The popkini will make your eyes pop!

I understand that the days when my mother or my aunt used to wear their sarikinis not just when they went for their midday dip in the kitchen pond in Dhaneshkhali, the ancestral hellhole, but everywhere, such as when cooking hilsa fish in mustard in the kitchen or teaching philosophy – Kant & Hegel, no less – in a rather conservative girls college in north Kolkata – long breath! – are finally & irrevocably over. My mother lived to the age of 84 without ever having worn so much as a salwarkini and my aunt – wonder what she thinks of the whole debate over bikinis & burqinis?

That subtle q goes all the way back to Omar Khayaam & Lawrence of Arabia, or to the days of Orientalism and Edward Said – it’s not what he said, Edward said lots of things but his name was Said, Sa-yid, poor man, it’s like being called Thus Spake Zarathustra. So Spake is your middle name? Orientalism was such shit, I think at times, that they had to do away with it. Imagine a whole new romantic vocabulary based on mispronunciations – such as burqini, or bikini, for that matter.

Let’s go to the online etymology dictionary or what’s the Internet for? The bikini is apparently a French coinage, from 1947, named after the American A-bomb test of June 1946 on Bikini, Marshall Islands atoll. Apparently the ruddy place was called pikkini in the local tongue, pik meaning surface and ni meaning a coconut – eh? The analogy is with the explosive force of the bomb & the impact of the bathing suit style on men’s libidos, the dictionary tells me. It doesn’t have to. I know.

So there I was, a nicens little Bengali boy from the land of sarikinis suddenly transported to the land of – wait! I saw all those women in Germany & elsewhere in their dresses and thought, shouldn’t they have something like an aanchal or a dupatta draped over a certain part of their torso? Until Kasia looked at me in this self-knitted dress of hers and said – not Said or Sa-yid – “You want me to?” I thought she said, “You want me too?” And Occidentalism was born, more by accident than intent.

I’ve been to lots of beaches since then & seen what the uninitiated eyes of an LMC Bengali boy were never meant to see – until I got bored & curled up under the parasol behind the wind screen & went to sleep while all those delectable women pranked about in their – khair, however, as we Indians say. It’s as with the house dust allergy, I got immune.

I am, of course, immune to burqas and burqinis, or to burkas and burkinis, for that matter, even if they remind me of medieval knights & their armour in the days of yore. On the other hand, you could place me on a beach in Brittany or a beach on the Baltic coast among women sporting any and every kind of swimwear and I wouldn’t bat an eyelid. I acknowledge that there are still women in this world who would make any man feel like chewing up the bath towel but that is neither their fault nor ours. Let me put it this way. It was in New Delhi. Two DTC buses had managed to rub shoulders with some minor damage to both; the two irate Jat bus drivers were having it out verbally, mainly by calling each other the choicest of names in the one language really suited for that purpose viz. Punjabi! ‘It’s all your fault,’ one of them was saying. ‘No, it’s your fault, you such-and-such,’ the other countered. This went on for some time, both buses, complete with passengers, waiting for the outcome. And then the Jat drivers said – not Said/Sa-yid – ‘Kasoor bus-da!’ Which means, in Punjabi, it’s the buses’ fault. And they parted as buddies. And I hope that’s what mankind & womankind will do at the end of The Great Burbiqini Debate, unless it turns into a battle!

The great thing about the burbiqini debate is the general unease it has created in the minds of most, from the most liberal to the most conservative – on both sides! Am I right or am I wrong? Is a woman in a bikini sinful or not? Is a woman in a burqini an insult to human/modern/rational/western civilisation or not? And it’s not the woman but the effect the infamous piece of apparel has on men, on Man, on me, for that matter. Is there a thermometer for the libido? Does the temperature of my libido go up by several notches when I see a woman in Exhibit A instead of in Exhibit B? And what about Exhibit C or the sarikini? There is not a Hindi film from the sixties & the seventies in which the heroine does not get wet in the sarikini, she falls into a pond or a puddle if it’s not raining. And it has the same unsettling effect as the bikini or even the burqini, with the right kind of figure (sexist, yo!). Indian painting boasts any number of water-pot carrying beauties in clingy, wet saris. As for the west, just go and check up on all the Venuses and Aphrodites and garden nymphs in general who were surprised in their marble drapery – and still managed to look quite sexy! Readings on the libido thermometer for bath- and beachwear from past centuries show the same thing: water boils at 100 C°. So what do we conclude?

It’s the buses’ fault – as the Jat bus drivers deduced. As with the Delhi traffic, the moment you put men and women together, things start happening… Segregation! That’s it! That’s the solution! If the women have their own beaches, their own country and their own world, in short, they can go and wear whatever they like… what? They don’t like it? What d’you mean? They want us to watch? Well, well, well.

We are barking up the wrong tree in the Great Burbiqini Debate, I realised while watching a report on the MTV Video Music Awards of 2016. What Beyoncé, Britney, Rihanna &co. were wearing on stage could only have been the product of centuries of research on the libido, how to bring it to the boil & keep it on the boil! And I won’t even talk about Kim Kardashian or Nicki Minaj, bless ’em. Looking at those ladies shakin’ their booties pack’d in the most suggestive & imaginative popkinis, while the audience went wild, it became clear to me that the question is not what women wear when they go swimming, but what they wear when they go singing! Or to award functions, for that matter.

