Mallu sex education – or why an engineering degree is important

I have had occasion to mention elsewhere on this blog that in Kerala, marriages are often seen as a social contract granting permission to young couples to have sex. Much hoo-ha is made over couples of legal age having pre marital sex, which is a topic we won’t delve into right now. This is after all, meant to be a satirical blog – if I have aspirations of being taken seriously or involving myself in an adult discussion, I shall keep them to myself, thank you very much.
No, this post is actually a continuation of something I had written earlier, titled “Sex education in Kerala or: Reasons why Josukuttan had to marry Anumol in a hurry”. Unlike the previous one, this post does not seek to call out the hypocritical nature of mallu society, which expects its children to grow up sheltered from reality and then suddenly demand sexual awakening and responsibility to be acquired overnight post a ceremony and a sadya (insert beef fry/mutton biriyani based on religious tastes and personal preferences). More often than not, the rigidity of such cultural false expectations give rise to all sorts of sick things ranging from marital rape to false headaches (of the “ not now, I’ve got a headache” notoriety), not to mention desperate visits to the clinic to figure out which part/s of the human anatomy goes where in a normal intercourse.
Instead of tackling such complex and layered topics, each of which merits its own 2000 word article, this post simply seeks to chronicle three separate incidents from my life, which will hopefully shed some light on why I had to learn whatever I know about sex from my engineering college DC++ network. By extension, the logic will apply to most mallu families, for if my family prides itself on one thing, it is its tendency to regress to the mean.
Year 1995 – age 10
My dad picked out the Terminator from the local VHS library (remember those black tapes which used to collect fungus?) and brought it home triumphantly so he and I could watch it together. It was meant to be a father son bonding moment over visuals of humans being hunted mercilessly by a sentient robot from the future. It was also my first foreign language film. However, the proceedings quickly ground to a halt at the scene where Sarah Connor and Kyle Reese have mutually consensual intercourse, a critical and momentous plot twist that leads directly to the birth of the savior of all mankind, John Connor. At the first sight of Linda Hamilton’s nipples, my dad sprang into action, switching off the TV and announcing that this movie was not fit for kids and he would show me a cooler movie the next day. I was left a bit confused. I had never seen my dad move so fast before in my life. And I hadn’t exactly understood what was going on in the movie too.

This scene is where my dad went all Ninja

Year 2000 – age 15
My dad had come to pick me up from class and we were en route home when suddenly he stopped the Bajaj Chetak at a secluded ground about 200m behind our house. He asked me to get off and then kicked the scooter into stand. I momentarily suspended my thoughts about getting home quickly, taking a shower and curling up with a good book, and transferred all my attention to my dad. In a grave voice, he announced that he needed to tell me something. In a sudden, breathtaking moment of panic attack, I feared something had happened to my mom. I remember a sudden constriction inside my chest, which made it difficult for me to draw breath. 

“ I opened your table drawer today to fetch the dictionary” he began. I was confused. Did the dictionary fall on my mom? Webster’s encyclopedic dictionary is not the lightest of books to have fall on you out of nowhere. My dad saw the look of horror on my face, and mistaking it for guilt, soldiered on. “ And I saw the book you had kept hidden behind the dictionary”. Suddenly, things became clearer. A couple of days ago, a deviant friend had loaned me a slim volume, something that was known in our circles as the “little book”. Basically, it was a cheap edition of a porn booklet, with grainy images of actors doing the doo-doo in a variety of locations. I had hidden it temporarily in a place where I thought it would be safe – behind a humongous volume of Webster’s Encyclopedic dictionary. This was meant to be our master dictionary, to be turned to only when a family member was stumped by a word, which could not be resolved by smaller volumes of Oxford and Cambridge dictionaries, both of which were available in the house. Given the rarity with which it was ever touched, I assumed my slim book would be relatively safe behind it.  Only, I hadn’t accounted for the fact that my dad might suddenly get the urge to expand his vocabulary and go dig up the dictionary. So of course, in short order, he got the urge, reached into the recesses of my drawer, and picked out the bulky volume. And lo, out tumbled the evidence of my straying from the straight and narrow path.

