A Case of Mistaken Identity
Across the street where I live, on North Usman Road, there is a cluster of shops — a cigarette/tea stall, a wine shop, a pharmacy, a photo studio and so on. Needless to say, I go there almost every day, even though crossing North Usman Road is the toughest challenge any human can face. If you want to test someone’s reflexes, just push him across during peak hours. Maybe the Army should consider setting up recruitment camps along the road and ask aspiring soldiers to sprint to the other side in 30 seconds during rush time. Anyway, the road deserves a separate post.
Back to the shops. My first halt is the wine shop, where I pick up a quarter bottle of whisky. Next is the cigarette shop. Once in a while, I stop at the shop between the two — the pharmacy. There, I buy a container of — now don’t laugh — Liv. 52 tablets. While waiting at the pharmacy, I have often noticed, through the corner of my eye, a red telephone booth hanging on its wall. “Quite stylish,” I remember telling myself, “others have yellow booths, but this one has red.”
This evening, I stopped at the pharmacy for my quota of Liv. 52. The attendant was preoccupied, so I had to wait for a while, and that’s when, for the first time, I had a proper look at the red booth. There were instructions: “1. Insert a five rupee coin. 2. Turn the lever in the direction as indicated. 3. Collect the condom.”
I had always heard of condom vending machines, but this was the first time I was seeing one. The box bore the four-lion stamp, indicating that the government of India had a hand in putting it there. Then I read the declaration of the joint venture: “Ministry of Health and Hindustan Latex Limited.”
To me, the vending machine is a healthy sign and a departure from the ostrich-like attitude: the government is acknowledging that people have sex and that it is not a taboo, and since they are having sex, they might as well have safe sex.
But why put it outside a chemist shop where condoms are available anyway? Perhaps the idea is to tell people where to look for condoms even after the shop shuts for the night. For most Indian men, the need for condoms is more likely to arise during those hours.