So while the rest of us are stroking our salt-and-pepper beards or unfurling our good old burn the brakini banners, the younger generation is being raised on sterner stuff. Thirteen and fourteen year olds now inhabit a planet on which sexuality is a game & a plaything – and like all games & apps, available for download – but it is no longer the life-and-death issue, the matter of cardinal importance that it used to be. And who’s to say they aren’t right?

I asked the Creator about it. This is what He said: ‘I created the atom but not the A-bomb. I created sex but not sexuality. So it’s all yours. Don’t come whining to me about it.’

Gotcha.

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What women need is security

Remember Billie Jo Spears’ song from 1969 which went ‘Mr Walker, it’s all over / I don’t like the New York secretary’s life’? And why is the young lady so fed up with her life & her profession? Because, apart from the stress of typing eighty words a minute & fetching paper clips and coffee, ‘In this building there’s a crowd o’ guys / With old familiar thoughts upon their minds’. And what old familiar thoughts might these be? Well, they result in ‘a lot of hands a-reaching out / To grab the things that I consider mine’. Ah, now we understand. Don’t think she could have put it any more succinctly.

And as if that’s not enough, ‘the president pursues me / Even though he’s old and hair a-turnin’ white’ – couldn’t have been the Oval Office & Monica Lewinsky since she was an intern & born four years after the song. In any case, the first stanza of the song complains about the working conditions, the second about sexual harassment and the third about the living conditions – more specifically, ‘a flat in Greenwich Village’ with a trumpet player upstairs and a ‘jumpin’ all night bar’ below. And even then she has to ‘share the place with bugs and big ol’ mice’. No wonder she quits.

I consider it to be one of the best lyrics ever, leaving Nancy Sinatra’s ‘These Boots Are Made for Walking’ gasping at first base – though Boots (1966) highlighted the other major source of exacerbation in a woman’s life: the ‘a’messin’’ husband or lover, who keeps ‘lyin’ when you oughta be truthin’’, who keeps ‘samin’ when you oughta be a’changin’’.

And there we have the woman’s world, which seems to have mainly one problem – the man! Actually it’s like the two sides of the same coin, since not having a man can be a problem too, in societies east & west; either it’s the difficulty in finding ‘a suitable boy’ à la Vikram Seth, or it’s the sexual & emotional merry-go-round (roller coaster, rather!) of the ladies in Sex and the City.

Let’s do a Fast Forward to what happened in front of the Cologne railway station on New Year’s Eve: another example of those ‘old familiar thoughts’, I should think, Billie Jo Spears wouldn’t have been surprised in the least. And from there we can go on to the current ‘burqini’ debate. Why anybody should insist on – or object to – a woman wearing – or not wearing – a certain piece of apparel at a certain place & a certain time while engaging in a certain kind of activity, beats me. Generations of women in our family have gone bathing in the Bay of Bengal or in the Arabian Sea in saris, for God’s sake, who’s talking about Aheda Zanetti’s rather fashionable creation. And we’re ruddy Hindus in our family, except for the woman for whom I left the diplomatic service, who used to wade into the raging surf on either coastline wearing a bikini & looking hot enough – for those times & climes – to make the sea boil. Whether the sea or me.

So it’s not as if I’m in favour of the burqini or against it. A colleague of ours was relating how certain young and fashionable girls in Dhaka, Bangladesh, have taken to wearing the niqab (which covers all of the face except for the eyes) just to escape the unwanted attention of the street romeos. What does that tell us? That these women are feeling insecure, that society is not – or is not perceived to be in a position to give them the freedom of choice to wear what they like & where they like. Fear is the key.

As for male behaviour, desire is the key. Desire is dificult to control, that’s why it’s considered to be dangerous. And because it is uncontrollable, like an incurable disease, we have all sorts of W.H.O.-financed attempts to ‘disinfect’ all possible & probable ‘sources of infection’ – mainly WOMEN! But even that does not help, will not help, cannot help. The number of references to the damsel’s eyes in Urdu poetry (together with the extravagant imagery) is mainly because of the niqab, I suspect. A traditional Muslim woman does her eyes with special care when she goes out, I am told, since those eyes are all that will be visible – it’s those eyes which will have to do the ‘killing’, in the rhetoric of Urdu poetry. We could have spared ourselves the Trojan war if Helen of Troy had been wearing a niqab, you think? No, her eyes would have been enough to launch those thousand ships & a couple more, if necesary.

The whole problem with how a woman dresses or does not dress, is the collateral damage – which in the woman’s case means collateral garbage. We, the men, do not want to get ‘killed’ – to follow the time-honoured heroic hyperbole of Urdu poetry as well as of Bollywood film songs. In other words, we do not want to feel attracted by a woman we do not know from Eve & shall never get to know from Eve; whereas she does not want to be ogled/mooned at by a whole lot of strange & unappetising males – that’s the collateral garbage. And still it happens all the time.

But why? Is it because she knows… and takes it into account, maybe even likes it? And why do we, the men, react like Pavlov’s dogs? I know! Because we are Pavlov’s dogs, at least in this one respect. And where do the clothes come in? I was thinking of an experiment, not with dogs but with lions, in the Serengeti, say. We put all the leafeaters in clothes and send them out to graze among the beefeaters. D’you think the lions would look dejected & say to themselves: ‘If only these antelopes had been…’ No, lions do not know the difference between naked and… We do, that’s the whole problem, it seems. Unless… unless…

What about all women dressing up as men when they go out? And the men dressing up as women…

What about women turning into men & men turning into women, in which case the women would be whistling after the men & pinching their bot…

Because men look so sexy in whatever they wear, from boxer shorts to scuba suits to business suits…

Have fun.