Not enough sex on these walks, I decided. I’ll have to invite the leonine and totally outrageous, Kavida Rei along. Kavida – who organises monthly sensual soirees in Convent Garden and has written books on tantric massage and sex – describes herself on her website as a Tantric Goddess. Are you getting the picture? Yep, she’s a force of nature. Her latest blog features her own long sought after, and recently achieved ejaculation.
The day before we meet, I sent her an email asking her to dress discreetly because we were going to visit a religious establishment. I didn’t want to reveal where we were going. “Be direct darling,” she replied, “do you mean I have to wear underwear?”
“I don’t care about your underwear,” I shot back, “but no shorts, probably a below the knee skirt and bring a wrap around.”
“I’m getting my Amish look together,” she said. I told her I was very much looking forward to seeing her attire.
And so I’m waiting for her one sunny Wednesday afternoon at the top of the stone steps at the Harrow Road end of Willesden Junction. I look across and see that my favourite strange railway building – the metal building on the stilts which looks like it has travelled here from Bangladesh or somewhere else where the amount of water forces the architecture – is immersed now in sycamore leaves. Almost hidden.
Before I get to hum ‘You’re so sexy”, there she is sunglasses, muted colours, mad hair, big smile. But hold on. Whoops, up goes the skirt, and the naughty Ms Rei is posing at the bottom of the steps demonstrating her lack of knicker-wearing! Willesden Junction may not recover. Sadly, there are no train-spotters around to share this unusual moment.
Our Tantric – it really (as opposed to the reductive media Sting version) is a Hindu philosophy, which says you can find sensual and spiritual delight in everything from breathing to dancing to putting out the rubbish – Queen is from rural Hertfordshire and Harlesden is a bit of a shock to her system. “I don’t recognise this produce,” she says as we pass bowls of little green chillies outside one of the many High Street butchers and grocers combined.
Her own neighbours, she insists, are completely au fait and comfortable with her activities. In other words, one week she is collecting one of her sons from school (he is 16, the other is 20 and studying History of Art) in appropriately low-key school-run clothes and the next week when her son is with his father, she might be going out with her new partner sporting full-on PVC fetish wear.
“Oh, the hair shops are fantastic,” she shrieks as we peer into one of the amazing emporiums of hair. “I needed one of those when I dressed up as Cher recently.”
I know Kavida will love my favourite shop – as you know by now – Wrights, that marvellous mixture of photographic equipment and lingerie. And especially the sexy tights and stockings. In fact, I bought some brilliant black stockings with beautiful ties all the way up the back for our mutual friend, Jake (another, tantrica, Jacqueline that I met at an International Tantra festival in Catalonia but that’s another story) on her hen weekend.
“That’s so cheap,” exclaims Kavida pointing at a black basque with red ribbons. “In Coco de Mer, it would cost a fortune.” I point out the Nueva Donna nurse’s outfit, but she says her partner, Roland would go for the policewoman’s costume.. Especially the handcuffs. They’re both into the dark side of tantra as well as the light. “We love BDSM (Bondage, Discipline, Sado-Masochism),” she laughs proudly, “we often sort out our differences by doing some sub and dom role play. It’s about surrender. You receive more, the more you let go. There’s no space for the mind to sabotage you and so you really can reach an altered state. I’m very passionate about it because it is very healing for both men and women. But we also like the theatricality of dressing up. We had fun shopping at Sh, the sex shop for women, they’ve got a great dressing room which is quite private downstairs and Roland would test out the outfits with me. I bought a great waitress’ uniform with apron and cap. But Ro has got a doctor’s coat and stethoscope. They all add to the fun.”
One of Kavida’s many activities is offering sex therapy and tantric healing. As I stand outside Wright’s dazzling display, I wonder how she feels about tantric massages being offered in such a prolific and tawdry way everywhere? If you look in the back of Time Out, every masseuse is selling supposedly tantric massage experiences. Does she get pissed off? “Oh yes, “ she snorts more like a horse than a lioness at this point, “they all think wafting a few rose petals around and a feather is giving a tantric massage. It’s ridiculous. That couldn’t be further from the truth. A healing tantric massage is really about creating an intimate space between you and allowing vulnerability. The tears are the healing, as well as the orgasm.”
