Sex toys hit city Customs barrier, end up in godown. The Times of India.
Honestly, I am fed up to the back teeth with our newspapers these days. All they ever talk about is the pandemic, border skirmishes, petrol prices, Modi and Putin bear-hugging, Sidhu, Channi and the Captain squaring off in Punjab, and some guy from Bollywood called Vicky getting hitched up to some gal named Kat, what the trousseau will consist of and who the lucky ones will be on their guest list. All right, so we thrashed New Zealand in a meaningless two-Test series at home. Big deal! In the midst of all this silliness, the tragic helicopter crash that took the life of India’s CDS General Bipin Rawat, his wife and other officers, was an extremely shocking change from the everyday, anodyne script.
It’s the same thing on television, only it’s impossible to follow the storyline thanks to everyone on screen striving to break the sound barrier in disharmonious unison. Which is why I was startled to come across this extraordinary headline about sex toys being seized by Customs officials in Bangalore. Naturally, I ignored everything else in my daily paper and gave the full weight of my attention to this earth-shattering piece of news. Here’s the gist of what this very enterprising reporter filed. Apparently, the pandemic has forced many of our denizens to look for diverting ways to take care of their claustrophobic idle hour. The Customs chappies were taken aback at the rapid increase in imports of a mind-boggling variety of titillating items, the primary aim of which was to satisfy man’s basest instincts.
It occurred to me that if I am to obtain reliable information on the subject, I should go straight to the horse’s mouth. I was certain the Customs office in Bangalore would be having in their employ a Public Relations department who could fill me in on the details. Having got the helpline number from Google search, thither I rang. After the usual interminable wait, and having punched several digits to choose language, subject matter and ‘if I wished to speak to one of our helpline officials,’ and ‘our lines are all very busy and we have limited staff owing to the pandemic, and we apologize for the long wait,’ I finally reached a human voice. In between, I had to put up with some stultifying Kenny G type of music.
‘Namaskar. This is Swati, how I can be of help?’ Given the subject matter I was absorbed with, I would have preferred to speak with a man. No offence, I am a bit queasy that way, but I pressed on.
‘Yes Swati, thank you. I am referring to a newspaper report this morning about which I wish to ask a few questions.’
‘Are you from the media, Sir?’
‘Not exactly. I am a columnist. Blogger, if you prefer. The news item I am referring to came from the media.’
‘And what is this news item about, Sir?’
‘Ah, well it’s a bit delicate.’ At this point, for some inexplicable reason, I dropped my voice to a barely audible whisper. ‘Sex toys.’
‘What? Sex boys? What are you saying, you dirty, old man. I shall complain to the higher…’
How could she have known I was old? No quaver in my voice. Anyhow, I interrupted her hastily. ‘No, no. I was whispering, there were people about and you heard me wrong. Total misunderstanding. There was a news item about confiscation of some material at Customs, broadly classified as Sex Toys. Please forgive me if I was not clear. Blame it on the poor line.’
‘Oh, sex toys. Why didn’t you say so, loud and clear, in the first place?’ She was quite blasé. ‘Let me connect you to the concerned department. Please hold. It may take some time. Lines are jammed today with calls on that subject. Sorry for the inconvenience.’ Gosh, they even have a dedicated department for this sort of thing! I was impressed.
After being put on hold for about seven minutes, while I was entertained to several recorded messages of the kind of punishment I could face if I brought in banned drugs, Chinese aphrodisiacs and pornographic videos, a tired sounding male voice finally answered.
‘Yes? What is it that you want?’ He sounded abrupt and vaguely threatening, as if daring me to bring up the subject of sex toys.
I decided to brave it out. ‘Good morning, I wish to speak with you about these sex toys you have confiscated and are threatening to destroy. Can you give me some details?’
‘What are you, a pervert, into kinky stuff? Don’t you have anything better to do than to get cheap thrills first thing in the morning?’
‘My dear Customs Manager or whatever your designation is, I am not seeking cheap thrills. I am not that kind of chap. I listen to Carnatic music. It is you who have proudly announced to the press about this haul of sex toys that you and your colleagues at Customs are sitting on, waiting for instructions to burn them. Like the cops do when they come across lethal arms, bombs, leopard skins, ivory tusks and the like. Usually, they pose proudly for photographs with the haul and the smugglers.’
‘So, you want me to pose for the camera in front of a cache of inflatable dolls, S&M whips with thongs, floggers, vibrators, triple X videos and other such dubious items?’
He was clearly well-informed on the subject. ‘Wearing a broad, triumphant smile, of course. And say “cheese.” By the way, one thing about your statement to the press intrigued me. You said that after the pandemic struck, the import of such items has greatly increased. And that you have approached higher authorities for directions. Presumably to incinerate these degrading items of sexual gratification.’
‘It has too. Increased after the pandemic, I mean. What is so intriguing about that? And your mocking, leering tone is not appreciated. We are doing a difficult job here. What do I go home and tell the wife and kids about how my day went at the office?’
‘You have my sympathies, Sir. However, when you say imports have increased it means, ipso facto, you have been allowing such items to come through in the past. Why get all cagey about it, now that more people are going in for such diversions? And you’ve been shouting from the rooftops about your capture, anyway.’ I could see that he was beginning to get hot under the collar. Before he could respond, I came up with another salvo. ‘With due respect Sir, my heart goes out to this bloke you have identified as Sid from Bangalore.’
‘Sid. Not his real name, of course. He is heartbroken that, after paying 140 USD from an online Dutch portal for one of those thingummies I would rather not mention, you are now throwing the rule book at him. Have a heart, Sir. He is just a restless teenager with raging hormones. Just like Shirley (name changed) from Mathikere as well, who faced similar problems having imported some dicey stuff from the US. It’s not just the boys, you see. They all have their needs, same as you.’
‘Stop getting personal. You are skating on very thin ice. Look, I don’t have to answer all these idiotic questions from a two-bit, deviant blogger like you. You don’t even represent a third-rate, yellow-journalism rag. As it is, I have wasted too much time on you. As for this Sid and Shirley double-act, raging hormones, eh? Tough. They’ll just have to do what all of us did.’
‘And what is that, Sir?’
‘That’ll be all. End of.’
‘Just one last thing,’ I pleaded, ignoring all his insults. ‘Do you actually burn all these items, or just claim that you do? My own sense is that they ultimately find their way into…’
At this point, the line went dead. After a week or so, I received a registered letter (with acknowledgment due) from the Customs Department, asking me to explain an online purchase of Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov and Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence and would I appear at their offices the following week with both the books in question. I replied to them, through my lawyer, that they will be wasting their time poring through these great works of literature looking for cheap, salacious thrills. Much better if they can get hold of Shobhaa De’s Starry Nights or Sultry Days to burn. Paperback editions, naturally. More combustible.