February 15, 2020
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The Bottom-Pincher

Pinching is not the right word. If the bottom is nicely rounded, I would like the freedom to caress it in the cup of my palm...

The Bottom-Pincher
Collected Stories
By Khushwant Singh
Ravi Dayal/Penguin India Rs. 495
I am not a bottom-pincher, but I would like to be one. Like some people are granted freedom of a city, I would like to be granted freedom to pinch female citizens’ bottoms. Pinching is not the right word. If the bottom is nicely rounded, I would like the freedom to caress it in the cup of my palm. If it is very large or very small, I would like the freedom to run a finger up its crevice. Only if it sags would I want the freedom to take the sagging flesh between my thumb and index finger and tweak it. However, no city has yet conferred such freedom on me.

I am a law-abiding citizen. My employers think well of me. I belong to the best club and am on the governing body of the ymca. In short I am a respected member of the community. This inhibits me from taking liberties with females’ bottoms save with my eyes. As soon as I get close to one I would like to stroke, I warn myself of the consequences. I tell myself that the lady may not like my interfering with her bottom. She may start a shindy. She may collect a crowd and some sanctimonious type, though he be a bottom-pincher himself, may take the law into his hands and beat me up. Such thoughts bring beads of sweat to my forehead.

For me bottom-pinching has been a spectator sport. Again I use a wrong expression. The sport is limited to watching bottoms. Until recently I had not had the privilege of watching anyone pinching them.

A crowded city like Bombay provides ideal conditions for bottom-watching. And the garments in which Indian female bottoms are draped are infinitely more varied than anywhere else in the world; saris, gararas, lungis, skirts (Indian style ghaghra as well as the European full-lengths and minis), stretch pants, bell-bottom trousers, churidars—you can encounter all varieties in 15 minutes any time any place. My favourite beat is the half-mile stretch from my office to a conjunction of five roads around a statuary called Flora Fountain. The best time is the lunch hour when it is most crowded. It is not much of a walk, it is more like an ant’s crawl, dodging people, bumping into them, brushing off beggars, grinning past whores soliciting for a ‘nooner’, snarling at touts who want to exchange foreign money. However, I like this bit of the bazaar precisely because it is so damnably crowded. There are many roadside bookstalls. The pavements are lined with all variety of smuggled goods: French perfumes, cosmetics and chiffons; Japanese tape recorders, cameras and transistors playing at full blast. And inevitably a large number of women shoppers. One has to be very careful not to brush against their bosoms or bottoms. Who wants to be very careful?

It was one such lunch hour that I witnessed a memorable performance of bottom-pinching. I was browsing at a pavement bookstall alongside the Dadyseth Parsi Fire Temple. My attention was attracted by a sudden convergence of beggars towards the iron-grilled gate meant to keep out non-Parsis. From the Fire Temple emerged a thin, tall gentleman, in his sixties, wearing a light-blue suit, sola hat and thick post-cataract glasses. He dipped into his pocket and dropped a coin in the hand of every beggar. It was apparent that they knew the gentleman and the time he made his appearance; in the crowd were lepers who had to drag themselves and a blind woman carrying a child on her shoulder. Although I have very strong views on giving money to beggars, I could not help admiring one who must by any reckoning part with a small fortune every afternoon.

The gentleman proceeded to walk in the direction of my office. I followed a few paces behind. His charity did not end outside the Fire Temple. He continued to dip in his right-hand pocket and drop a coin in every outstretched hand. Then I noticed that as he passed a group of three women bending over some article at a stall, his left hand brushed the bottom of one of them. By the time the woman straightened up to see who had done it, the gentleman was a few paces ahead in the crowd. He did not look back but walked on, ramrod erect. So it went on. Right hand to give alms to the needy, left hand to stroke or finger unguarded, unwary female bottoms. What a character! What tremendous risks he ran of being caught, exposed, manhandled!

