Lindsay Pereira: Making room for love in Mumbai

Too long have this city’s couples been forced to sneak around to find a little love and privacy, but perhaps now, it’s finally time to get a room

A large number of young people were happy earlier this week, after being told that there is now a hotel booking site that allows couples to book rooms for 8 to 10 hours. The site reportedly picks hotels that don’t have a problem with unmarried couples, hence the reason for that happiness.

I haven’t tried the service yet, nor can I say for certain that the police won’t abandon their focus on serious crime in order to keep an eye on people using the site. After all, they have long felt the need to keep an eye on couples more than an eye on their corrupt colleagues.

A young couple steal a kiss under the unmbrella at Marine Drive — a common sight in this city, where finding privacy can be quite a task. File pic/Satyajit Desai

What I do know is that this piece of information made me sad for a number of reasons, starting with the fact that I am no longer a teenager and can’t remember the last time I was excited about a hotel room. What made me more upset, was how we continue to demonise people who want nothing more than a quickie or a cuddle, simply because it goes against our regressive ideas of what a couple should and shouldn’t be allowed to do.

Let’s put into perspective what we all seem to have a huge problem with: People having sex.

One would assume this sort of forced reticence would lead to a drop in our ever-expanding population. This hasn’t happened, obviously. One would assume young people would give up the idea of sex and hope for a chaste relationship involving nothing more than mild pecks on cheeks. That hasn’t happened either. What, then, do we hope to accomplish by continuing to demonise couples just because they feel an urge that is human?

Much has been written and said about how we, as Indians, are more sexually regressive than ever before. Those looking for proof can find it everywhere — from the way men constantly stare at women in skirts, to the way adults usher children out of rooms the minute someone on television decides to kiss someone else, to the way ridiculously ordinary words like ‘breast’, ‘ass’ and ‘butt’ are censored despite the fact that they have no sexual connotations whatsoever. Who decides what is allowed and what isn’t anyway? No one knows. No one seems to care either, which is why The Jungle Book gets a U/A certificate in our country.

The psychoanalyst and novelist Sudhir Kakar tried figuring out why so many of our countrymen are the way they are, in his book The Indians: Portrait of a People. Referring to our sexual repression, he pointed out that Indians were once very erotic people who eventually lost a long-standing battle between erotica and asceticism. This, he added, explained why the temples of Khajuraho depicted the pleasures of oral sex while our honourable Censor Board made it hard for filmmakers to show two adults kissing.

Kakar asks us to look at the poetry of Jayadeva’s Gita Govinda or sculptures in medieval temples, blaming our puritanical streak on the advent of foreign invaders who either forced their repressive ideologies on to us, or made us seem inferior, forcing us to adopt Victorian notions of morality that eventually consumed us. The result is the inability of couples today to find a room they can just make out in, without the risk of being
arrested.

This isn’t about just unmarried people having sex either. Millions of married folk struggle to find a bit of privacy in our city, which compels them to hide under umbrellas along Worli seaface for a kiss. They’re not sure about whether that’s punishable either. Not too long ago, the police decided to conduct a raid on several lodges and two-star hotels. They knocked on doors, arrested couples and took them to police stations where they were humiliated in public for over five hours. Interestingly, this happened in an area where a spurious liquor racket was allowed to flourish, leading to the death of over 104 people. See what I mean about priorities for the police?

The start-up in question doesn’t solve every problem. Couples who want to book a room still need to furnish government ID proof from both partners, who should be at least 18 years of age.

If the Mumbai police had their way, consenting unmarried adults would never be allowed to have sex or enjoy any kind of privacy. I hope teenagers do their bit to fight this. If you’re a teenager reading this, I hope you do the right thing. Go and get a room.

When he isn’t ranting about all things Mumbai, Lindsay Pereira can be almost sweet. He tweets @lindsaypereira. Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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