Editor’s Note: This post is a part of What's A Man, a series exploring masculinity in India, in collaboration with Dr. Deepa Narayan. Join the conversation here!
So, what do we feel when conversations drift to our adolescent years? A blissful nostalgia overwhelms us as we tread through those formative years of our lives. We talk endlessly about the sports we played, the adventures we had, the mingling of a bunch of friends soaked in a perennial brush of spring in our undying spirits. The fights, the bantering, the classes, the teachers, the wrong things that went right and the right things that went wrong… the list is endless.
We talk about the open spaces available, we talk about the greenery, we talk about a life in which being the person we were meant more than anything else. We often dream about going back to the ‘good old days’. In all our social discussions on the ‘best days’, one tale is seldom mentioned. And even back then, it was discussed in hush-hush tones, until of course, it so pre-occupied every discussion that the calm tones resonated like a full-score orchestra. Yes, I am talking about the dreaded three-letter word from our childhood and our first acquaintance to the bees and birds talk.
I have read some writers (mostly from the West) talk about their incessant mental preparation to deal with the innocent queries of their growing children and how well or badly they delivered their first sermon. I often wonder what hell might have broken loose if I had in the ‘good old days’ innocuously asked my father about it. If I had survived with a mild physical battering, it would have been one of those days when my father would be in a good mood with lady luck beaming at me. So, how did I know about ‘that thing’? How did I, rather, we react? My journey in this discovery would be reminiscent to all lads of our generation from middle-class families and educated in a boy’s school. So let the forbidden track be unravelled: let’s talk about SEX!
It all started with a discussion with a few buddies from the neighbourhood when we were 11 years old during the summer vacations. The discussion about “how babies are born” was taking place in an old abandoned hut, with voices low and apprehensive, so as to not arouse the curiosity of any passerby. All four of us had four different explanations: one said the woman’s stomach had to be cut, and the other opined that it was the belly button while I was sure it had something to do with the anus. It was the fourth lad who led who stumped us all with his sacrilegious certainty that it came out from “that place” in a woman’s body and something was done to put the baby in the stomach in the first place. This something he explained in barely audible voice was sex!
I could not believe his nonsense and decided to pursue the matter further with an older guy whom I had befriended some time back. So, I gathered all the courage and asked him about it. He gave that wry smile and explained everything; everything to the minutest detail. ‘Stunned’ would be an understatement. For the next week, that was this only thing that I could think about, till I was sufficiently confident, that I could explain it to a friend of mine.
So it took a fine Sunday afternoon to present my newfound wisdom to my friend. He got so worked up that it was nearly dark when the discussion came to end. The last part of the discussion is still vividly clear in my memory when he asked me which girl I would like to have sex with. Swine! That little rascal!
Back in the classroom in school, as if by sheer miracle, half the class at nearly the same time had had their first brush with the idea of sex. That summer vacation, we had magically uncovered the biggest secrets of our little lives. Some of the newbies were given thorough lessons and with so many teachers at their disposal, it didn’t take time. So, every subject break was dominated by the topic. Sports, our favourite topic otherwise, had been pushed to the back-burner.
The sheer shock in the face of some of the boys when they discovered the truth was a sight of pure pleasure. As days and months rolled by, sex was no longer a topic discussed in the closet. By the time, our voices changed, as we hit puberty, sex was discussed in the open amongst friends with little inhibition. The one with the highest knowledge was generally the coolest dude in the class. And the sure shot claim to fame was to bring a condom to the class and blow it in the shape of a balloon. And undoubtedly the gossip on that particular day revolved around that balloon.
However, a strange thing started to happen over a period of time. The class, as if by the sneering laws of caste system, got divided into three distinct groups. The studious boys with their manners and lesson was one group, the back-benchers (incidentally most of them were large-sized) with their expletives and muscle power was the other group, while misfits like us formed the third, navigating between the two worlds.
This was the time when the fantasy world of Mermaid and Debonair made a dramatic entry into our teenage lives. It was available in the last rows of the class. The first glance of a naked Caucasian woman would send our already raging hormones into tipsy. And there was the variety to choose from: playing cards with the naked back to the naked front, postcards, magazines, stories et al. Everyone wanted a pie of this infinite treasure, even the gentle souls of the first seat. But one glance at any of it had the potential to break that carefully conjured social structure of the class. But I am sure everyone had a fantasy world of their own.
A crowd in the last benches with some prying eyes guarding the window during the class break meant that some porn star with enormous bosoms was gazing us with her lusty eyes. A few boys were also caught red-handed while relishing the holy books. A few parents call, a few warnings; however in a few days’ time everything was normal, the old status quo had to be maintained.
Mundane things like mating of dogs in the streets aroused such interest in us that we could stand there and watch them do it for a few minutes if the street was deserted. Some of the more sinister ones would hurl stones to separate the beasts in their soulful union.
One of the most dramatic scenes in school was in the Biology class. One of the first benchers shot his arm out and asked the teacher the meaning of “semen”. I could literally hear the collective sigh of the entire class! If we could, by magic, make the teacher disappear, the scenes in the class would resemble such chaotic assemblage of laughter that it would have shaken the whole school building. The teacher took time to answer and gauging by the reaction of his classmates, the lad understood that he had ventured into the forbidden zone of sex. I doubt he even half listened to the feeble attempt at the explanation of the teacher. He was undoubtedly more worried about post class reaction of the school press!
In the next year, by the time we had graduated to ogling girls in the nearby girls’ school, there were these two most exciting chapters in biology: Reproduction 1 and Reproduction 2. The Biology instructor was a pretty, young, unmarried lady. But alas, those two chapters were not included in the syllabus. I had never seen the boys so agitated at being denied something to study. But we were students from an all boys’ school and each one of us would read and reread the two chapters for many months. Some of the boys had also drawn a funny caricature of the private parts of the human anatomy in our Science book. The benches of the classes and the toilets were also the places where these caricature artists were in full flow. Cartoons of sex scenes, over-sized penises, profane expletives adorned all desks in the class except one: the class teacher’s!
So that is the way it went and as the years rolled by, we completed school in the year 2000. And over the years, as the raging hormones gradually subsided, I wonder how different it would have been had I been able to ask my father about sex and he politely answered all my queries. Would growing up in a boy’s school still be that exciting? Well, I simply don’t care much. I would not have it any other way!