• Mumbai Chawl

Intimacy Without Privacy: Sex in Mumbai’s Chawls

If you could choose any place in the world, what would be your ideal place for sex and intimacy? Maybe you imagine a luxurious room on the top floor of a skyscraper, with french windows and a large bed. Maybe you think of a cozy cottage in the mountains, or a leisurely resort by the sea.

Of course, for all you naughty exhibitionists out there, perhaps you are imagining something more illicit and public. But even so, for the practical constraints of life, most of us would like privacy, safety, security, and even luxury when it comes to our routine location for sex and intimacy.

Unfortunately, for many of us this only a fantasy. In a city like Mumbai, staggeringly cramped and crowded, how do people ever manage to steal a private moment? I sought out people who currently live, or used to live in chawls in Mumbai, or other crowded settlements. The first person I reached out to was an old college friend who used to live in a chawl with her family.

Dipika* says that she was aware of the existence of sexual relationships from a very young age. In a space as crowded as the chawl she lived in, not everyone was discrete. She remembers for instance, ‘strange noises’ that emerged from her neighbors’ house at night- loud thumping, moaning, gasping and rapid husky conversation. Of course, when she asked her parents about these noises, they glared at her and dodged the question. But she became increasingly excited by these late-night sounds, and sometimes even stealthily stayed up at night for a while, just to hear her neighbors make love! Wherever you may live, there is always room for curiosity to grow.

Priya* is recently married and lives in a small one bedroom house. The living room is occupied by various uncles and aunts. The smaller bedroom is partitioned with thin curtains. She and her husband sleep on one side, and her in-laws on the other side of the curtains. “Sex is difficult” she admits. “There is only a thin curtain separating us and his parents, we have to be very quiet.”

But people are creative when it comes to sex, and they too have found a way. Parallel to their house, runs the tracks of the local train. “Whenever the train comes in from Kurla, it makes a lot of noise, and the trains are very regular” she explained. She and her husband have learnt to time their sexual intimacy to match the rhythms of the train. “When the train is passing by, we touch each other and enjoy our bodies. No one can hear anything because the train is so loud. Once the train is gone, we pause and wait for the next train to come.”

Priya spoke about the pauses in between the trains as being full of anticipation and longing.  “When one train goes, and we are waiting for the next, we just lie next to each other and look into each other’s eyes, we both know what we are waiting for.” Situations may not be ideal, but intimacy still manages to hold on and flourish in people’s lives. “I really wish we had our own room. But still, we manage. You know, sometimes these days I just hear the sound of the train, and I get excited!” Priya laughs with a gleam in her eyes.

So next time you get hot and heavy with bae in the comfort of that pastel, gently lit hotel room, do remember that only some can take privacy for granted. For others it is an absolute luxury that they can only wish for. Sex, like everything else is uniquely aspirational. It is coloured with all shades of human wants, needs and insecurities. For many, having better sex would require doing better in life- having a better job, better health and better security. And in a deeply fractured, stressful and unequal world, this is certainly not possible for everyone.

But what is heartening is that despite difficult, often suffocating living conditions, sex still has a place in the lives of many. Even in crowded chawls full of ailing grandparents and sniffling children, intimacy finds a way. In every cramped house, cluttered with the noise from an old TV, the sounds of family members quarrelling and children crying, what goes unnoticed is sex- quick, quiet, limbs touching in the dark and still utterly delightful. Even stuffy living quarters can’t kill our thirst for closeness and intimacy. And that’s what makes us vulnerable. That’s what makes us human.

By |2020-01-17T18:23:23+00:00January 17th, 2020|Culture|1 Comment

One Comment

  1. PARDESI JANAKAHA July 18, 2020 at 7:37 am - Reply

    I was living in a chawl when I was bachelor .There were some muslim families.They strictly enforce burkha on their woman.In one family the man was working in gulf and his wife and two daughters were living in the house.The wife was starved of sex. I started watching her .Initially I was afraid.But astonishingly she was very open and thereafter I followed her to her house and we had roaring sex when her children had gone to madrassa.She was lioness in bed.

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