"Post-college my perspective about sex changed a lot. I traveled the world and had (sex)life changing experiences—unfortunately, none that really helped my cause. First I took off to India for six months. I started working at an English daily newspaper in Bangalore, my first newspaper job. All the other staff members were Indian. There's so much sexual repression in that society that a lot of men didn't dare check out a woman in a sari, but when it came to the 'loose western girl'—me—they appraised my ripeness as conspicuously as they would a melon's. That was intimidating, but about two months into my stay, I started seeing Rafiq, a 31-year-old Muslim man from Mysore, a town about a three-hour bus journey away (looking back, I should have realized a town with that name wouldn't encourage orgasm)." That's from former Voice reporter Mara Altman's Thanks For Coming, which has just sold to Rakesh Satyal at HarperCollins for an amount that's been described to us as "nothing anyone should be getting their panties in a wad over." Well, so that's not what's going to finally make Mara come. But what is? Let's look inside her book proposal!
Maybe this excerpt from it—it was mailed to us by a helpful publishing sprite (if more sprites like this one would crawl out of the woodwork every day, we'd be having multiple ones of what Mara isn't having)—will help clarify stuff. Or maybe, you know, not.
He spoke Urdu; his English was heavily accented. He was the opposite of almost every guy I met there. He was like the earnest backcountry boy from the Ozarks trying to find work in the big city - naïve and innocent. On a $150 monthly salary, he was desperately trying to save enough money to pay the dowries for his four sisters before getting a wife for himself. He'd never had a girlfriend before.
It was Ramadan and he decided to take me home with him to meet his parents - at the time I had no idea what that meant. I thought he just wanted to give the American tourist a new view of his subcontinent. On our way to Mysore, Rafiq told me that his father was an imam. Being aware of the Palestinian\Israeli conflict, but not much else about Muslim-Jewish relations, I thought his father was going to shoot me as soon as I reached his foyer.
We arrived early in the morning. Rafiq's mother and sisters practiced Purdah, meaning they wear a burka when outside or stay hidden when male strangers come into the home. They didn't speak English, but conveyed soon enough that they wanted to check out my legs. They laughed, smiled, pointed and pretty much squinted at the white glare emanating from my calves. They asked what caste I was from, which translates to: Which religion do you practice? As I told them I was Jewish, I cringed, expecting the worst, but they just knocked their heads back and forth, laughed and then motioned for me roll up my pant cuffs again. It was the first of many assumptions I held that India was soon to override.
After a long day of checking out the town, Rafiq and I returned to his home for dinner. His family dressed me in a burka and told me I looked beautiful. I didn't know how to take that exactly - I was one big black blob. Even my eyes were covered. (Incidentally, Rafiq's favorite outfit of mine was a huge unshapely yellow raincoat I wore during monsoon season).
Everyone got ready for bed; that meant rolling up the mat we just ate dinner on and substituting another mat where everyone would lie crammed together like crayons in a box, to go to sleep. Meanwhile, Rafiq and I climbed up to the roof. We looked at the neighboring buildings as the call to prayer began. As it did, I kissed him. I didn't know that was his first kiss at the time.
When we got back to Bangalore, I had some housing issues. I ended up staying with him in his little hovel, just outside the city. He had no furniture, only newspaper scattered here and there. The only decorations were two Sees' Candies boxes stapled to the wall, which my brother had sent over from California, with 'Sweet Memories' inscribed - by Rafiq - in permanent marker across the top. We slept on the tile, just a thin blanket beneath us. It was so hard I got bruises on my hips from tossing and turning. The bathroom was outside and we took showers with a bucket, heating the water with a plug-in warming wand. Our pastime was kicking cockroaches into the corners.
Rafiq was taught never to touch himself. He was a devout Muslim and he said masturbation was against his religion. Whether he knew what masturbation was or not remains a mystery to me; he was too shy to give much detail. He said he didn't know that sex even existed until he was in his late teens; from behind the kitchen curtain, he overheard his mother giving one of his sisters her wedding night instructions. So here I was, a bit of a prude myself, to say the least, meeting a man less sexually realized than me. In what I had been trying to achieve for years, he achieved in seconds (it is, indeed, so much easier for guys). Except he couldn't even appreciate the feeling; he got confused and thought he had to go to the bathroom. "I felt like I had to pee," he said, bobbing his head after his first hand job. So that wasn't exactly a turn on, if you know what I mean.
"It is indeed so much easier for guys." Oh, honey. Tomorrow: Mara gets to third, sort of.