Europeans are pretty blasé when it comes to nudity.
Although we hate to admit it, modern Indian culture is for the most part, sexually immature. Nudity is closely associated with shame and skeptics are referred to Dr David Dhawan (full time movie director and part time psychologist) who will set them straight on izzat and nanga panga. Why just last week in Goa, we were treated to the spectacle of five gents from Tirunelveli ogling two hapless aunties chastely clad in saris who were disporting themselves in the hotel swimming pool. The situation was rendered even more piquant by the fact that the hotel staff were remonstrating with the ladies that they were inappropriately dressed; the watchmen (pun intended) were having none of it. “They are enjoying, I say, why you are giving trouble, aaanh? Po da.”
Reading Manoj Das’s short story, “The Naked”, which deals with the travails of, Nathu, an old family retainer requisitioned by the erstwhile Maharani to provide hospitality to a group of visiting European nudists at her crumbling ancestral home, brought back memories of a visit to the Costa Brava many moons ago.
Europeans are pretty blasé when it comes to nudity. Swedes majestically divest themselves of all clothing including bathrobe en route to a sauna, Germans believe a coat of sun-tan lotion is all the protection they need from the elements while the French make Adam and Eve (Saint Laurent) look over-dressed. Indians, on the other hand, tend to giggle helplessly when it comes to revealing what my friend Raymond referred to as “wedding tackle” or when sufficiently spiritually inspired as “yer family jewels, men.” Grizzled grandfathers go through paroxysms of embarrassment in changing rooms performing the shimmy shimmy shake with a towel draped around their nether regions.
So there we were in Torremolinos, renowned for the splendor of its sandy beaches and the beauty of its senoritas. I’m sure you know the lyrics, “Viva Espana, when I first arrived, the girls were pink and pasty buy oh so tasty as soon as they grow brown…” Right next to our modest hotel was a sign saying, “Playa Nudista 100 m” and you didn’t have to know Spanish to figure out what that meant. The men in our group looked longingly at the straggling coastal pathway that led to Alladin’s Cave of fleshy delight while boarding the 6 AM coach for the obligatory treadmill of museums and palaces.
Our team leader was one of those masterful, leave-no-monument-unseen-types whom you crossed at your own peril. A nude beach visit making it to the top of her to-do list was about as likely as Chanda Kocchar being in the dark about the Videocon loan. Eventually yours truly feigned a headache and lay back weakly foregoing the pleasures of the Alhambra, “a magnificent example of Saracenic architecture, featuring period weaponry and intricately worked tapestries.”
“I’m sure you will tell me all about it in the evening and I won’t feel I’ve missed a thing”, I said as I waved the coach goodbye, the men looking a lot like French aristocrats en route to the guillotine. I thought it might be prudent to do a “reccie” and leaning over the observation deck, I was a little taken aback by the view. As far as the eye could see, there was a superabundance of men in various stages of undress, walking around hand in hand: Adam & Steve on steroids. Then I spotted a chap, fully clothed, parking his car and pulling out my phrasebook, I let fly with, “Por favor, playa nudist normal?”
“Well look, this is the gay beach, the mixed beach is a little further up. Cheerio now and don’t forget your locker key,” he replied with a friendly wave. Well for crying out loud, anyway with the mystery solved, I set off briskly in the direction indicated and found myself in a modest shack where a superbly tanned, phenomenally fit young woman bearing more than a passing resemblance to Aranxta Sanchez Vicario mimed the requirements of admission. She didn’t tactfully withdraw but stayed there to ensure compliance so I stripped and stepped forth gingerly onto the sand, paperback in hand and nothing between me and the elements except for a small string on the wrist with my locker key.
Verily was it said that the people one finds on a nudist beach have no business being there: wrinkled senior citizens in danger of doing themselves lasting damage playing paddle ball and shuttlecock, plus some grizzled grannies, who ought to have known better at their age, perched on barstools sipping Sangria.
And then the sky turned an ominous purple and the heavens opened up so we all raced for the changing shack where we stood irritably, our teeth clicking like castanets. Finally the downpour stopped and I was heading back to my recliner when I saw to my horror our team leader making her way down the path. I’m proud to say I manned up and did the only possible thing in the circumstances. Leaving my nether regions exposed to the gale force winds, I covered my face with a tattered copy of the appropriately named novel, “From Here to Eternity.”