My parents are about as liberal and open-minded as you can reasonably expect Indian parents to be. While this is a blessing in most scenarios, you can't sometimes help wishing they were just a little repressed. Privacy, for instance, is a concept as alien in our household as democracy is in (insert whatever dictatorship is currently trendy to deplore). If my Dad were Osama Bin Laden (and alive), he would send out easily influenced youth to crowded malls and national landmarks in the developed world with huge quantities of Too Much Information strapped to their chests.
So the other day, we were just settling in to watch the video of Cousin Chaz's wedding. I fired up the Home Theatre system, set the surround speakers to optimum, made sure Grammy had her glasses and her Tweety Bird comforter, dimmed the lights and hit play. Being a Catholic wedding, it was considerably shorter than your average Bollywood 3-day affair, but I still couldn't share in my family's enthusiasm for watching videos of wedding ceremonies we had just attened a week ago. About fifteen restless minutes in, I decided I'd better sneak a cigarette now if I wanted to catch the hilarious drunken-Dad-dancing footage at the end.
I stood up as quietly as I could and made to leave.
"Where are you going?" came my Dad's voice, eyes still glued to the screen.
"Oh, just to the toilet," I said, in what I hoped was a dismissive tone.
Before I could take another step, the speakers died. The video paused in an ungainly close-up of the priest's jaws that reminded me of Teeth, the movie directly responsible for my irrational nervousness around lady-parts. There were audible groans and airs of discontent from Grammy, Mom, Cousin Chaz, his newly-wife Flora, her nerdy younger sister Fauna and their mother Florence. After much fumbling, the lights came on. Suddenly, I was awash in interrogative, zero-watt incandescence.
Dad swivelled around in his chair. "Why," he said- fatherly, predatorly, "what's wrong?"
I looked around the room. The newly-weds hastily re-arranged clothing and posture, while Mom looked away, eyes hinting at equal measures of indulgence and disgust. Grammy appeared to be cleaning her nails with a biro. Fauna typed furiously on her phone, while Aunt Florence quietly chastized her for her anti-social tendency to social-network in society.
"Nothing's wrong, just need the toilet," I said, fully aware that things didn't get much wrong-er than a fully grown man being asked to justify his ablutions. "Didn't we agree Fauna would stop live-tweeting everything once the wedding's over?"
"The site's gove viral," said Dad, "people want to know how the family's doing post-wedding. It's a human interest story now. Do we like the in-laws, do they like us, does Chaz's mother resent Flora, etc. She has 11,000 followers. But what I'm concerned about is," he paused and looked around the room, playing to the gallery, "are you feeling a little viral?" There was a tectonic shift in attention. I was now the centre, the core, the black hole, sucking it all in.
That familiar flush of embarassment under my collar, the bane of my teenage existence. Hello, Darkness.
"Wh-what do you mean?"
"Well, we all had a heavy meal. Now you're rushing to the toilet. Are you feeling a little... unwell?"
"I wasn't rushing. I just needed to freshen up. It's no big deal."
"Yes, but did you intend to freshen up with a Number 1 or Number 2?"
The room spun. Time slowed to a dizzying crawl. My eyes fixed themselves on Fauna's fingers, ready to telecast temporary teenage trauma to the Twitterverse. Inside, I wept. And just as suddenly, I snapped. I had contact! I could feel something, furious and molten. There was anger there, there was indignance, there was life! My testicles came plunging back, and re-established themselves in their rightful sockets for I was once again a Man!
"Dad," I said.
Do it man, be an adult, tell him it's none of his business, tell him you're going for a smoke.
"I think it might be Number 2."
Flora smirked. Chaz guffawed. Mom and Grammy looked down, let down. Aunt Florence studied the hem of her top. Dad just nodded; the nod of the all-knowing, almighty Shit Detector.
And then there was Fauna. Nerdy, bespectacled, pig-tailed, unrequited-crush-on-me, vindictive Fauna. Fauna tweeted. Merde, she wrote.