After having sex on the chipped kitchen floor, Rahul and his wife Sneha dare not stretch to relax.
Because if they do, the steel vessels washed after dinner may just tumble off the wooden table on which they are kept; the table, which has a broken leg, is a mere millimetre away from Rahuls elbow.
After four years of marriage, this couple is no longer conscious of the space constraints in their 220 square foot house a chawl in Mahim.
And sex for them is simply an act that helps them achieve satisfaction. As Rahul says, In this space, forget foreplay and other stuff. Get done with it before my parents, or our child, wake up.
Rahul and Snehas story is an oft-repeated one in the city at least 55 per cent households in Mumbai suffer similar problems which hamper their sex life and sexual drive. As per census records, more than 50 per cent of Mumbaiwallahs live in slums, while another five to eight per cent live in chawls or one-room flats.
Consequently, sex for all of them is a very public affair. Often as is the case with another married couple, Salim and Rehana the only things separating a copulating couple from the rest of their family are curtains or shabby wooden planks.
Worse: Many couples are forced to sink themselves deep into dark-coloured blankets which serve as the perfect camouflage if they are having sex and sharing their bed with other family members.
Since we got married, Ive been sleeping with my husband on the kitchen floor. Its the only time we get any privacy. The fact that the floor hurts under a thin bed sheet or that anyone can step in at any time is of little concern, says Sneha.
Other families have a more co-operative system in place. When Vikhroli-based Sahils elder brother got married a few years ago, the newly-married couple moved into the only bedroom in the house, while its previous occupants, their parents, began to sleep in the hall.
When Sahil got married last year, he and his bride got the same bedroom, while his brother and wife shifted out in the hall.
It was a strange arrangement, but we all just understood, says Sahil, who has since bought a new home in Thane.
Its just satisfaction, not sex
Dr Prakash Kothari, a sexologist who counsels many couples facing similar problems, says that for lower middle class people, sex is simply about release, the attainment of satisfaction.
They just need to satisfy themselves and theyre actually happy, explains Dr Kothari.
According to him, people living in such households adapt to their circumstances and find ways of having sex. Sometimes husbands who go off to work come back home when the children have gone to school. Some couples take weekends off together or if they can afford it, check into a lodge, Kothari said.
Prashant and Trupti are one such couple, frequenting a small hotel in Chembur. However after a police raid there, they never went back.
Vikhroli-based Srikhant says he and his wife would use his aunts residence in Navi Mumbai to have sex.
She has a bigger house, with two rooms. One room was exclusively for us, says Shrikant.
Impact on children
Dr Dayal Mirchandani, a psychologist, says that lovemaking particularly in the presence of children can negatively impact them.
Seeing and hearing their parents have sex can give children the wrong idea about sex. Also, if they are going to regularly witness it, it will have a great impact on how they view sex as adults, he says.
Eighteen-year-old Lata Sriram, a resident of Dharavi, is uncomfortable about sex. Her parents engaged in intercourse in her presence since the time she was a child.
When my elder sister went off to school, my father would come back home. My parents would then make love. Id feel odd seeing them without their clothes. They neglected me for a few hours, or theyd give me sweets so that Id keep quiet, says Sriram.
Mumbai is for couples
RN Sharma, head of Urban Studies at Tata Institute of Social Sciences says that Mumbai is a city meant for couples, and most couples here are happy. This city is hostile to someone whos alone. But thats not the case with couples. Couples in this city always survive better, no matter what their problems, he says.