Salman Rashid

Travel writer, Fellow of Royal Geographical Society

Bombay Fornicator

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The Brits had a strange way of naming things in official jargon. For example, in the army, we had an Officer’s Office Chair which was inventoried as Chair, Officer’s Office. That is, last name, comma, first name. Just as David Atkinson is Atkinson, David.


Years ago, in those beautiful days when Pakistan Railways ran its cocksure way proudly across the length and breadth of the country, I rode trains just for the fun and adventure of it. Of course, there had been an earlier period in the Seventies when I rode trains out of necessity. There was hardly a working line in the 1980s that I did not travel on and scarcely a rest house or railway station waiting room where I had not tarried – even if there was no need to tarry.

I just loved the ambience: the high ceilings, the antiquated fans that churned around slowly, the question mark-shaped light fixtures with their blue and white enamel shades, and the furniture. My favourite item was the chair listed on the inventory – and every waiting room and rest house had an inventory – as Chair, Long Arm. This unique piece of furniture which is now seen in every country where the Brits went is also known as Planter’s Chair. Imagine a sugar cane plantation, a house with verandas, sahib in ash-gray cottons lounging on one of these in the shade with a gin and tonic.

It is a great piece of furniture with a reclining back and longish seat flanked by two extra long arms that extended about sixty centimetres beyond the edge of the seat. The angle of the recline and the long seat gave the user the facility of either sitting or reclining in it. The extra long arms were especially useful for a long-distance traveller tarrying at the waiting room between trains.

The long arms served to rest a single cup/glass of beverage or even a full meal tray while the traveller partook seated on the edge of the chair. And then, done with the food and refreshment, one could simply slide back into the chair and put one’s feet up. Now, here began the tricky business.

Men with their pants on could place both legs on the same arm or one leg on either arm for a siesta. I have spent dozens of hours trying out both positions and I can assure you that with both legs on the same arm, the one under the other goes numb after a while. But if you have legs spread out, that’s a very comfortable slumbering position. However, if you’re wearing shorts, well, in that case sleeping with the crotch wide open might be an exhibition of anatomy no one may want to see – especially in the event of a shortage of underwear.

No, I’m not even going to speak on what would happen with ladies of the Raj in their dainty dresses.

In one situation while one officer of the Raj rested with his legs apart another, very likely a bit of a rake and a wit, would have walked in through the door and instantly hit upon the term Fornicator for what was until then Chair, Long Arm. And since Bombay was the fun place in the subcontinent, it became Bombay Fornicator.

However, when I tweeted an image of the chair, I learned that it has also been known as Roorkee Fornicator. Incidentally, Roorkee in central India is home to that premium Thomason (no typo) College of Civil Engineers (established 1853) that supplied many an able engineer to the great railway network of the Indian subcontinent. Hence, the connection with this city.

From the tweets after I posted the image, it appeared that some people actually connected it with the sex act. I assure you that a Scottish friend and I in those far off days of the 1990s made what they called in the army ‘dry runs’ on the Fornicator and came to the conclusion that one had to be either a first-rate gymnast with an elastic spine or a masochist who drew pleasure from a sprained back to attempt what the Bombay Fornicator invited one to attempt.

Now, all North Western Railway Waiting Rooms had a set of eleven rules in a wood and glass frame. Rule Number 11 stated, in block capitals too: ‘LADIES’ WAITING ROOMS ARE RESERVED FOR THE EXCLUSIVE USE OF LADY PASSENGERS. GENTLEMEN ARE NOT ALLOWED TO ENTER.’ (I know this piece because one of those ancient frames hangs in my home.)

Being such a gentleman I never entered a ladies’ waiting room and have no idea if those too contain the Fornicator. But since men and women were not permitted to mingle in the waiting rooms, the title of the Bombay or Roorkee, take your pick, Fornicator, can only be the fancy of a rake and a wit.

All that having been said, there is the thought that Chair, Long Arm, aka the Bombay or Roorkee Fornicator, could be very handy in the event of an emergency delivery.

By the way, if gentlemen were not permitted to enter the ladies’ waiting room what about the lout who needs no permission for anything he does?

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posted by Salman Rashid @ 12:23 PM,

28 Comments:

At March 8, 2014 at 12:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

“ No man ever made a great discovery without the exercise of the imagination, ” George Henry Lewes once said. May be he said it for you.

 
At March 8, 2014 at 1:02 PM, Blogger Amardeep Singh said...

I remember relaxing on similar chair in the First Class Railway waiting room at Lucknow, India, in late 70s. Great article.

 
At March 8, 2014 at 1:33 PM, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Anonymous, I thank you. You are very kind.

