Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Monday, July 30, 2012

"The Bottom-Pincher" by Khushwant Singh

"The Bottom-Pincher" by Khushwant Singh (2008, 7 pages)

Short Stories of The Indian Subcontinent
A Permanent Reading Life Project

Khushwant Singh

I am very pleased  that The Reading Life was recently recommended by The Economic Times of India,. the leading financial daily of The Subcontinent.   

The Reading Life Guide to The Indian Short Story

My posts on "Karma" and "Portrait of a Lady"

This is my sixth  post for a  new permanent event on The Reading Life, short stories of the Indian subcontinent.   There is no literary culture with roots older than that of India.   I will always admire Edmund Burke for telling the English that they had no right to govern a region whose culture is much older than theirs.  Many of the geographic boundaries that created these countries were created by the British or are consequences of their misrule.       Some of the writers featured will be internationally famous, such as Salmon Rushdie, Saadat Manto,  and R. K. Narayan but most of the writers I post on will be authors on whom there are no prior book blog posts.    There are numerous books and academic conferences devoted to exploring the colonial experiences of India and Ireland and I will look at these stories partially as post colonial literature.   My main purpose here is just to open myself up to a lot more new to me writers and in this case most will be new to anyone outside of serious literary circles in the region.  Where I can I will provide links to the stories I post on but this will not always be possible.

Khushwant Singh (1915-Hadali, Khushab, British India-now Pakinstan) is one of the best known Indian writers.  .   He was born into a Sikh family and initially pursued a career as an attorney.    He was driven to begin writing in a reflective often acerbic way about life in the Indian subcontinent by his experiences of the 1947 Partition of India.   He was very traumatized when just prior to the Partition of India he encountered a platoon of soldiers of his faith who boasted to him that they had just completely massacred a  peaceful village of Muslims, men, women and children.    He has published over twenty five books  (There is more information on him here.)   He would be the first to admit that the very prim and prudish will find some of this work offensive (in fact I think he would be disappointed if it did not offend them) and he has called himself "The dirty old man of Indian Literature".   The "bottom line" (cannot always help myself) is that he has a big thing for the posteriors of women (and maybe teenage girls) at least his works seem to suggest this.   This is a common perception, not just mine.    (The texts quoted in the rest of the posts can be R-rated so be advised.

How can one not be at least interested in a story that starts out like this:

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.\
The story tellers makes sure we know he is a law abiding citizen with a decent job who is on the governing body of the YMCA.  (I am not sure if this is not a shot at Christians in India.)   Whenever he sees a woman or a girl with an attractive posterior he has to fight the impulse to stroke it by thinking of the great fuss the victim might make.   He tells us how a crowded city like Bombay provides ideal conditions for "bottom-watching".

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........One has to be very careful not to brush against their bosoms or bottoms. Who wants to be very careful?
As he walks the streets he describes beauifully the chaos of Bombay.   One day while on his stroll he witnesses something that shocks him and seemingly sends him into a terrible state of jealousy.   A very affluent looking man is also walking the same area, he gives money to all the beggers and as he walks along he very discretely pinches the bottoms of a few women.  When they turn around to see who did it he is lost in the crowd.   He is shocked that the man is willing to take a risk that he is not and he begins to stalk the man and follow him on his daily walk.  Everyday he gives a young blind beggar woman with an infant a rupee and in doing so he always brushes up against her breasts, an accident of course.   One day the narrator follows the man into the Chamber of Commerce building.   The way he is treated makes it clear he is a person of great import.   He  spots the man getting out of a limo and he tricks the driver into revealing to him the man's name and he calls everyone in the city phone book with that name until he finds the man's house.  One day he sees a sixteen year old girl, at most get out of the same car at the Fire temple and run up to the man shouting "Daddy".   Here is his description of the daughter.  Ponder his idea of how the other man got his obsession with the female bottom

 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!

