The Upholstery Man Who Watched Porn

Regrettably, what I had hoped would be a dreamy account of my return to India will have to wait for now. The magic of Delhi has admittedly worn off on me over the past couple of days, and yet I remain head over heels in love with this country and culture…  so stay tuned for the highlights, which I’ve no doubt will soon follow today’s tale.

In November of last year, I wrote about a rather unpleasant encounter with an auto-rickshaw driver in South Delhi. After that incident, I was fortunate enough not to experience anything quite as unnerving. Until last weekend, that was.

Which brings me to 11am on Saturday morning, when two men arrived on my doorstep ready to change the fabric on my bed. I’d organised this job a week in advance, selected the cloth, and struck a good deal with the shop owner (in a seemingly reputable shop in Green Park). The transaction was pleasant and the upholsterers arrived on time (a rarity in Delhi!) I even phoned a friend to say ‘this is the best customer service I’ve had in weeks’. I spoke too soon. After measuring my bed and agreeing on a lower price, the first man left, leaving the second to get to work. I offered him water and turned on the AC. After a couple of hours, my flatmate left to meet some friends and I stayed in alone, working in his bedroom while the upholsterer worked in mine. The job took him almost 5 hours – an incredibly long time now that I think about it. Every now and again I popped my head around the door to see how my bed was shaping up, and the upholsterer began muttering to himself. I did think it strange, but couldn’t understand what he was saying. He was sweating, even though the room was icy cool. And, he was scratching his private parts… but let’s be honest, don’t most of us from time to time? When he had finished, I helped the upholsterer carry my mattress from the balcony onto my bed. He was looking at me in a way that made me feel very uncomfortable so I asked him to stop, and to leave. He didn’t. This man was really sweating by now. I walked through to the living room to call my flatmate and request he speak to the man in Hindi. I would pay the balance at the shop later. From the corner of my eye, I could see the upholsterer standing there. He was touching his penis. My flatmate couldn’t hear me clearly so I cut the call and dialled my boyfriend. By this point, I could hear loud sexual noises coming from my bedroom – the voice of a woman’s, not a man’s. Within seconds, I realised that the upholsterer was watching porn on his mobile phone and pleasuring himself, in my bedroom. I could hardly believe what was happening and swore at the man until he stopped. Sat on my bed, he received further abuse from the other end of my phone, to which he solemnly answered “yes sir”, “yes sir”.  The upholsterer then picked up his bag and left.What followed was equally unpleasant. Five minutes later, two men came pounding on my front door, incessantly ringing my doorbell and mobile phone. I locked all of the doors and windows and after a couple of angry phone calls they then left too.My flatmate was home within 20 minutes, and my friend (and ex Centre for Social Research colleague) drove straight over to the upholstery shop. It turns out the upholsterers are on “external contracts” – i.e. the shop keeper accepted no responsibility for what had happened.  His workmen filled us in. The culprit in my story holds a criminal record, with pending charges against him for sexual assault. He was fired three days ago from another job following a similar incident. We, too, are going to press charges. This man must be held accountable, and this kind of behaviour needs to stop.

More and more I wonder where sexual harassment and violence against women stems from. What happened on Saturday got me thinking about pornography and the effects it can have on those watching it. It’s something I’ve never given much attention to. I now realise that I may have grossly overlooked the muted, yet sinister role porn plays within society. For the uneducated, pornography inevitably substitutes sex education. That much is evident from the events that unfolded in my bedroom on Saturday afternoon. Findings on the effect of porn on crime and domestic violence are said to be inconclusive. That’s because it is extremely difficult to measure the influence of porn on sexual behaviour. In 2010, one study showed that boys who watch porn grow into men who think sexual harassment is acceptable:

“Porn is a very poor sex educator because it shows sex in unrealistic ways and fails to address intimacy, love, connection or romance. Often it is quite callous and hostile in its depictions of women.”

Another similar study in the U.S. failed to find one single 20-year-old male participant who had not been exposed to pornographic material. Not very surprising that porn may be a causal factor in crimes against women, then.

Pornography is founded on fantasy. In the absence of understanding that porn is in fact fictional, it may be very difficult for a person to separate their fantasies from reality. For many, porn is exciting, it’s exhilarating, it’s private and harmless. And then there are those that wish to indulge in those same scenarios in the real world. Out of those people, there are some who believe sex can be initiated at any given moment, leaving no room for respect or consent. But, a pornographic plot line itself is not real. For years, that’s why I had never spent any time thinking about it. I believed it to be a preferable outlet for sexual urgency and desire to oppression-cum-aggression. And yet, for the first time, I’ve now come face-to-face with the false messages pornography conveys. Last weekend I felt like an unsuspecting character in one man’s personal fantasy. A fantasy undeniably influenced by Western porn.

Every second, 28,258 internet users are viewing pornography and over $3000 is being spent on the porn industry. Pornography is something I’d like to learn more about. On discovering that a man’s imagination can run havoc on his morals and actions, I feel it’s something that parents, teachers and policy makers should also pay more attention to.

Sexual harassment is not an Indian-specific problem. It is not necessarily linked to bedrooms and upholstery. Neither is it always induced by porn. Men and women can both fall victim to sexual harassment. It can happen anywhere, at any time. Here I now find myself, advising friends to ensure they are not home alone when opening the door to a stranger for any reason. And yet, how ridiculous is that. Is it not safe to answer the door in our own homes?  Where should we draw the line?

Sex should be consensual. All sexual acts should be consensual. If anything similar happens to you or a friend, take the man to the police; file a First Information Report (FIR) against him if you’re in India, or equivalent in another country. Please.

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6 thoughts on “The Upholstery Man Who Watched Porn”

  1. Hi Kara! A very well narrated incident. I was captivated and couldn’t stop till I reached the end. I can completely empathize with what you experienced and somehow it makes me feel like apologizing for my entire country. But you’re also right in saying that sexual harassment is not nation-specific and can happen to anyone anywhere. This post also warrants a look by those who believe that most of the time its a woman who invites harassment by her actions. What was your invitation here? Is upholstery incredibly wanton?? I’m glad you wrote this. I’m sharing this on my website’s FB page.

    1. Thank you Prachi, it’s really nice to hear that you enjoyed my writing and wanted to share it. Please don’t feel like apologising, because you’re so right – it could happen anywhere and it doesn’t make me want to spend any less time in India or taint my view of your beautiful country and culture as a whole. Agree with you about these so-called ‘invitations’. The blame game really winds me up too. Like you said, this particular scenario certainly challenges that ridiculous excuse/theory!

    1. Please don’t feel sorry, it’s no one person’s fault. Even though it wasn’t a pleasant situation it could have been much worse, and it also got me thinking and others talking – which I see as a positive thing. Thanks for reading and commenting, K.

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