and paid with his life in a hopelessly repressive Victorian society. But for most of us, the pleasures of the flesh are less damning. I have seen friends who’ve sworn off carbs polish off a loaf of bread dunked in a meaty jus with a wild frenzy. Who’ve mourned the loss of a job with a shopping binge. Made deep romantic commitments on a Thursday only to have opted out of them in someone else’s futon on the following Saturday night. The lure of the forbidden, the Not Allowed, is universal.

The thing is, for all the remorse and regret that may follow, surrendering to temptation does offer a slice of unalloyed pleasure. The forbidden apple somehow tastes that much sweeter than a legitimately procured fruit from the local organic ethical famers’ store. Why should it be that way?

Unforbidden pleasures

Psychoanalyst and literary essayist Adam Phillips, in his book Unforbidden Pleasures, talks about the joy of that which is not taboo. The possibility of extracting happiness from experiences that have not been termed transgressive by either society and its mores, or the moral police in one’s own head. This strikes me as a radical idea. For millennia, humans have entangled themselves with the idea of sin, crimes and misdemeanours. And from biblical stories to contemporary memes, pleasure has been inextricably linked with pain. Fun with punishment.

What if it didn’t have to be that way? For years now, I’ve been accused of peddling a form of boredom by my party-animal friends. “You’re so boring,” they say, when I retreat to my room at a sane hour with a book. If you do not stay up till 3am, shouting the lyrics to Apache Indian’s Arranged Marriage, throwing up into the neighbour’s garage, then you haven’t really lived, I am told. The longer I live, the more I’m interested in the morning after than the night before. I like to think of this as being forward-thinking. Prevention is better than Disprin.

There’s a special kind of pleasure in doing what thou hast been told not to by that prefect in your head

It’s better to have lust and lost…

I think I’m finally getting somewhere with this idea of temptation in my own life. It’s not about indulging every whim and fancy. What’s important is to feel the temptation; an inert, untemptable condition is horrible to imagine. Buddhist equanimity is a fine idea, but I see it more as a grand ideal that helps one regulate wildly fluctuating emotions. Not to be swayed, tempted, led astray, is not to feel. And an unfeeling life is a diminished life.

I recently had this mad craving for a food that’s taboo even to the omnivores I know. The no-frills New Riyaz Restaurant near Bandra Station serves a ‘bheja cutless’ (brain cutlet fry) and ‘cold custered’ (caramel custard) that have been family favourites for decades. I ordered the delicacies and waited for delivery. Somehow, the delivery guy was determined not to find my building and I was equally determined not to step out and meet him at a nearby landmark. After some 25 minutes of agonising over the delivery location, I requested that he head back to the restaurant. Ravenous by then, I found solace in the inevitable microwaved dal chawal. Where greed was, hunger had arrived. Temptation had been sidestepped. And still there was pleasure – simple, unforbidden, satisfying.

Lesson learnt and all that. But the restaurant really must tie up with a delivery app. And do try the biryani, too, if you’re in the neigbourhood.

From HT Brunch, October 14, 2018

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First Published: Oct 13, 2018 22:46 IST