by RUBEENA D SHRESTHA
A friend, married with kids, went to her neighbourhood pharmacist and asked for the ipill, he couldn't believe his ears and asked her to repeat it a second and then a third time and finally handed it to her saying, tapai jasto manche le ipill linu ta na parne ho, yo ta unmarried chara keti haru ko lai matrai ho ni'. She being she gave him a piece of her mind and told him to mind his own bloody business.
Another woman, accompanied by her gay friend, wanted to buy some latex free condoms for her and her partner, at a pretty busy medicine shop. On hearing HER, and not the man asking for the condoms, everyone just stopped and turned to look at them with their mouths agape, shocked into silence.
Kathmandu likes to pretend that we do not have sex- that babies that add to the ever growing population just drop out of the sky. That pleasure is bad and those seeking it will and should get into trouble. That all those buying porn, visiting massage parlours or frequenting dance restaurants are out-of-towners.
We pepper our speech with curses, we pinch and poke women in crowded micro buses, we sell our daughters to human sex traffickers, we overtly ogle at anything female, we nudge and snigger at a girl dressed in a short skirt, we deface our public monuments with crude messages and drawings, we dispose of used condoms everywhere, but talk openly about sex, that makes you a bad person.
Then I heard about a sex shop opening in Kathmandu, and openly advertising in popular dailies, I knew I had to go there to speak to the proprietors, for I thought they must be exceptionally brave to face the condemnation and moral policing that would surely innundate them.
Sweet Secret is in New Road, inside a little galli, upstairs on the first floor. You cannot miss it for the corridor leading to it is bright pink. It has been open for eight months now and it is doing so well that they have already opened a branch in Pokhara and another in Itahari is in the works.
I had heard of anecdotes about how trying to procure these illicit items was an adventure in itself. Sweet talk and code words were used to allow you entrance into shady seedy backdoor closets to allow you access to the 'real stuff'. How trying to get a dildo into the country meant being subjected to the customs guy holding it aloft to loudly inquire what it was. How the 'adult' stuff usually amounted to steamier porn DVDs than those normally available in Mahaboudha, leopard print underwear or panties with strategic cut-outs, and many complained about the sneers and smirks they were subjected to by the storekeepers.
Manjit Poudel, the concept manager, and Prabin Dhakal, the store manager, are very open and matter of fact about their business. "We saw that there was a market for and as it is legal to sell these products, we decided to take a chance. The goods are mainly imported from China and the prices range from 100 to 15,000 rupees. We have an extensive website, and separate female staff to deal with women customers who may feel embarrassed talking to a man. You can shop online and have it delivered to your doorstep."
"The customers are predominantly men, but they usually buy female sex toys. Most are married or older individuals, there are a few youngsters who come in, more for a dare or the thrill, but they do not buy anything, usually giggle and stare and then walk out. Many husbands working abroad call and place orders for their wives. They want their women to explore other options and using a dildo is a much safer option than having an affair with another man. There are also a few customers who come in suffering from erectile dysfunction and the staff has to often act as part counselor to listen to their woes and help counsel them to choose the product that would be the most satisfactory. I also feel that we can help lower sexual exploitation by providing these other options," adds Dhakal.
I walk away very impressed, not at the variety of goods stored, but at how progressive we have become. While we still might not be comfortable openly talking about sex, in our bedrooms and private spaces we are definitely seeking more and more ways to enhance our lovemaking. There is nothing sleazy and judgmental about Sweet Secret, and buying sexual aids here is as easy and comfortable as going into you regular kirana pasal and buying potatoes.