Now he begins to try to interfere in the life of the other man.   He calls his house at a time he knows he will  not be in and when the daughter answers the phone he tells her to tells her to tell her father that "Mr. Bottom-Pincher" has called.   The daughter tells her father and says "Daddy. what an odd name".   The man stops making his daily walks and the narrator feels he has triumphed over this rich and privileged person.   Then in about a month he sees him again but he looks very sad, he gives out money but no pinches, he looks behind him as if he fears he is being followed, no doubt fearing a black mailer.  Then one day the bottom pincher just cannot take it anymore.

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."

The narrator is now determined to teach him a lesson so he calls the man's office and tells the secretary to leave a message saying "Mr Bottom-Pincher has called".  

I will stop telling the story here but the narrator does get punishment in the end and the bottom pincher gets his revenge.

I enjoyed reading this story.   I will not claim it was just because I like the style of Singh, which I do, or I enjoy his satire on the clay feet of the rich, as I did, but as rude as it is somehow the bottom pinching seemed a primal response to the teeming crowds in the streets of Bombay.  As the father of three teenage girls I would want anyone who did this sort of thing to them on the streets put in jail and would have to be restrained from seeking revenge on them.   

This is a very funny story.  

You can read it online HERE.  

Mel u


Prashant C. Trikannad said...

Mel, congratulations on the recommendation by ET, one of the most widely read business dailies in Bombay. I have always liked Khushwant Singh's narrative style and his shoot-from-the-hip views on just about everything that's wrong with India. I enjoy his writings.

Rohan Shedage said...

I follow Khushwant Singh more as a great political analyst than a story-writer..he is notoriously known for his hard and straight-forward remarks.

Along with this he is also rightly credited for keeping alive some of the classic short-stories through his collections.

Bottom-pincher is fun-rider. But it is also a proof enough that this man-despite being comfortable with fleshy things-can not be entrusted to write an erotic story.

Good work...keep it up !!!

Rohan Shedage said...

Hey congrats about the ET's party-time :P

Valerie Sirr said...

A funny story. A lot more than bottom pinching in it too:) Congrats on the ET recommendation. Keep up the good work!

Mel u said...

Prashant C. Trikannad-I liked his story very much-I hope you have power, thanks very much

Rohan-I have read only three of his short stories-I can see why he would be regarded as a very bold political writer-and thanks very much

Valerie Sirr-yes it is a good story of revenge and a satire on the male point of view-thanks very much

Nancy said...

Mel, that's great! Congratulations! I perfectly understand why this is so, because I've told you once your blog inspired me, too. :)

Martin A. Egan said...

Khuswant Singh wrote a lot of his Stories as a pointer to the Sikh Nation that their notions of Purity, Social and Religious Identity were far too governed by the overwhelming Hindu presence and the power the Hindu's inherited from Gandhi. The Sikh Nation had been promised a Homeland in the Punjab by Gandhi and Nehru as well as the British before them in the 1800's. Each time the more powerful Nation reneged on that promise. His Short Stories were primarily to point out that their obsession with Purity (In Sikh Tradion he that says "I'm Pure" is in fact saying "I am Impure" thus negating the condition of humanness that is at the core of the Sikh Faith and that Purity is a late addition by members of the Singh Sabha. (1926) The capacity for the human Being (of whatever faith or Nation) to turn a suggestion into an Order and Edict or a Law rather than a desire for the betterment of all men is at the centre of all Khuswant's Writings. So much Hindu Belief has leaked over into Sikhism and been accpeted as normal that it is a lifetime's work to disentangle the 2 Faiths one from the other. The Bottom pinching idea is to highlight the duality of the secret mind of the Sikh male and the Public (Papagi) image of total respectability projected. All of which is a fallacy. Sikhs are as prone to corruption, as any other Faith and the basis of all social hypocricy is in saying one thing and doing the opposite which is not always a bad thing depending on the motives or agenda of the practitoner. Khushwant called the Sikhs on their public behaviour and their private worlds all the time M

Mel u said...

Martin Eagan-thanks very much for your comment and for following my blog-Khushwant is still, I think, writing at nearly 95 or so-he also has a very healthy libido and is known, in his writings and art work, to have an obsession with the posteriors of women-it is viewed in his culture as more amusing at his age than anything else