Saturday, November 19, 2005

The Swimsuit Syndrome

I had a very middle-class upbringing. As middle-class as it gets. Nothing wrong with that. The sole drawback is that you are not exposed (and exposed is the key-word here) to a lot of things when you are middle-class. Like glitzy pizza joints with over-indulgent waiters. Like boring discotheques with their psychedelic lighting to discourage people from reading inside. Like over-hyped designer-wear with so many holes one would think we are in the middle of the next great depression. And yes, like swimming pools. But more about that later.
In the neighbourhood where I grew up, there was this girl who lived near my house, P. P and I were not exactly Susie and Calvin in that a) she was elder to me by one year b) I had no qualms about spending most of my time at her place, playing whatever that a girl and a boy aged 4 and 5 played, and c) we were good friends, if not great. But we fought. Oh yes, just about all the time. And we made up, all the time. It's just that we didn't know it was called making up then. Among the many things I remember from that time, her grandma's dosas still stand out, the crispy aroma still fresh in the folds of my memory.
Anyway, like most of the children in the colony, we attended the same school. And our mothers -- apart from being good friends in the best traditions of middle-class neighbourhoods -- were members of the same ladies' club (the villain of this piece).
P and I grew up together. With the regularity of the monsoon rain in Chennai (unheard of in recent times until this year) we got promoted each year at school,and I continued to spend most of my time at her place, indulging in my favourite pastime of devouring her grandma's dosas. Cricket, hop-scotch (every Indian boy has played it at some point of time or the other in his life, only to deny it vehemently in later years in a wasted effort to defend his manhood), rubber-band wars, chameleon tracking, taking apart the name it. We had other friends of course, but somehow we came back to each other in times of great trouble. Like whenever P had to hide her report-card from her dad. Or like when the audio cassettes in my home were found unwound mysteriously, the magnetic tapes cut and strewn all over the living room, like a sheep's intestines at the butcher's -- I would be at P's house, establishing a water-tight alibi (I've always thought CDs were invented by someone who had a very curious kid).
So, all was fine, and we were well on our way to challenging Sawyer and Finn as the greatest buddies of all time, until fate reared, or as in our case -- exposed, its ugly head.
The women in my mom's laides' club were a dying species. They were an adventurous and enterprising sort, you see. You have to remember that I'm talking about a time, a dark period in the uncharted history of Indian middle-class women, before housewives discovered that intellectual salvation lay in predicting the daily twists of convoluted television soaps. So, the members of my mom's club, deprived of grey-matter-stimulating-execise decided to go on an outing. The proposed place -- a then newly opened amusement park in our city.
Yippee, I thought, when Mom told me this, for theme parks were still a novelty then, unlike now. And I looked forward to the trip, mentally crossing off the days on the calendar on my return from school everyday.
D-day arrived. Packed, and dressed nattily, all of us -- moms and kids -- took a bus to the park. It was a short journey, and alighting from the bus in front of the park, I looked around for my other buddies. I found all the boys huddled in a corner, much like the Indian Cricket team these days, engaged in animated discussion about world affairs. I barged in, only to be confronted with worried faces, looking at me as though Apocalypse had decided to pay a surprise visit.
Upon further enquiry, I learnt the bad news. The agenda for the day included a couple of hours at the swimming pool. And the pool meant we boys could wear nothing but trunks. In front of the girls! My little, 10-year old heart sunk in a deepening pool of despair -- I was in no mood to show off my under-developed anatomy to members from the fairer sex . You must understand that all of us boys were around a decade old, an age when our minds weren't pre-occupied with four and three-letter words.
I looked around to see where P was. And I found her amidst the girls, all of them huddled together, their faces worried, looking as though Apocalypse had decided to pay a surprise visit. I gathered they were not keen on strutting about in their swimsuits in front of us either!
On the other hand, our mothers were chatting busily, blissfully unaware of our predicament, looking forward to relaxing in the pool, away from the everyday rigours of family management.
The day went well, really. Ride after ride was taken in gloomy anticipation of a watery destiny, where we would all be stripped, literally, of our manliness even before it had a chance to bloom. And all the time the girls carefully kept away from our path and we, from theirs.
The fated hour came, and we boys headed for the locker, our rented swimming trunks bunched in our hands. We changed in a jiffy, but none of us were keen on coming out, until our moms started hollering out for us from the pool.
Swimming pools, by nature, are not replete with hiding places. And we 'men' needed to hide our lowly selves before the 'women' saw us. Think about it. There was the locker and then there was the pool. And of course there were a few bushes scattered around the pool, which meant a lot of boys were suddenly displaying a newfound interest in the local vegetation -- especially those whose trunks were on the shorter side. The rest of us resorted to testing the elastic limit of our shorts -- pulling it down below our knees, only to find the hem sliding down, which was even more dangerous -- finally ending up performing a perpetual pull-down-pull-up act.
And then the girls came out of their lockers. Dressed in their swimsuits. And I saw P, even though I really didn't want to. And she saw me. At about the same time. I must admit, she looked pretty, but right then the only thought in my mind spelt C-O-V-E-R. And we passed each other, not daring to look up, to diagonally opposite corners of the pool, so as to get as much distance between each other as possible.
It took some time before I recovered from the shock of being seen and having seen, before I realized that the best cover at the pool is the pool itself -- the water rides be cursed, I decided I wasn't going to leave the water and risk being exposed again (now you know why that word has had a profound impact in my life). I took to the water much like a hippopotamus -- ever saw the rest of the hippo's body at the zoo?
That fateful day was when P and I contracted the swimsuit syndrome. Whenever I met P after that, I would see an apparition of her in her swim-suit. And I'm sure she had the same vision of me. We could see it in each other's eyes. Which meant our conversations from then on were reduced to the following:
Me: "...hi..." So, you saw me, huh?
P: "...hi..." You saw me first!
Me:" some homework to finish...see you later" Can we not talk about this?
P: "...umm me too...bye" Yes, I agree totally.
Needless to say, P and I drifted apart -- the indelible memory of that tragic day was too much for our tender hearts. Our budding relationship was nipped by fate -- fate always has other plans. And it was some time before I could get myself to frequent any swimming pool.
You know, T.V. soaps aren't that bad, after all. Think about the bond between a little boy and a little girl which could have been saved the next time you curse soap operas on the box.
On the other hand, may all ladies' clubs be damned!