It’s big. Very much so.
Ordinarily, a discovery like this would have mortified me beyond belief, but it came as such a welcome news compared to the more horrific scenario that my mind had conjured up that the accusation of being caught red handed handling sensitive material came instead as a relief. I even smiled a bit. This puzzled my father, who was expecting remorse and apology. “ You see, I can understand. I have been through your age too. I know there are…urges.” He took his time with the word urges, rolling it around in his mouth as if tasting it before pronouncing it bitter and gracefully spitting it out. “ But this is the time for you to focus on your studies. Return this book to whoever gave it to you, and we will speak no more about it. I haven’t told your mom about this”. With that, he clipped his helmet back on, and got on the scooter. I contritely rode pillion with him, realizing that I had just been given the talk, but was no more the wiser for having received it. Several questions floated around in my head. For instance, if he had had the urges back when he was my age, what had he done about them? On second thought, I decided I didn’t want to know the answer to that. Also, what did the reference to mom mean… was that a veiled threat? And most importantly, what was this dangerous word he was trying to look up in the holy grail of dictionaries?
Year 2013 – age 28
Fast forward to more than a decade later to the eve of another momentous day in my life; the day before my marriage. I was at home, chatting with my relatives who had all convened to render their best wishes and express their shocked surprise that the little toddler who used to walk around with snot all across his mouth had grown up suddenly and was getting married now. They agreed that they saw this sort of thing occurring all around them all the time, and most even admitted that it had happened to them once as well, but it still came as a surprise nevertheless.  
Anyhow, in the midst of all this surprised confusion, my dad called me into the garden. I followed him out of the house, and we walked silently some little distance. Once we were out of earshot, he assumed a grave expression and gazing far into the distance, cleared his throat and started to speak. “ Errm, mone (son)… appo, bhaviye kurichu alochichittundo  ? Alla achanariyam monu ithokke ariyamennu, ennalum onnu veruthe chodichatha”. I replied, “ Ariyam acha”. “ Ok, athu mathi”, he let out an audible sigh of relief. And then leaving me alone in the garden, marched back in double time.
For those who missed the nuanced father son exchange that just happened, here is the translation, and some additional notes supplied by Captain Subtext for easier understanding.
Errm, mone (son)… appo, bhaviye kurichu alochittundo  ?” – “ Have you thought about the future?”
C. Subtext – This is a catch-all question, intentionally vaguely designed to cover a range of subjects including career guidance, emotional maturity (or lack thereof) to maintain a family, savings, residential security, sex, family planning, where to send the grandkids to school etc. We need to see the context in order to refine the options further. Sandeep’s dad chose the very last day of his bachelorhood to ask him this question and therefore it could only mean that he was enquiring about the extent of his sexual education. Given that he knew that Sandeep knew that he knew that there was never much in the way of sexual education Sandeep could have gotten through any family approved sources , this question is tantalizingly nuanced and rich in its irony.
“Alla achanariyam monu ithokke ariyamennu, ennalum onnu veruthe chodichatha”. – “ I know that you are on top of these things, but still I felt the need to confirm that you are good to go.
C. Subtext – This seemingly innocuous statement is anything but. In a stroke of masterful genius, it not only absolves the dad of any parental sins of omission but also gently reinforces the memory of that book all those years ago, reminding Sandeep that he had had a chance to learn stuff the western way and there should literally be nothing more he, the dad, need teach him, the son. The question makes the big assumption that Sandeep would not ask any stupid/involved doubts at this eleventh hour.
“Ariyam acha” – “ I am fine dad”
C. Subtext – Sandeep meant to say, “ please, for the love of God, let us stop this awkward conversation right now. I mean, you can’t even look at me. You are talking to the banana leaf.”
“Athu mathi”, followed by audible sigh of relief – self explanatory.

This was the extent of my sex education. If it were not for DC++ I would have been one of those young guys queuing up in front of the clinic in a bid to understand what goes where. As is the case with most of my generation in Kerala, my engineering degree saved my sex life.

Sex education in Kerala or: Reasons why Josukuttan had to marry Anumol in a hurry

Josukuttan and Anumol announced the birth of their first child, Jomol, recently on the last page of Malayala Manorama. The proud parents had married 7 months ago. Grandparents were not available for comment.

Parents in Kerala shy away from teaching their kids the ins and outs of sex (pun intended) until the day they are married, and then expect them to take rational and smart decisions about family planning from the first night onwards- typical of the Indian mentality of ignoring an issue until it becomes a problem and then ignoring it further in the hopes that it will go away or better yet, metamorphose into a healthy grandchild.
The issue starts from early childhood. Kids are segregated inside classrooms, with boys sitting on one side of the class and girls on the other. Intermingling is not encouraged, and teachers keep a strict eye out for ‘troublemakers’ who spend more than usual time in the company of the opposite sex. Parents are routinely informed of such shenanigans through back channels, and ‘appropriate actions’ are taken. It’s no wonder then that kids who actually manage to swing a date in school despite such draconian rules become instant celebrities. Josukuttan, who managed to pass a note to Anumol in class and thereby successfully secured a date to eat icecream at the same time in the crowded school canteen sitting on adjacent chairs was forevermore remembered by friends as that ‘vallatha pahayan’