Next afternoon I was back at the bookstall. I had one eye in a magazine, the other on the gate of the Fire Temple. The beggars had already collected, displaying the capital of their trade; lepers their stubby fingerless hands and toes, men on crutches, the blind woman with her babe at the breast. The gentleman emerged from the prayer house; same light-blue suit, sola topee and behind the thick lenses a pale, sexless, expressionless face. He went through the same motions; disbursing his pocketful of coins to outstretched hands. For the blind woman he had more; a rupee note which he insisted on handing to the babe. He said something to the mother which I could at best guess was, "This is for the little one." In the process he had a nice brush with the young woman’s bosom. He was rewarded with a smile. What is a little touch on the breast if you get a rupee for it!

He proceeded on his triumphal march through the milling crowd. It was easy to keep him in sight because of his height, the sola topee bobbing above the sea of heads and the sudden surprise with which women turned to see who had laid a left-handed compliment to their bottoms.

I followed him all the way. He turned in the massive Chambers of Commerce building. The commissionaire saluted him. There was a long queue for the elevator. He went straight into the lift without anyone protesting. He was obviously a big shot.

Some weeks later I was walking back from my office past the Chambers of Commerce building. I saw a cream-coloured Mercedes Benz parked alongside the kerb. Inside were two women—one squat and grey-haired lady hunched up in a corner of the rear seat, the other a teenage girl, apparently her daughter. The chauffeur opened both the doors on one side of the car. The commissionaire deposited a briefcase and a stack of files on the front seat. Our hero of the Fire Temple came out trailed by two men who looked like his assistants. The girl bounced out of the car, ran across the pavement and embraced him shouting, "Daddy!" She couldn’t have been more than sixteen. Very lovely too! Nut-brown hair failing on her shoulders. Healthy open-air type. And a figure right off the walls of some ancient Hindu temple; large bosom bursting out of her blouse, narrow waist and again a bottom—large protuberant and so provocative as if it were cocking the snook at the world and saying "I don’t give a fart!"

No wonder our hero had such an obsession with bosoms and bottoms. Constant exposure to such temptation! Constant frustration because of not being allowed to touch them!

The next evening I got to know his name. This time the Mercedes Benz was there without its lady passengers. I pretended to admire the car and casually asked the chauffeur who it belonged to.

"The Burra Sahib."

"Which Burra Sahib?"

"Lalkaka Sahib, who else!" he replied truculently.

There were fourteen Lalkakas in the Bombay telephone directory. All the first names down the list were Parsis—Cyrus, Darius, Framroze, Jal, Jehangir, Nausheer. Then to Ps. One alongside the address Chambers of Commerce Building; the other against ‘Residence: Lalkaka Mansion, Malabar Hill.’ My repertoire of Parsi first names beginning with P was limited to one, Phiroze. Next morning at eleven when the chances of any member of the family being at home would be minimal, I dialled the number. A servant took the call. "Phiroze Lalkaka Saheb hain?" I asked.

The servant replied in a Goan English accent. "Here no Phiroze Lalkaka. Residence of Pesi Lalkaka. He gawn ophiss."

"Is Miss Lalkaka at home."

"Also Missy Baba gawn college. Memsahib awt. No one home. Who calling?"

I hadn’t thought of the answer to the question. On the spur of the moment I told the servant to take down my name. I spelt it out slowly for him: "Mr Bottom-pincher."

"What number?"

"He knows my number."

Pesi Lalkaka was not at the Fire Temple the next day. Nor for the whole week following. The beggars assembled at the trysting hour and dispersed with their palms empty. I felt sorry for them. I felt sorry for the good man whose indulgence in a harmless pastime had been put an end to. I had been a spoilsport.

I wondered how Pesi Lalkaka had reacted to the telephone message. Maybe his wife or daughter had got it first. "What an odd name! Bottom-pincher! Who is he, daddy?" Pesi Lalkaka must have turned pale and stuttered, "I don’t know." They might have questioned the servant. "He say Sahib know number." They might have scanned the telephone directory. There wasn’t even a Bottom or a Bottomley in the Bombay telephones. They must have dismissed the matter. "Somebody trying to be funny." But poor Pesi Lalkaka! What agonies he must suffer knowing that he had been spotted!

A fortnight later Pesi Lalkaka was back at the Dadyseth Fire Temple. He looked uncomfortable. He dropped money in the hands of the few beggars who accosted him. He looked around to see if he could recognise anyone. Then proceeded towards his office. I followed him. He continued to dole out money with his right hand. But this time his left hand was firmly embedded in his coat pocket. Each time he passed a woman, he turned back to look if he was being followed. Poor, poor Pesi Lalkaka!

