One day I had a terrible craving for pasta. Too lazy to go out, I borrowed some penne from my flatmate's pantry. As I sat slurping on pasta alla puttanesca, I had a funny feeling that something wasn’t quite right. I stared at a half-eaten piece for a long minute, trying hard to figure out just what was wrong with my dinner. It looked pretty normal at first glance. It was tubular, but in a strange, elongated sort of way. With a sinking heart, I picked up the packet and read the label: ‘Penis Pasta’. I’d mistaken little dicks for little tubes.
Last week was something like that. I was on holiday in Leh and decided to drop by the hotel gym. Once again, everything appeared to be just fine. Yet, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I had wrongly assumed something about this place. I looked around suspiciously. The over-enthusiastic coaches, the smell, the fitness balls, the flirty weightlifters—all looked familiar enough. Still, it didn't feel like just another fitness club.
It was only when I got up to go to the toilet that I saw him. Bald, podgy and plonked on a sickeningly red sofa, he was smiling blissfully at nothing and no one in particular. There was a slight movement behind him and suddenly up popped grandma from behind the couch, so swiftly and casually that had I not been staring I never would've noticed the change in seat occupancy. Stunned, I looked around. Everywhere people sat or worked out in groups of two. And they'd spaced themselves out so that no couple was less than 15 ft apart. That was when it hit me. I had come to the town’s hook-up joint. And not just any hook-up joint. Every single person here was middle-aged. What the early morning movie screening was to young lovers, the late night gymnasium turned out to be for uncles and aunties—booty call central.
"Well, why else would you go to a gym in Ladakh?" demanded a friend when I told him about my mountain revelations. A marketing manager, twice divorced at 41, he had recently begun dating a 28-year-old model who shared a Mumbai apartment with four other girls. The couple collectively earned Rs 3 lakh every month. Yet, financial freedom had in no way guaranteed them sexual independence. "We can't do it at her place, she doesn't want one of the girls telling her dad that she's with an older man. At my place, I have my son and two full-time servants." And so they had to make do with the tired old routine of empty parking lots, hotel rooms, restaurant toilets, public parks, movie halls, spas and bars.
Now I know that sex in strange places is all part of growing up; an accepted rite of passage. How many times had friends called to say, "If my parents ask, I stayed at your house last night.."? At parties, nobody bats an eyelid if a couple is missing and the bathroom door has been locked for over an hour. "Diarrhoea," we'll all agree unanimously while patiently waiting for our turn to make love on the shower floor. When my best friend's dad booked a room in the same hotel as her lover, I didn't think twice about distracting him with a game of poker. And who hasn't used their pets, siblings or examinations as an excuse to step out of the house atleast once in their sexual lifetime? Still, somehow, I always believed that once I was all grown-up, I'd never run out of places to have sex. But chancing upon granny and uncle at a high altitude gym had given a fresh spin on things: grown-ups didn't have it any better.
But the real lesson came a few nights later. I was on a date with a thirty-something architect. After dinner, he put down his napkin and asked, as if it was the most natural thing in the world, “So, your cupboard or mine?” At first, I figured he must’ve been joking and agreed to go home together. But he hadn’t. He’d literally meant: the cupboard. A hidden closet he had designed and built into the back wall of his parent’s house. It contained a rug, a hand-held fan and a hanging flashlight. On the rug, a plate of brownies, a packet of Durex and an Evian bottle had been thoughtfully placed. “I think you’ll find everything you need in here,” he beamed, handing me a glass of whisky from daddy’s private bar, hastily adding, “Don’t worry, I’ll replace it with water. He'll never come to know.”
I wanted so much to take up his cupboard proposal. I liked him. He was cute, treated me well and we shared similar interests. Was I really going to dump somebody because they couldn’t afford South Delhi real estate? Besides, the rug looked comfy enough. I was about to nod my approval, when, he flung an empty Evian bottle next to the brownies. “If you need to take a piss.”
I’ve broken up with him since. I said, “I don’t think I’m ready to have sex before marriage.” I think he understood because he’s still on my Facebook friends list. And once in a while he WhatsApps me photos of the upgrades to his secret closet-a new divan, wireless Bose speakers, bags of double-stuffed Oreos, shatterproof beer mugs, a sex swing. The empty Evian bottle however, remains. A reality-check in his room of temptation.
The truth is I wish it was easier for unmarried people to hook-up. I wish my mother understood that it’s safer for me to make love at home than in strange rooms and moving vehicles. I wish I didn’t have to keep a sex trust to fund my affairs. And I really, almost savagely, wish I could save myself the trouble and time it takes to plan seduction schemes. But till such day, I think I’m going to close the dooron cupboards. There are some things that you just don't do for sex. Just like there are some things you can never use Alpine mineral water for.