Haresh Shah

Some Call It Smut – Others Read It For The Interviews – And You?

Why I felt the need to write to my parents to justify my taking a job at Playboy, I don’t know. But just in case if they had similar misconceptions about Playboy as do most of the people who had actually  never even read it. I wrote a long letter telling my parents  how happy I was to have had an opportunity to work for one of the best magazines in the world. Of the four magazines I consider to be the standard bearers are: Time, The New Yorker, New York and Playboy.  The letter was basically me refuting the people who expressed their opinions with a smirk: yeah right! You read it for its interviews.

To my astonishment, my father’s response was: so what’s the big deal? Haven’t  you  ever read Rasa Manjari? Right!! But my dad read Rasa Manjari? Uhm! Not only had I paged through Rasa Manjari, but also had to study two Sanskrit classics: Shakuntla by Kalidasa and Swapna Vasvadatta (Vision of Vasvadatta)  by Bhása. Their microscopic descriptions of the female anatomy in all their graphic details would make even Madonna blush. Not to speak of Kama Sutra, which I hadn’t read.  And what about all those multi-dimensional  carvings of Khajuraho and other Indian temples depicting every conceivable positions in blatant fornication? They all prove the point made by the late Bollywood legend, Dev Anand,  in his opinion column that appeared decades earlier in  I  believe either Indian Express or Free Press Journal.  Accordingly, what we now proudly call the Indian culture was sadly brought upon us by the culmination of several hundred years of  rule by the Moguls and the English. Along with the breath-taking Mogul monuments such as Taj Mahal and the British building of the country-wide network of railroads, what we also inherited from them were their prudish socio-sexual values and morality. India before them was the country of the gender equality and the ultimate socio-sexual freedom. It was a country in which the court dancers occupied honored positions in royal advisory councils.

Breathing a sigh of relief, when a year later I boarded the Bombay bound Swissair flight, squeezed in-between my clothes and gifts were several copies of Playboy. The magazine long banned in India. I wanted to show my family and friends the love of my labor. How would I get it through the ever so vigilant customs of the country was something I had to play by ear.

It must be about two in the morning as I stood in front of the dressed in lily-white and starched to the-T,  uniformed customs officer. My suitcase propped up on top of the counter and what would be an early version of a boom box, hanging from my left hand.

‘I am afraid you will have to pay duty on that transistor.’
‘How much?’
‘I don’t know exactly. Do you have the bill? I think probably about two thousand rupees.’
‘But it didn’t even cost me that much.
‘Sorry, the duty is 200%’
‘In that case, you can keep it here. I will take it back on my return flight. I am sure I can buy one similar for much less from Crawford Market.’ Seeing that I had managed to throw him off-track, I continued: ‘My father will be heart-broken, because he normally never asks me for anything. He asked me for this so he can record and play bhajans during his puja sessions every day.’

I could see the expressions on his face changing. Suddenly I had put him in a moral bind. How could he deny a gift to a father from his son? Even more so, it was meant to play spiritual bhajans in a home temple. Still not saying anything, he points at the suitcase.

‘What else you’ve got in there?’
‘Oh, just some small gifts for my brothers and sisters. We are eight siblings.  Some toys for their kids and a sari for my mother.’

But I am not worried about them. It’s the issues of Playboy stashed between the layers of clothing. One thing I had learned from my very first encounter with the customs at the port of Dover in England was – never try to or even hint at having hidden anything which the customs officer may deem in the slightest susceptible. It has served me well. Years and years that I have traveled and hundreds of trips I have taken all over the world, I have but only once paid minimal customs duty, that of around forty American dollars.

With my suitcase wide open on the counter, I turn over  my clothes and fish out a couple of issues of Playboy.

‘Other than that the only other thing I have are these copies of Playboy.  But I work for the magazine in Germany and  am its production manager. I want to show my friends and the family what I do for a living.’ To authenticate my claim, I pull out my business card  and extend my hand  to give it to him. Without even turning his head, he throws a perfunctory sideway glance at the card. I am standing there with an issue of Playboy in my hand, proceeding to flip to the staff page and show him my name in the masthead.

‘No, no, no, no. No!!!. Put it right back in your suitcase, shut it quick and get the hell out of here before my boss sees it and you and I both get into trouble!’

© Haresh Shah 2012

Illustration: Jordan Rutherford



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Next Friday, December 21, 2012
Well, if you have been wondering whatever happened to the beautiful Barbara and her inexperienced  photographer, and his botched test shoot, wonder no more. Click next week on this continuation of Hunting For The Girl Next Door.