“Vallatha Pahayan”
Teenage and puberty are often confusing and desperate periods for both the kids and the parents. While the kids try to come to terms with changing physiology, parents spend sleepless nights devising ever more inventive ways to curb youthful enthusiasm. CCTVs installed in homes and GPS trackers fitted to mobile phones are the 21st century replacements of the grandma who used to stay at home and the ‘nattukar’ who used to keep an eye on the kids for free in the hope of getting gossip fodder. The downside to over regulation of course, is that the kids in turn come up with ever more inventive ways to circumvent the obstacles – and often succeed. Josukuttan bought Anumol her first burner phone pre programmed with his number, to be kept switched off and hidden inside her school bag at all times except from 11:00 PM to 12:00 AM, when he would call from his own burner. Calls were to be made and accepted only from within the confines of the bathroom.
Then comes college, which is quite a different ball game altogether. Girls and boys are thrown into close contact (figuratively and sometimes, literally) for far more extended periods of time than ever before in their lives, with little or no parental / teacher supervision. Of course, this is just a generalization, there are many colleges in India that impose a variety of curfew measures – ranging from holistic dress code to depositing mobile phones at the security desk before entering (the only time I’ve ever had to do that was when I did an internship at the Indian Space Research Organization, but national security justified the measure then. I wonder whether whatsapp texts between college kids merit the same security restrictions). Even under such draconian regulations, contact thrives. Josukuttan managed to arrange several internships for himself and Anumol at far flung industrial locations, each one further than the previous.

After college, the fun starts in earnest. Kids who till then mostly lived under a benign version of house arrest are suddenly left to fend for themselves in an unknown land where everyone speaks Kannada and drinks sweetened sambhar. They are paid decently enough to work 40 hours a week, with weekends being 48 hours of paid vacation with no supervision. Guys and girls can (surprise, surprise) “stay over” at each other’s apartments. This happy state of affairs is often helped along by the fact that no house owner worth her salt would rent her apartment out to bachelors based on the excellent logic that one can never be sure what these young guys would get upto without the supervision of a strict mom or a loving wife. At any given point of time, she is sure, young Josukuttan would be watching porn on loud volume ,smoking up and setting fire to the kitchen simultaneously , while the illegal second tenant in the apartment plots bombing the nearby water tower.  So naturally, she refuses to rent her apartment out to Josukuttan, thus playing her small role in securing the nation’s safety. Devoid of a home, Josukuttan has all the more incentive to accept Anumol’s invitation to stay over until he finds a place for himself.

All these phases in a typical mallu kid’s life passes by under the strictest possible supervision of the parents, who although very concerned for their kids’ future, never take the time out to  describe the basic precautions and safety measures to be taken. A typical mallu dad can never broach the topic to his son without stumbling early on (I should know, I shared an entire 15 minute awkward silence with my dad on this topic, which formed the extent of my sex education) and a typical mallu mom’s advice to her daughter on family planning can be summed up in 6 words “Don’t start nothing, won’t be nothing”.
However, these same parents then expect their kids to magically acquire all the pertinent knowledge immediately after their marriage, which in Kerala (as in most of India) is seen not only as a union of souls, but also an elaborate social contract between the couple and the rest of the society, allowing them to have sex in the privacy of their bedroom without being judged and condemned by neighbours. However, even this ceremony does not equip the bride and groom with any knowledge of safe practices, the unwritten rule being that if the kids have been brought up in “good households” by “responsible parents” they would somehow figure things out on their own. It’s no wonder then that curiosity often gets the better of kids when they are left alone. Hit or Miss is not exactly a reassuring method of family planning, before or after marriage. And yet that is exactly how couples learn in Kerala.
Josukuttan and Anumol were no exception. Although Anumol steadfastly refused to share Josukuttan’s bathroom towel in the fear that it might make her pregnant, Josukuttan did not miss.  Within 3 months of living together, Anumol found it necessary to call up her mom for expert guidance.  Immediately afterwards, Anumol’s grandma Sosamma had a heart attack, and her dad flew to Bangalore to meet Josukuttan. After a few hours of terse conversation, Josukuttan was left in no doubt as to the honourable course of action to take.  The engagement announcement preceded the wedding date by merely a day, and only immediate family was invited. All told, the entire coverup was quite professionally done. 

 Last I heard, Grandma Sosamma is recovering well.