There are very few moments when you can claim to be truly “startled”. It’s one of those things that happen to other people. In fiction. Like, “Ross said Rachel, and Emily was startled”.
I was at the Carter Road Promenade in Bombay recently. It’s that place where people look towards the sea and pretend the city behind them doesn’t exist. That equips them to face the city when they do, in fact, face the city. It was 9:30 a.m., so the only people there were assorted people who don’t have bosses. People who’ve made too much money to care, people who don’t care about money, and me: out on a morning run so I could justify my lust for carbs.
“Morning” tends to be a very subjective term when you’re a freelancer.
Benches line this 1 km stretch for old people to sit and wonder where their life has gone, and young people to think where their life is going. I saw something more rooted in the present.
There were 3 people on this bench, comfortable in their space while they jostled for more, in a fashion typical of Bombay. One guy and two girls, two of them were wearing a burqa. I won’t tell you who. The guy and one girl seemed to be a couple, in that pre-kiss zone, one skillful maneuver away from ripping each other’s’ clothes apart. The kind of simmer you achieve on delaying the inevitable.
I’m not generalizing, but two people kissing are usually a couple. So we’ll work with that assumption. The other girl was sitting calculated inches away from them to not interfere.
Even “privacy” tends to be a subjective term when you have little space.
Now those are just the facts. Like most facts, they’re true, but less interesting than what I did with them in my head.
The “startling” bit came to me a second later: THE BURQA IS FULL OF POSSIBILITIES! In the limited burqa interaction I’d had in my life, this had to fall under “Best use of burqa”.
I also learnt that when you get startled, you say “Ohhh!”. Like the “Ohhh!” you say when your friend tells you the “friend” he’s brought to your party has been his girlfriend for 3 months.
The burqa is beautiful, and the beauty of it lies in the eyes of the wearer. Here was a symbol of repression being turned into one of liberation, even rebellion. Presumably, this is what happened. Call it the Sharia version of Sex and the City:
Girl and boy want sexy time, but how to get sexy time when family be like “No sexy time. Marriage first. Dibs.”
But when girl want sexy time, girl get sexy time.
Girl see symbol of repressed sexuality, girl turn it into key to liberation.
Family say, “Where you go, Amina?”. Amina say, “Oh just close by. Sufi night is happening.”
“Don’t go alone, Amina!”
“Lol, not going alone! Sultana also coming”
“Oh then it’s fine.”
Because Sultana is a nice girl. I mean, you HAVE to be a nice girl when you calmly sit while your friend gets laid. That niceness must spill over to other spheres of her life too, enough for Amina’s parents to go “Oh don’t worry. If she’s going with Sultana, she’s not going to have sex. Trust me.” Poor Amina is probably allowed to go out only if when accompanied by Sultana, who won’t arouse suspicion. Even if some suspicion, in this aroused environment, is aroused, only Amina, Sultana and the guy know they are Amina and Sultana. Nobody else will ever find out. What a plan.
At this point, I’m only thinking of Sultana. The girl who’s bringing joy to two people who’ve found their sources of joy. Does SHE have joy? Does she have love? Will Amina come with her when SHE has to sit on a bench? Or will she be a total bitch and say “I already have plans yaar”
As she sat there, third-wheeling, she did what most people do when they have to feign business: look into her phone. I hope she gets the text she’s waiting for. So that she can rub it in Amina’s selfish face.
I’m team Sultana. I’m sure it’s not easy having a restricted view of romance in full bloom.
Especially through a burqa.
P.S.: I saw them for barely one second while I was in motion and they were stationary.