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Boys and their tchotchkes
Two melon breasts pretend to hide behind a detachable bra. Below it, the body tapers into a ridiculously thin, almost Victorian waist. A black G-string outlines a round, luscious butt. Left to her own devices, Sakhubai, as she is fondly known in the house, is capable of outraging the modesty of elderly guests. So, most days, the whip-toting seductress' bottom half is hidden from view andthe wispy nature of her bra discussed only in murmurs. Sakhubai is our Indian nickname for a succubus, the title of the fictional female comic character whose purpose, evidently, is to destroy men through seduction. As a rule, of course, a succubus is just a male fantasy, but in our modest one BHK, she is tangible. Her six-inch-tall plastic self stands out in a male-dominated world of action figures that line an entire wooden shelf in the living room. In geek speak, these toys are often referred to as 'action figures'. Lexically, an 'action figure' refers to any 'character figurine, often made of plastic and based upon movie, comic book or videogame characters'.
But if you ask collectors like my husband, you would get poetry in return. To him, these toys are beautiful miniature clones of foreign characters he grew up in awe of - works of art worthy of splurging on, obsessing over and nurturing for posterity. Heman, Batman, Hulk, Two face, Terminator, Predator - they all stand like assorted armymen, each holding an imaginary key to his Hollywood-obsessed childhood and glaring at me as if I was there to steal it. They all come with turn-ons such as a good paint job, accessories that fit snugly, realistic body movements and other things that are now only clubbed under the overused, household term: 'detailing'.
Manufactured by US-based brands like NECA, McFarlane and Hot Toys, these action figures come with a 17-plus age tag and their purchase is often preceded by a careful sifting of YouTube video reviews in which fans can be seen 'unboxing' action figures. Depending on the size, make, rarity and even gender (female figurines cost much more), each figure - sourced carefully through toy shops, e-commerce sites and goodwill - could cost between Rs 500 and Rs 35, 000 each.
I have to politely correct friends who presume that the seeds of this collection were sown in childhood. The madness began, for some strange reason, after marriage. It started off as an innocent singular toy that only dressed up the space on top of our computer and soon, the combined forces of nostalgia and e-commerce ensured that these action figures took over our house in the rapid, omnipresent fashion that Bollywood's action figure Akshay Kumar did the big screen at forty.
There were about 78 in all till I stopped counting. Measuring up competition, even the inanimate kind, is exhausting after a while. They make the house look, for all practical purposes, like a stubborn boy's paradise. Each of them gets an equal measure of his love though. There is no hierarchy whatsoever in the layout of the shelf although Kratos and Hulk occupy the very top by virtue of sheer size. Sometimes, we return home to find up to two action figures on the floor, face down which leads us to suspect that they come to life when no one's around.
This imaginary, domestic version of Toy Story, however, is slightly warped. The characters hardly behave like the originals. The fictional extraterrestrial species Predator, for instance, looks like he is afraid of being toppled by his own tail. He leans tentatively to one side like a cool drunk. Tremor, the porcine orange videogame character with a mountainous body and unusually small legs, on the other hand, can't seem to take the weight of his own body and is prone to falling off the top shelf time and again. In fact, Thor, the stately Avengers man with the English accent and an obedient hammer, has even lost a leg in this fashion. Very often, in these mysterious accidents, World of Warcraft's Illidan too has had to wash his hands off two majestic, purple wings until Feviquick restored his royal stance. As a consequence, I'm now familiar with the glossary which I've come to realise is also a great way to alienate girlfriends. 'Mint condition'. 'Limited Edition'. 'Unboxing' - we now speak an exclusive language.
'Articulation' for instance, now only means the number of poses a figure is capable of. I also know better than to frown when a freshly arrived action figure looks damaged. It's mostly deliberate and, like sugarless chai, commands a higher value than the available version. So the scars of the battle-damaged Batman, who is yet to emerge from his box, I now know, are expensive. On YouTube, there is an Australian mockumentary, which draws an interesting parallel between action figure collectors and drug addicts. The loss of Terminator's gun and other minuscule accessories have led to obsessive compulsive episodes. Once every two months, every figure is carefully unmounted, scrubbed, bathed and restored to mint glory. The mother-in-law even had to recreate Castle Greyskull out of paper mache on request, with just a printout for reference. God of War and Marvel heroes threaten to leap out of the posters on our living room walls and slowly, he even began selling them in the name of social service to geeks like him. This means I am now coming to terms with the husband's prolonged, phone conversations with male friends and their untimely text messages implying straight love for the man who fulfils their orders. One day at a time, that's how I am dealing with it. A few days ago, however, I got what I thought was a taste of revenge when at the same shop that marks the point of origin for some figures, I decided to get myself a Barbie. With her long, lustrous locks hidden by a sheer veil and a white satin wedding gown, she looked resplendent and real, unlike the fake, plump Barbie I had owned as a kid. The decision was expensive and impulsive but strangely, it was then that I began to understand the husband, the irresistible pull of nostalgia and the thrill of owning a piece of the wonder years. Suddenly, Sakhubai didn't seem so vulgar.
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