Christian Grey doesn't live in E L James' head. We spend an evening with a banker and BDSM practitioner…
MITALI PAREKH, Mumbai Mirror November 19, 2013, 12.00 AM IST
In a bout of desperation last year, Martin Jones began applying to classified ads that sought household help. "When speaking to the women on phone, I'd slip power to them, saying, 'I'll do any work you tell me to'," says the 30-year-old Mumbai-based banker about dialling affluent homes in south Mumbai and Versova.
He turned up at one home wearing loose, dirty fare, worked for five hours straight and accepted a payment of Rs 100. Eight visits last year were followed by another this year before he had to retreat. "My secret life was overlapping with the public one. I walk to Charni Road station every evening from my Nariman Point office. Once, my mistress's dog was being walked on Marine Drive, and it recognised me. I had to hide until it went away. I could have been busted. I know her husband is a lawyer, because I have dusted his law books."
Martin Jones is not his real name. It's the alias he uses to seek out mistresses who will fulfill his Bondage, Discipline, Sadism and Masochism (BDSM) fantasies. An umbrella term that refers to erotic practices where partners take on unequal roles, BDSM involves the Dominant or Dom/Domme who exerts absolute sexual control over the obedient submissive or sub.
Men don't excite Jones. Neither do women with "typical girlfriend attributes". A fair bit of his spare time is spent before his laptop scouting websites for dominatrixes who he can worship. "But in India, most people online are men pretending to be women, or mercenaries and pimps," he says.
He tells his tale with utmost seriousness as we sit at Worli sea face. He sections his life into careful compartments. None of his friends know each other. The few acquaintances he has made in Mumbai are yet to learn his real name.
At work, Jones is often perceived as aggressive, and self-admittedly, doesn't like to play in groups. "I can be the life of the party when I am with strangers, but I also require plenty of quiet and personal time," he says. Intense loneliness, he admits to in a moment of vulnerability, but quickly lends it a psychometric assessment. "My MBTI (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator) is INTJ (Introversion, intuition, thinking, judgment). That should say a lot."
Jones had written to us partly hoping we had something in common; if not, hoping we will have leads for him, given the breadth of information that flows through a newsroom. We are used to reader requests to meet Sachin Tendulkar and Salman Khan. This was new.
The mail we received from him is a prototype he sends out to most Dommes. It's replete with supplication: I am looking for a woman/ couple who can dominate me and use me as her/their slave… I am also willing to pay an amount if you can do this to me. I am harmless and seek this in private."
Jones comes from a conservative, religious family from Kanyakumari in Tamil Nadu, and his sexual preferences isolated him since childhood. From the vantage point of hindsight, he connects the dots that lead to this point of exasperation where he hangs around speciality lingerie stores in Bandra, hoping to start a transaction with anyone purchasing leather gear.
"It's like a drug," he tries to explain, "Only more expensive, and harder to find. After an experience, I feel fulfilled for a while, but then the craving returns, stronger."
When he was six, he saw the foot of a woman in a social studies book, and was left captivated. "I was too small to show a physical indication of arousal, but that image stayed in my mind. I was also struck by the absurdity of my interest," he says. "Then, when I was 15, a class teacher who was beautiful and strict, meted out corporal punishment to another student. It aroused me again. I remember looking at her feet."
Jones knew he wasn't one of the boys when his friends would discuss women. "They'd talk about breasts," he says, looking away. Then in 2002, the Internet happened to him while he was at college. "I discovered Google and typed the phrase 'foot loving'. It threw up an image of a woman sitting cross-legged and a man kissing her feet," he says. "I was stumped. Now I knew that there were others like me."
Slowly, Jones started feeding his obsession by discovering different forms of domination, skulking around in chatrooms. He had a few girlfriends but those relationships died a natural death. Plain vanilla, he calls boring. "I realised it cannot be made the cornerstone of my bedroom activities."
When Jones was 23, and living in Chennai, he heard about a professional German dominatrix who was visitingBangalore. He sent in his application and bagged an 8 am appointment. The fees: Rs 5,000. The German sent an auto driver to pick him up at the stationm, who offered him a tour of the city while she prepared. When he arrived at her rented apartment, Jones saw a dungeon. She had everything — leather paddles, St. Andrew's cross, bull whips, cat-o-nine tails, a throne in the middle of the room, a low table and plush carpeting. "She was dressed splendidly in a black corset and looked just like her photograph. She knew exactly how to extract submission — she tested my pain threshold in a controlled setting, and gave me a safeword (a code word that indicates to the dominant to stop the scene right away or reduce level of intensity)."
