I had just finished eighth std., which means I was 13 year old. There was much to rejoice for, it was summer time and it was “Summertime @ Prithvi.”
I had religiously spent each summer running around like a colored speck in the very colorful premises of the Prithvi theatre. It would be K and me mostly, being our precocious selves, sipping coffee after class to deliberate over the issues in our grownup world.
That summer we were doing an interesting workshop. I do not remember what it was, why it was and why I care enough even right now to proclaim it interesting but I remember one class particularly being “raising up the eyebrow” material.
As part of rudimentary theatre exercises, the ones you do before you actually ‘do’ theater, we had to pair up with a partner of the opposite sex and then stand facing them, close our eyes and touch them all over.
Yes, that is what it exactly was.
So, I was randomly braced with this guy, and we found our little private space under the peering of the million imaginary eyes which probably included my dead grandmother. In our relatively safe cocoon, we stood like statues, surprised at our own lack of moment, considering my heart was beating fast enough to shake the foundation of the building.
I think I asked him to start. I closed my eyes and waited. He started at my hair, both his hands moist and light travelling down my face, his fingers feeling like fleeting tears going down my cheek to my chin, resting at my neck, stopping and then moving again to my shoulders, pausing, pausing and halting completely. I hear him breathe. Inhale. Exhale. His hands moving down my arms, holding my palms and then just when I thought he had gained momentum, he stops again briefly, confused, nervous and scared, he reaches for my tummy and then my hips and quickly shifts to my thighs and calves and feet. It is done. For him.
The idea of the exercise was to be comfortable in one’s skin, to rid oneself of the self-consciousness, shyness and the occasional vanity. So that we could interact with each other, free of our baggage, our ego and our bodies.
Honestly, I do not remember where I touched him, how I laid my hands of him and whether I touched him at all. I just remember that I followed the instructions to the dot and embarrassed him. I hope he was not scarred for life.
I remember this episode often followed by how progressive and fun I thought it was. How brave and fearless I felt after it.
Strangely, I go through this episode every single day now. Only this time, instead of a lone boy, I have at least five women stuck against me at every angle from calf to ear, sweaty and smelly. Such is the morning Mumbai local if you have every traveled in it.
If nothing, that experimental afternoon in the faraway past sufficiently prepared me for several crowded, busy mornings to come.