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Beach boys

Manjula Padmanabhan | Updated on January 24, 2018 Published on February 20, 2015

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Bins and I are at the beach. The sun’s out and I’m wearing a full-sleeved kaftan because I’m allergic to direct sunlight. But he, despite being blonde and pale-skinned, is completely immune. He’s wearing a pair of plain blue swimming trunks that he’s threatening to remove. He wants to show off his batik loin-cloth. “I made it myself at a handicrafts mela in Auroville!” he says. It’s a Sunday and, despite the freezing water, there are moderate crowds of sun-worshippers out on the sand. “It will be sooo fashionable. All the girls will be running after me.”

No, they will not, I tell him. In America, a guy can be arrested for indecent exposure. He points to six girls strolling by. They’re wearing perhaps three square inches of cloth each. “In India, they would be arrested for causing a public nuisance,” says Bins. We’re conditioned to enjoy the sight of semi-naked young girls, I say. They represent youth, fertility and continuance. And by the way, no one feels threatened by them aside from you. A middle-aged man goes by, holding a metal detector. It’s got a long pole with a flat disk at the end of it. A single wheel helps him move it along the sand, leaving a curving trail. He is wearing a t-shirt and shorts but his arms and legs are covered in a lacy purple rash of tattoos. A knot of little boys follow after him. “Look at that fellow!” says Bins. “What’s he looking for?” Dreams of hidden treasure, I say. Good fortune. Lost keys.

Just then a somewhat senior lady lumbers by, wearing little more than a pair of straps and her sunglasses. “See this museum exhibit,” snorts Bins. Bulging pouches of dimpled flesh quiver with every step. “She’s outraging my modesty.” You’re hopelessly out of date, I tell him. In today’s world, women of all shapes and sizes are welcome to display themselves. “But not men?” exclaims Bins, hooking his thumbs under the waistband of his swimming trunks once more. “That’s unfair! That’s reverse discrimination!”

Yes, I say, and if you take your pants off, I’ll call the police myself. “Sissy,” he says, but unhooks his thumbs. A bunch of young men who have been cavorting in the water, emerge right in front of us. Some of them are wearing full body suits against the cold but others are in tiny briefs. Their stomachs are taut, their limbs superbly sculpted. They are like living statues, in pink marble and milk chocolate.

“Budgie-smugglers,” says Bins, frowning now. Huh? “That’s what Australians call those stupid elastic jeddies,” he explains. They look as if the wearer has stuffed a budgerigar into his trunks. “Disgusting. Leaves nothing to the imagination.” I am grinning broadly now. Some of them seem to be smuggling whole pigeons, I remark. “Tcheh. They’re probably falsies.” What?? “Hah. You don’t even know that men can wear falsies too. Anyway, you should stop staring like this. You’ll make those boys feel uncomfortable.” I’m just enjoying the view, I say, still grinning.

(Manjula Padmanabhan, author and artist writes about her life in the fictional town of Elsewhere, US, in this weekly column)

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Published on February 20, 2015
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