It was probably my fault. In a moment of weakness, brought on by a severely late night that I could have avoided and sheer physical inability to face the day before the sun had started its mournful descend down the clock, I found myself boarding a KSRTC Super Fast Passenger bus from Trivandrum to Cochin last Saturday. A journey I usually make in under five hours from behind the air-conditioned comfort of my steering wheel. I can do this, I told myself, I can middle class it one weekend.
My suspicion that the bus service was named by a clinically optimistic mid-level bureaucrat on a sleepy Friday afternoon many sleepy afternoons ago was confirmed almost as soon as we left the suburbs and hit the highway. "Why won't a Super Fast overtake autorickshaws?" inquired fellow-passengers, "I could have paid 50 bucks less and taken the Fast Passenger instead!" Aah the joys, and fleeting entitlement, we derive from public sector nomenclature.
I was still mulling over excuses to give my Mom on showing up a couple of days late for her sixtieth birthday when we stopped at the Kayamkulam bus station: a fifteen minute snack break, announced the conductor cheerfully. Desperate for a cigarette and having heard horror stories about how strictly the anti-smoking laws are enforced in Kerala, I made my way to the washroom while mapping out a Bourne-style mental lay of the land- here a cop, there a "No Smoking" sign, etc.
The washroom was a study in the famed Mallu eye for a quick buck. Under the cover of a desk that men in urgent need of bladder relief threw mandatory 1-rupee coins on before making their hasty way to the urinal, was a thriving cigarette business! See, the cops needed their nictonie fix too. So rather than let the law be flouted across the bus stand, they had quietly convened all lawlessness to a corner, where men could urinate and suck on phallus-shaped cancer sticks without detracting from the status quo. How empowering, how communal, to bum a light off a policeman to spark up a cigarette in a No-Smoking zone!
But if the washroom already evokes images of an Oscar Wilde-designed utopia, let's bear in mind that every revolution has a Dick That Takes It Too Far. So there I was, my body as far as possible from the urinal to avoid splashage, encouraging the little man to do maximum damage in lieu of the many hours of travel ahead, when I sensed this presence, this intrusion into the most private of men's worlds- the space between urinal walls.
I looked up, and sure enough, there's this middle-aged guy at the adjacent stall, his dhoti hitched up around his waist and neither hand on deck, peeking. I stood rooted to the spot in fear and embarrassment, unable to take my eyes off his face, as he continued to stare right at my cock and appeared to be shaking himself clean a little too vehemently.
It's my fault.
These shorts are a little too tight.
I am showing a little more leg than what may be considered savory.
Fuck this, I'm the Victim here!
"Seen enough?" I asked, in a voice calculated to imply manly, gym shower-indifference and the casual nature of having one's privates ogled at. That's when the Middle-Aged Masturbator looked up, calmly lifted a hand from underneath his dhoti, and proceeded to gently box my ear. "What'd you say?" he asked.
He hadn't even considered punching me, the patronly pervert, he thought it fitting to punish my bringing down the fourth wall with a clip of my ear!
Now say what you will of the Straight Man and his propensity to attribute all kinds of terror to the Unknown, but it arises out of a Fear that is both recurring and real: that of Another Man's Penis. It's a nightmare that twitches threateningly in the back of our minds, one that snakes its way without invitation into a multitude of our orifices from nostril to asshole on any given day of the week. Not that I didn't think I could take him in an altercation, but somehow the nature of his perversion filled me with images of him using his Penis as a weapon. I looked around the otherwise-empty washroom and decided I may very well end up in a Borat-style battle of the brosephs if I were to pick a fight. So I lowered my gaze, furious at myself for having backed down, zipped myself up as quickly as I could while the Middle-Aged Masturbator continued to have his merry way with my johnson in his mind.
I did manage a parting blow though, even if it was in flight. Business unsatisfactorily concluded (on my end, at any rate), I stepped back and kicked the guy right in the middle of his back. I didn't stay to bask in the glory of my legwork though few sounds have pleased my ear more than the sickening splash of all the collected urine in his pot as he helplessly lowered his hand in it to brace himself. Outside, I decided I could risk missing my bus to catch a glimpse of my tormentor's walk of shame. And if any political party promises to arm women (and... ahem.. boyishly good-looking men) using public transport in India with switchblades and guns, they have my vote.
Icy Highs's Video Recco: The Smoking Area clip from the always brilliant The IT Crowd