No fig-leafs in the altogether
Some in NCR find joy in baring their body to the elements. They are not exhibitionists but look for private spaces to experience public nudity
Nudity has become a radical way of self-expression as clothes have become a second skin thanks to thousands of years of conditioning to be dressed in public. However, there are few who seek play of elements on their bare bodies like our distant ancestors used to in times immemorial or the other denizens of the animal kingdom. They live close to nature.
Clothes—worn as a certificate that we are civilised—over the last few millenniums have become an integral part of self, almost second skin, and a tool to project one’s complex identities for public consumption. To hide is virtuous and it makes us humans extremely vulnerable to bare our real self to others like us. Not all, there are a growing number naturists, here in India as well.
One of the key arguments in favour of nudity is that it prevents children from developing an attitude of shame and guilt about the human body. People all over the world take a break from clothing in camps, holiday resorts and cruises. In many parts of Europe and the rest of the West, they are allowed to live the way they choose in large numbers in secluded places close to nature—this has become an integral part of the alternate culture, almost iconoclastic.
A lot of literature has since come up that explains the idea. Even those who don’t practice it venture to write about it, like Naked at Lunch–The Adventures of a Reluctant Nudist by Mark Haskell Smith. This book was much appreciated by Rahul R, a software engineer working for a multinational in Gurugram.
Rahul R, 37, has lived in the US for five years, followed by a year in Berlin before returning to India in 2016. In Germany, he for the first time experienced free body culture and was fascinated in the way he felt—comfortable about his body vis-a-vis others, and nature.
Rahul explains, “You feel close very to nature. But it did something even more significant to me. It meant the end of body shame for me. I grew up disliking my dark complexion, was therefore very shy and acutely conscious of myself. But now I feel so comfortable in my skin, I don’t feel like hiding it.”
He narrates the profound joy he feels lying naked in the warm sandy beach as the cool breeze from the sea gushes past him. “It’s not about me, it’s about being part of something larger—the whole universe. You feel it. Almost surreal!”
He now lives in a high-rise building on the 16 floor in Gurugram, often travels abroad to be part of various naturist camps but also enjoys domestic travel to hill stations, sea coasts and his favourite backwaters of Kerala, places where he can be himself.
Back in the city, there are dozen-odd naturists residing in the NCR. Rahul is a member of this closed group, and they travel together, have shortlisted some locations, to camp, or hire a small bungalow along the sea coast and convert it into a temporary nudist colony. “I like it this way. It’s important for my wellbeing. But I don’t want to offend others. So we find private enclaves nestled in nature to bare ourselves,” Rahul explains.
Chitra is 64, a retired executive who lives in Noida with her husband. Two of her sons are settled abroad. She likes to be in nature without any clothing. She explains the paradox. “I’m ageing, wrinkles are surfacing on my body, but I don’t feel the need to hide my ageing body. It’s such a natural process. Also, it doesn’t matter what people think of my body as long as I feel good about myself. And I’m not just my body. I feel complete when I’m out in nature. And if people don’t like me the way I’m, it’s their problem, not mine.”
Her husband is not comfortable but he gets the point and accompanies her on such trips. “He’s getting there,” she says as they start to laugh. Their sons and rest of the family don’t know about it, but for a few select friends who have been with them to experience nudism.
Referring to her children and their children, she says, “I haven’t told them about it because I don’t know how they will react. But at some point in time, they will know about it, and I will encourage them to try,” adding, “I wear clothes not to embarrass other people.”
The moot point all try to make is nudity is not indecent. Chitra reads loudly what renowned American poet, essayist, and journalist Walt Witman had to say about it, “Sweet, sane, still Nakedness in Nature! — ah if poor, sick, prurient humanity in cities might really know you once more! Is not nakedness then indecent? No, not inherently. It is your thought, your sophistication, your fear, your respectability that is indecent. There come moods when these clothes of ours are not only too irksome to wear but are themselves indecent. Perhaps indeed he or she to whom the free exhilarating ecstasy of nakedness in Nature has never been eligible (and how many thousands there are!) has not really known what purity is — nor what faith or art or health really is.”
Saif is from a conservative Muslim family, just like Rahul and Chitra are from very religious Hindu families. He has an Instagram account under a fake name where he shares his pictures. A denizen of eastern Uttar Pradesh, he likes to visit Goa and Kerala. He sometimes lies in the veranda of his DDA flat in South Delhi, which is covered with a blanket of creepers, to feel his bareness—“it’s emancipating” in his words. He likes to cook without his clothes on.
His girlfriend, who sometimes stays overnight with him, is getting used to him roaming around naked in the apartment. She is however of the view that he should seek some help about his keen desire to travel to places, to be with a group of likeminded people who like to exist in the nude. Nature is their clothing, dwelling–quite literally.
A tall lanky fellow with oversized feet, Saif finds the whole idea difficult to explain. He tries to distinguish between being an exhibitionist and a nudist. “I’m not naked to flaunt my body. I just feel very comfortable that way—very close to me. It’s a good feeling I can’t put in words.” He uses words like liberating, wonders why people get offended, even paranoid about seeing a naked human body. He employs a popular joke amongst the nudists to make his point, “No one is perfect! Everyone’s ass has got a crack in it.”
“We are all a bit nudist, very few acknowledge it, even fewer act on it,” sums up Chitra. Clearly, there are many Milind Somans who’d want to run naked on a sea beach.