. : A : . said...

Very interesting story and syndrome. It is errie how the smallest of things can have such a big impact on our lives.

consumerdemon said...

i have a photograph of a guy-friend and me in a blue bathtub together.. it's an adorable picture... we were about 3 years old. but all i could think of when i saw it a few years ago was "Oh my god! 'A' saw me naked!". it didn't change anything between us, but we sorta lost tounch during college.

MumbaiGirl said...

Lovely post-do you know where P is now?

Scribbler said...

"P and I".... the life of PI! Nicely written.

Arden Forester said...

I really think the best blogs are from the sub-continent! This is a really good read!

Accidental Fame Junkie said...

I agree with English, August. Little things can scar us for life.

My analysis: since it was a pre-pubescent time, you guys would have grown to be shy anyways in a few years time.

Anonymous said...

Nice story dood !!! Really good story telling !!!

Brood Mode said...

good work! i IMAGINED! lol

Anonymous said...

its been a while u know........

musafir said...

@ everyone who reads this blog and takes time out to comment: Well, this is one heck of a late reply, but life can be quite a handful at times...

@ scribbler and arden forester: Thanks a lot!

@ .:a:.: Yes, couldn't agree more.

@ consumer demon: Hahaha - I know what you were going through. What I can't stand is my mom going around showing my relatives pictures of me when I was a little kid, in my birthday suit - sheesh!!

@ mumbaigirl: Thanks! Yes, P still lives in the same neighbourhood. We're still good friends, though I've not met her for quite some time now. *note to self: go meet P*

@ afj: Things turned out different. Quite a lot of us didn't grow up to be "shy". On the contrary,...

@anonymous 1: Thanks - but "storytelling"?

@ brood_mode: :D

@ anonymous 2: I know...

Akhil S Behl said...

hahaha.. i wonder if this is the reason you are finding it hard to find a swimming trunk these days! come on get over the past! :P