Its name may make you blush like flame of the forest. But for all its titular randiness, the Bombay Fornicator is favoured not by the young and the virile but by the elderly who slump into its long embrace looking more for a snore than a whore.
On sale at Mumbai’s most truthfully named market, Chor Bazaar, the Bombay Fornicator-a planter’s chair with extendable arms that swing out and work as footrests-is basking in newfound attention after a prominent featuring in a new novel, Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi’s lushly written The Lost Flamingoes of Bombay.
In the book, an impossibly talented photographer is told by an unspeakably gorgeous actress that if he wishes to immortalise Bombay city, he should definitely have the BF starring in a cameo role. Gorgeous doesn’t elaborate or explain, so skewered by curiosity, the lensman stumbles through the antique muddle of Chor Bazaar and braves the smirks of shopkeepers until a beautiful stranger takes pity on him and leads him to the Bombay Fornicator. One suffers his piercing disappointment when he beholds the object of his quest: “what a lot of fuss about a chair”. It is an unkind cut, but the appropriateness of the name soon unfurls.
Called the long lounge chair, the easy chair, aaram khursee, lambey haath or the Tall Dark and Handsome by different users, the low-slung wood-and-rattan Bombay Fornicator is said to have been jointed in India during the British regime and christened by the lounge lizards of the Raj. Today, furniture store Dorabji N Mistry and Sons will build you a customised siesta chair for about Rs 12,000. At Chor Bazaar’s Mutton Street, they are displayed like trophies atop stacks of wooden furniture. Furniture hunters who stop by Saquib Shastiker’s shop often ask him about the grand old chair. Describing it as a “running item”, the 26-year-old businessman says, “I will disclose its price to the customer directly.” A little nudging later he reveals, “The starting price is Rs 10,000 as we re-polish the antique to ensure longevity.”
The BF dozes in the living room of many Goan and Parsi homes and is a staple at the city’s roomy old reading rooms and libraries like the David Sassoon, where members use them to read and siesta. In the polished, old-world interiors of the Ripon Club at Flora Fountain, guests can be seen enjoying a post-lunch nap on the chairs. One of Mumbai’s most respected criminal lawyers, the late P R Vakil, could be found there most afternoons, enjoying a quiet cup of tea. Secretary of the club Rumi Tatary says, “Both men and women enjoy lying on them after eating dhansak or some of the other non-vegetarian Parsi meals we serve.” Zahreer Panthaki, a regular at the club makes it a point to lie on the chair after a hearty meal. “Stretching my legs on this chair makes me feel nostalgic,” says Panthaki, “Many cottages in Udwada too have this antique chair.”
In The Lost Flamingoes of Bombay, the mystery around the Bombay Fornicator is sustained for a while. The lady who pilots the photographer to this unholy grail, asks him to sit in it. Describing the moment, the book reads, `With his crotch aloft, his legs drawn out, Karan felt completely exposed.’ Spreadeagled at a foolish angle in a position all too compromising, the singular beauty of the name strikes him. `He sat up, smiling like a baby who was being tickled on its soles.’
The author recalls how he used to spend days at Chor Bazaar looking for an apt item of furniture for his spartan Juhu studio. “The joy of discovering an old piece is magical, and I often spent time just watching life pass by and hanging out there,” says the 31-year-old Shanghvi. Ask him if he has a Bombay Fornicator at home and he says, “I’m going to get myself one and make sure I put it to good use.”
Grew up seeing this easy chair in everyone’s home and just learned that it’s called the Bombay Fornicator. pic.twitter.com/vm5O79mrYf
— Sonali Dev (@Sonali_Dev) September 3, 2016