 
At March 8, 2014 at 1:34 PM, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Common Raj heritage, my friend. We have the same things across the great and wonderful land of the subcontinent.

 
At March 8, 2014 at 2:15 PM, Blogger S A J Shirazi said...

'Like a gentleman,' I did spend a night in this chair at Feroza (Cholistan) Railway Station.

 
At March 8, 2014 at 2:28 PM, Anonymous J. said...

I saw this similar chairs at my home but they could fold. Chair was called Araam Kursi.

 
At March 8, 2014 at 2:34 PM, Anonymous Muhammad Athar said...

Wailian de kurse

 
At March 8, 2014 at 2:44 PM, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

SAJ! They are slowly disappearing. Consider yourself fortunate.

 
At March 8, 2014 at 2:44 PM, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

The Chair, Long Arm does not fold. You are referring to a different model, J.

 
At March 8, 2014 at 2:45 PM, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Actually, Athar, those who invented this chair were really hard working people.

 
At March 8, 2014 at 7:33 PM, Blogger sunil banerjee said...

Comfort De Sade ! last heard...

 
At March 8, 2014 at 8:38 PM, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Precisely, Sunil. Thank you.

 
At March 8, 2014 at 9:21 PM, Anonymous Betty Taylor said...

I've always understood these strange chairs to be called a planter's chair. I think they date from colonial times. The extra long arms are footrests.

 
At March 9, 2014 at 1:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Apart from every thing else, this chair seems suitable for Lithotomy position medic procedures.

 
At March 9, 2014 at 1:38 PM, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Lithotomy! New word for me. Had to look it up. But, yes, you are so right!

 
At November 15, 2014 at 10:31 AM, Blogger Muhammad Imran Saeed said...

Dear Sir, having spent my childhood with Railways (my father being a veteran from the department) and later on during extensive travels via said mode of transportation, I must admit that I never tried that leisurely 'posture' photographed in this post. Having read through every bit of the text (that too fondly), next time I hit a Railway Waiting Room, the first thing on my head would be to hit the Fornicator, rest my back and raise my legs on these long arms and then 'yeh post ek dafa phir parhni paregi'

 
At November 26, 2014 at 10:23 PM, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Do try it, Imran. It is a very relaxing posture, indeed.

 
At December 9, 2014 at 12:38 AM, Blogger Muhammad Imran Saeed said...

Sir, there came the big moment, managed to discover one (not at Lahore Railway Station though) hopped in and got into the posture. It turned out to be epic as I re-read this piece. A very relaxing posture verified. To take the experience to next levels the 'legal' definition of Fornicator and the natural obstacle of being a male prevented me.
I have shared the pictures on twitter with you, and Sir, thank you very much for introducing a unique feat of leisure to us.

 
At December 11, 2014 at 6:10 PM, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Glad to know that you enjoyed the repose in the recliner, Imran.

 
At March 8, 2015 at 8:00 PM, Anonymous Muhammad Athar said...

These chairs were used for sitting cum having sleep. These chairs are still found at different RS

 
At March 8, 2015 at 9:07 PM, Blogger Shaia said...

As a kid I remember being lazy on one of them at my nanka's place .( secretly) cz whenever we used to take the liberty of getting comfy a ghooree acompanying a chapal would be sent our way from my Khala or mami. We used to have one with arms that could be moved in or stretched out, may be a variation but it was a luxury much enjoyed in summers at the rooftop under the shade with books and lasi. Thankyou for sharing and taking me to a much joyful ride through my memory lane. Bless.

 
At March 9, 2015 at 9:51 AM, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Glad to know that you too are acquainted with this lovely piece of antique furniture.

 
At March 9, 2015 at 7:33 PM, Blogger Shaia said...

SB :) that house is no more not are those ppl anymore.. And unfortunately we were not given anything to keep as a cherished memory. So alls there in memory lane.

 
At March 9, 2015 at 8:35 PM, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Shaia! Now I know who you are!!!

 
At March 16, 2015 at 6:07 PM, Blogger Shaia said...

😊

 
At March 23, 2015 at 11:09 AM, Anonymous Azeez Allawala said...

there seems to have been a sudden flowering of an "ergonomical sense", if you will, in the British once they came to the sub-continent. A subject for discussion when we meet! Will call when I return to Pakistan.

 
At March 23, 2015 at 11:34 AM, Anonymous Salman Rashid said...

Certainly Azeez. Always look forward to shooting the breeze with you.

 
At March 23, 2015 at 1:21 PM, Anonymous Azeez Allawala said...

:)

 

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Deosai: Land of the Gaint - New

The Apricot Road to Yarkand


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Sea Monsters and the Sun God: Travels in Pakistan

Salt Range and Potohar Plateau

Prisoner on a Bus: Travel Through Pakistan

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