He resumed his lunch hour routine of prayer followed by alms-giving on the way back to the office. But now his left hand was always in the coat pocket. And each time he passed by a woman he turned around to look over his shoulder like one pursued by a ghost. So it went on for some time. Pesi Lalkaka seemed to be getting the better of his obsession. He was becoming a commonplace bore.

Not so. It appeared that Pesi Lalkaka had assured himself that the man who had spotted him in flagrante delicto once had disappeared from the scene.

One afternoon he was threading his way through the crammed pavement with me trailing a few yards behind him. I saw three women ahead of us examining some merchandise at a stall. Their bottoms presented a tempting variety of sizes and coverings. One was a young girl in blue skin-tight jeans; her buttocks were like two nicely rounded, unripe water melons. Beside her was an older woman in a bright-red sari. She was massive like one big pumpkin. The third in the row was a twelve-year-old Lolita in a white and so mini a skirt that when she bent down it exposed all her thigh and a bit of her bottom as well. I could see Pesi Lalkaka’s left arm twitch. The triumvirate of bottoms thus served up proved too powerful a temptation to resist. His hand came out of the pocket and caressed the three in quick succession. By the time the women straightened up and turned around Pesi had gone ahead and I was directly behind the three. The old woman glowered and swore, "Badmash-rascal." Her younger companion hissed, "Mummy, don’t create a scene." I had a narrow escape.

I was determined to teach Pesi Lalkaka a lesson. As soon as I got to my office I rang up his residence. It was the same voice at the other end. "Sahib gawn ophiss. Memsahib resting. Missy Baba gawn college. Who calling?"

"Mr Bottom-pincher."

"Give number please!"

"Tell him I will ring again in the evening."

That would fix him! It did.

Pesi Lalkaka was not at the Fire Temple for many days. When ultimately he did appear his left arm was in a sling. He looked paler than ever before. I was sure he had cut himself deliberately. Poor Pesi Lalkaka!

The beggars made solicitous inquiries. He simply waggled his head. As usual I followed him through the crowded corridor. In the few days he seemed to have developed a stoop. He plodded on without turning back. Whenever he came to a woman looking the other way, his pace slackened. He inclined his head, gave her buttocks a brief, mournful look and proceeded on his way. This time I really felt sorry for him. Or did I? Why didn’t he use his right hand to do what his left hand could not? I had read some sociologist’s opinion that Indians only used their left hands to caress the genitalia of their women, never the right because they ate with it and did not want it polluted. I wondered if it was that which inhibited Pesi Lalkaka. The curiosity got the better of me.

That evening I rang him up. It was the same servant at the other end of the line.

"Hullo! Who calling?"

"The Doctor. I want to speak to the sahib."

A few seconds later a voice identified itself: "Pesi Lalkaka this side."

"How’s the left hand, old man?"

"Who is it?" he demanded in a faltering voice.

"Never mind. Try using your right hand. It’s more fun," I slammed down the receiver.

I saw no more of Pesi Lalkaka at the Dadyseth Fire Temple for many weeks. Perhaps he had changed his lunch hour place of worship. Perhaps he had found an alternative route where no one trailed behind him. I felt it as a personal affront. I wasn’t going to let him get away with it.

The next few days I took my post-lunch hour stroll around the block of the Chambers of Commerce building. I saw Pesi Lalkaka return to the office by different routes. I tried to get him on the phone in his office. He never picked it up himself. I refused to communicate through his secretary. I tried him at home. Here too it was his servant, wife or daughter who took the call. Every time they asked me who I was, I replied I would ring later. It never occurred to me that the fellow might get Bombay Telephones to keep a check on his incoming calls.

Came the Parsi New Year’s Day, Navroz. It was a sectional holiday only for Parsis. I had a feeling that Pesi Lalkaka would visit his old haunt, the Dadyseth Fire Temple at his usual hour to be able to give alms to the expectant beggars. I was as usual at the neighbouring bookstall glancing over pages of a magazine with an eye on the temple gate. Standing beside me was a man also turning over the pages of a magazine. He had one eye on me.