The session was supposed to last two hours but went on for five. "She was enjoying it. I was swimming in a sea of submission —she burned me with a cigarette, whipped me, made me massage her feet. When I left, I felt purged, thinking I had got it out of my system and would now lead a normal life."
But in three days, the urge began hunting him again.
In 2010, Jones met her again at a Juhu five-star. This time, the setting was not that elaborate, but she remembered him from their Bangalore encounter. The session lasted for two hours and cost him Rs 11,000. He reached there after a 16-hour train journey. "She had over 130 pairs of shoes, which I was made to clean," he says. "I was a little sore from the journey but enjoyed it nevertheless. She said she was going to start a dominatrix academy in India and wanted me to head the operations. That's exciting."
All the while, the thought of getting in touch with other 'slaves' to expand the network didn't cross his mind. The BDSM community in India is undetermined, he says. Psychologist Deepak Kashyap says you can't determine a sample size by counting how many people visit a shrink. "It's like judging the average Indian male's penis length by calling for volunteers. Only those who are confident will come forward anyway," he explains.
Jones calls it an underground community; one that prefers to stay dormant due to the fear of social chastisement. "I have met only three genuinely submissive men in Mumbai, and not a single genuine dominatrix. At a meet-up conducted by a city forum, only 15 male masters and slaves turned up. Not a single woman," he says.
In time, Jones moved from Bangalore to Pune and got in touch with two 'mistresses' in Mumbai. Their charge was Rs 25,000, but he managed to bargain during the rickshaw ride there. "In Mumbai, everything is a business," he says. Instead of two, Jones was introduced to three mistresses. "All in their 40s, they looked much younger and were very hard-handed — their slaps were not wellplaced, they kicked me randomly and the abuses were crude. There was no safeword. They made me lick 30 shoes until my tongue bled."
He returned to this Kandivli set-up several times, but during one encounter, he talked back to his mistress and that ejected him from their circle. "So, that door closed."
Jones now lives in Worli, and is still looking for his next fix. It's hard to find. He has made a few 'slave' friends, and when they meet, they discuss the scarcity of the source of their pleasure. When he goes without a release for long, his obsession interferes with his daily life. Working out, he says, is a good antidote to his craving. "I can walk long hours without tiring. It makes me feel in charge and keeps my mind off Dommes."
There have been close calls, like with the dog. Sometimes, worse. Danger he seeks, but only in a controlled environment.
What he is certain about is that he doesn't seek a relationship. Or intercourse. There is release, but in the privacy of his home. The search right now is for a mutual partner — someone who enjoys wielding power and does not charge for it. And when that happens, they can live happily ever after. 'A fetish is embedded in the subconscious'
A person's curiosity in BDSM can range from one-off experimentation to a way of life, which is why there is a debate over whether it's a kink sexual activity or a form of sexual orientation. Psychologist Deepak Kashyap says BDSM, or any fetish, is one you do not choose; it's embedded in your subconscious. "Sex is not about the physical alone. It is a close representation of a person's psychological need to be loved and desired," he says. Fetishes, he explains, are recognised by our brain as a good thing as long as they don't harm our organs or incapacitate our ability to have sex. Being bound can be far more liberating than plain sex, if it's done with prior consent in a respectable and safe setting. But he is quick to caution: The enjoyment must be mutual. The root of a fetish like BDSM does not lie in one source. "Psychology does not function like physics where there is a singular (or at least one major) cause for a phenomenon. There are many variables acting on different planes; a multitude of factors. So, it can't be pinned down to an incident in childhood or biology alone," he argues.
It's also naive to stereotype the personality of a fetishist. "He could be confident, responsible and assertive in his regular life, and feel perfectly in control to break the mould and play slave during a sexual act." While most of us view BDSM as a Western phenomenon, Kashyap disagrees. "The Kamasutra discusses aggression and how to handle it in an erotic but safe manner. We cannot become the second largest population in the world without experimenting with a variety of sexual methods." Porn, he adds — where BDSM is a popular category — should be viewed with caution because it can distort your idea of what 'should' be done to feel fulfilled.