Lifting Of The Fig Leaf

Haresh Shah


Zahir takes me by the hand.

‘Let me introduce you to some of the people here.’ I am one of the hundred some invited guests at Zahir and Bernadette Kazmi’s annual pre-Ramadan shenanigan at their spacious home in Chicago suburb of Oakbrook. Outside it’s raining cats and dogs and yet it has not deterred any of their friends and the families from showing up in droves. Only damper it has put on the event is that all of his beautiful oriental rugs are covered with large bed sheets and installed outside the house is a tent sized awning, shrouding the open sky.

The first person he introduces me is a tall and lanky Pakistani friend, whose name I promptly forget as soon as it is said.

‘Haresh used to be an editor at Playboy.’ Zahir can’t help but throw in. I think he gets a kick out of watching the reaction on the people’s faces. If not exactly ignoring, I try to slough it off with a hollow laugh.

‘But that was long time ago. And don’t forget I also worked for Time and Life and a whole bunch of other magazines in Prague!’

‘Yes, but you were with Playboy for the longest time!’


Playboy?’ The tall and lanky man rolls his eyes with a knowing smile. ‘It must have been fun working for them?’

‘Yeah, it was wonderful!’ I concur.

‘Are you still with them?’

‘No, I left them some time ago and now I am retired!’

‘How can you ever leave Playboy?’

‘Just the way you do any other job!’

‘If I ever worked for them, I would never leave.’ He is alluding to the fun part of what he imagines I did. Like, young, beautiful and naked women prancing around.

‘But I did!’ My answer has him jerk his head and render him speechless.

The next person Zahir introduces me is a distinguish looking black gentleman – Joe. His reaction to my association with Playboy is muted but not without wonderment.

Towards the end of the evening when I am contemplating calling it a day, I sit down next to Joe at the table placed by the end of the awning – a stray raindrop thumping on us. ‘Thought I rest my butt and talk to you for a while before taking off.’ Sitting on the other side of him is his wife, Yvonne.’

Joe looks about my age, perhaps a couple of years younger. He too has similar back problems. Like two old geezers, we compare notes and get our mutual health problems out of the way.

‘So what was it like working for Playboy?’

‘No different than any other job. I loved it.’

‘How do  you feel about the contents of the magazine?’

‘You mean the nudes?’


‘Well, to start with, I have also worked for Time, Life and Sports Illustrated and Fortune, as well have done a bunch of women’s titles and have been editor-in-chief of Serial, a show business magazine in Prague. In my opinion, Playboy is one of the best magazines there is in the world!’

I notice a bit of apprehension cross his face as he asks:

‘What makes it one of the best?’

‘The sheer excellence of its editorial content, and the professionalism and the care with which the magazine is put together.’

‘What about the nudes?’

‘If  you are judging it for the nudes, have  you ever given a thought to the fact that of an average 200 page issue, the nudes occupy only 36 some pages?’

‘How can it be?’ I imagine him thinking, because all he remembers are the nudes. Joe seems intrigued. So I continue.

‘What do you think rest of the pages are filled with?’ I give him a pointed look. And then answer it myself.

‘For the rest of the pages, Playboy competes for the same writers and the contributors as does The New Yorker.’

‘But isn’t New Yorker a serious literary magazine?’

‘Yes it is. And so is Playboy.’ As I say that, I am thinking of what Hefner (Hugh M.) once said to a bevy of Playmates during one of their reunions at his Los Angeles mansion: if not for you, I would be a literary magazine! ‘As a matter of fact, both of them are excellent general interest magazines.’ I add.

‘You mean also likes of Harpers and Atlantic?’

‘Precisely! Albeit more lifestyle and sexually oriented. And geared mainly towards men.’

‘Are you Muslim?’ asks Joe out of the clear blue sky. Stands to reason, because the majority of guests are.


‘Than what are you? A Hindu?’


‘I am surprised because I have never met a Hindu so nice.’ And then he goes on to tell me how his experience with Hindus has been not so positive. Strange, because that is certainly not so. We have our quirks, but by and large the Indians, Hindus or Muslims have a very good reputation in the USA. I tell him about Maria – the 93 year old Polish lady who I often run into on Division Street, up the street from St. Mary’s medical building, always raving about her Indian doctor, who she tells me treats her free of charge and how nice he has always been. And how majority of Indian doctors in the country are well regarded and respected.

‘I guess I am prejudiced because of my own experience of them. I will pay more attention the next time’

He also has some misconceptions about the animosity between Hindus and Muslims – the petty wars between them he has watched on TV or has read about. He is surprised at me saying that in spite of bit of fireworks and the sectarian violence, a few border disputes, Hindus and Muslims in India live in harmony. That I for one, grew up right next to the pre-dominantly Muslim neighborhood of Bhindi Bazar in Mumbai. That Zahir, a Muslim and I are as good  friends as anyone else baffles him.

He is astonished when I tell him that after Indonesia, India has the second largest Muslim population in the world. As of 2014 census, to Indonesia’s 209 million, India has 176 million Muslims to Pakistan’s 167 million. That the Bollywood is dominated mainly by Muslims and majority of our idols like Shahrukh Khan are Muslims, and are most beloved on the sub-continent. That even though up until very recently Hindu Marriage Act prohibited Hindus from polygamy, India’s Muslims were allowed to have up to four wives, justified under the fundamental right for those who practice Islam. I totally forget to mention that during the short history of independence, of the total of thirteen, India had four Muslim presidents.

By now I have managed to totally confuse poor Joe. And I tell him how proud I was of the country of my birth when CNN sponsored debate between India and Pakistan that took place in Mumbai early in the 2000s, moderated by their star anchor Wolf Blitzer, that three of the five panelists on the Indian team were Muslims.

‘This is all new to me. Let me find my daughters, I want them to hear this. They are somewhere around her.’ With what I am saying, I am shattering Joe’s deeply rooted convictions.

And Joe disappears in the crowd. I strike up a conversation with his wife Yvonne, up until then the onlooker. I find out that they have been married for like 45 years, still happily together – albeit with the usual ups and downs of any coupledom.

Soon Joe reappears with his two stunningly beautiful gems of daughters. Appropriately named Amber and Crystal. Earlier I had noticed Amber around the buffet table. A beautifully sculpted angular face and shining cinnamon color skin, her dark hair pulled up, tall, she could have passed as an artist’s muse. I presumed her to be the older of the two. But the younger looking Crystal at 42 looks like she is in her early thirties. She is darker – the color and the texture of dark chocolate and has the shoulder length billowing hair framing her round face.

‘I want you girls to listen to this gentleman. He used to work for Playboy!’

Playboy?’ Exclaims Amber. She twists her nose in a disdainful gesture.

‘You obviously have never read the magazine?’ I ask pointedly.

‘What is there to read?’

I give them the same spiel as how only 36 some pages of the magazine are the nudes.’ And I tell her about the in-depth articles, fiction and the interviews. I mention Gabriel García Márquez, which draws a blank.

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