There was quite a throng of beggars outside the temple. Parsi gentlemen were dressed in their traditional spotless white muslin caps, starched shirts and trousers. Their ladies wore their saris in the Parsi style, draped straight over their shoulders. The sandalwood-seller beside the doorway was doing brisk business.

My hunch was right. Pesi Lalkaka was there. This time accompanied by his wife and daughter. He looked very different in his all-white outfit. His arm was not in a sling but both arms were engaged. His right hand rested on his wife’s shoulder; his daughter held the left to help him down the temple steps. On Navroz it was Mrs Lalkaka who dipped into her handbag to dole out coins to the beggars. Many complained that they had not seen the sahib for a long time and made inquiries about his health.

The trio turned their backs towards me to walk in the direction of his office. It was then that I noticed that the Missy Baba was wearing a pleated mini-skirt. Fat thighs, and what a tail! Her buttocks swayed as if keeping beat to a tango. I cast aside the magazine in my hand and followed them.

Walking three abreast through the crowded pavement was slow business. I walked close behind Missy Baba with my eyes glued to her posterior and languorous music ringing in my ears. By the time I came to the parting of ways, I was in a high state of exaltation. When would I ever get such a chance again! The desire to caress overcame discretion. I quickened my pace, came alongside the Missy Baba and let my right hand give the silken contour of her behind a loving caress. A voice behind me called, "Mr Bottom-pincher!" I turned back. It was the man I had seen beside me at the bookstall. He took me by the arm, "Come with me to the police station. Please follow us," he said to the Lalkakas.

If I had protested the crowd would have given me a rough time. But I could not help pleading innocence, asking my captor what all this was about. "You will find out. I’ve been watching you for some days," he said. I went like the proverbial lamb to the slaughterhouse.

What a fool I had been! What would the people say when they read about it in the papers? "Who could have believed it of him? The old lecher.... It often happens to men in late middle age," etc. I’d be sacked from my job, removed from all committees and expelled from my club. I’d never be able to face the world. Should I kill myself? Or just disappear from Bombay, take the vows of a sanyasi and spend the rest of my days in some sadhu ashram in the Himalayas?

At the police station I was given a few moments to compose myself. The sub-inspector opened a large yellow register to record my statement. I said, "I have nothing to say. I don’t know what it is all about. You have made a big mistake." It did not impress him. "No mistake, mister! We checked your telephone calls and what you did I saw with my own two eyes. You better come clean."

I refused to come clean. I refused to speak to the fellow. He said, "If you want to consult a lawyer, you can send for one. Otherwise, I’ll put you up before a magistrate."

"I don’t want to see any lawyer for anything," I replied. "But I would like to see Mr Lalkaka."

"Aha! So you admit to knowing him!" he exclaimed, very pleased with himself. He recorded that in his register.

I had put the noose around my own neck. "Perhaps you would like to see Miss Lalkaka too!" the sub-inspector said with a nasty sneer. "She will be the material witness to the kind of things you do."

That was too much for me. I lost my temper and retorted, "Has she eyes behind her head to see who pats her bottom?"

"Aha! So you admit somebody did pat her bottom," he replied triumphantly. And wrote it down in his register. I had put yet another noose around my neck. I tried to extricate myself. "No, I don’t want to see Miss Lalkaka. I want to see her father."

"Why? He has nothing to do with this case."

"If he has accused me of harassing him, I want to confront him. He has made a terrible mistake."

"Let’s keep Mr Lalkaka out of this. He is a respectable citizen."

"So am I," I said stubbornly. "I am every bit as respectable as he."

We sat glowering at each other. If my reputation was to go down the gutter, I was determined to take Pesi Lalkaka’s with me. After a while the sub-inspector gave in. He pressed the bell on the table. A constable came in. "Ask the sahib to come in."

After a while, the constable came back and whispered something in the ear of the sub-inspector. Then left the reporting room. I could hear the voices of the sub-inspector and Pesi Lalkaka, but could only catch a few stray words like confession...watertight case...not compoundable.... Then a long silence. The sub-inspector re-entered and sat down in his chair. He fixed me with his eyes. "This time I will let you off with a warning. But if I catch you again doing anything or harassing respectable people, you will go to gaol.

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