At this very moment, Lloyd (not his real name because he’s married), the muscle-bound and very sexy 40 something that goes to my local gym and is wont to turn up on my doorstep occasionally expecting a sexual greeting. He hasn’t had one so far. But what synchronicity that he should appear in the middle of Harlesden High St just as the conversation is turning to sexual healing. All in red, he looks hot today. I wave. He won’t have a clue what we’re discussing which is probably quite fortunate.
Inside the shop, Kavida makes a beeline for the tights. I find myself talking to Sonia Uttam who came over from Kenya – her family is originally from East India – thirty five years ago. She’s a gorgeous 60something. “The Irish used to buy so much from us,” she says confirming my previous theory about this being a quintessentially Irish shop. “But the Somalians and Afghanis don’t buy so much. The Polish do though. And the Portuguese and Jamaicans. “
Meanwhile Kavida is striding over to Ben Uttam – who came originally from Mumbai – and asking him if he tells his wife she is beautiful. “I tell her that marrying her was the best decision I ever made,” he says. There’s a communal ‘ah’ from us two at the longevity of their love. At which Sonia strolls over and insists that they have a photo taken together. But Kavida is still not quite satisfied. “I hope you’re still enjoying yourselves sexually,” she interjects cheekily. Ben is unfazed.
“I still get excited when I see her bare thighs,” he says ever so sweetly. Tantric Goddess and I have tears in our eyes at this moment. We have found that rare jewel of lasting, sexy love in the lingerie shop. Oh, it’s one of those rare touching moments.
But Tantric Goddess is unstoppable in her shopping. Now it’s a flame-coloured thong. “Because normally I don’t wear underwear,” she explains, “Roland gets excited when I do.” As we leave, Ben rushes up to Kavida with a present for being such a good customer. It’s a pair of pink furry handcuffs. He doesn’t realise what a perfect present this is.
Spotting the Shawl across the road, Kavida suggests we share a Guinness. To a pub at 3pm! Both of us profess we hardly ever go to pubs these days. This one is half-full of Irish gentlemen nursing pints. She’s just telling me proudly about her 20 year old son being in New York at the moment as a DJ, when the Guinness brings on sex memory. In typical Kavida style.
“I had sex with this bloke in a synagogue in New Orleans,” she says, “in front of the Torah ark which is considered the most holy place. I consider sex to be the holiest of holy activities so for me, it was entirely appropriate.” Kavida is Jewish and obviously has a history of fruity rebellion. “There was a time when I loved having sex in churches,” she giggles, “I loved pulpits. In fact, if boyfriends wouldn’t shag in a church, they were out.”
Walking down Craven Park Road afterwards she just telling me about an idyllic naturist island off the South of France, when Starlight Records catches our attention. “It’s such an old fashioned record shop,” she says enthusiastically because she’s also a singer/songwriter, “with great reggae vinyl.”
The owner ‘Popsy’ -a white-bearded, gentle-looking Jamaican; there are three similar men in this parade of shops, there’s JJ at the wine bar and jerk chicken shop, and George at the cool clothes shop, Avant Garde next door – is chilling out with a cigarette and his two huge dogs are lying next to him. It’s like going back in time. And place. He tells us he’s been here for thirty years.
But can he survive? There are very few record shops left. “Our main distributor went out of business last year which was down the road, now I have to get records from New York,” he says managing to emanate total chilled ‘outness’. “I am thinking of dividing up the shop and having an internet provision here too.” Hawkeye Records over the road have done something similar, now they’ve got a bakery and take away as well as records.
“I feel as though I’m holiday in Harlesden,” says Kavida. She admits that Roland had told her she was wearing too much jewellery for Harlesden so she’d taken some pieces off. But now she’s seeing an unexpected side to our NW10 neighbourhood.
I’ve got another surprise in store for her. I can tell she’s thinking where on earth are we going? But she’s being bubbly to cover her doubt. The route – Craven Park Rd, then right before Hillside down Brentfield Road – is urban desolate. So I ask her how she’s changed since she’s been – 18 months – with Roland, to distract her from the concrete. “I’m much more feminine,” she says, “because he is so in his masculine energy. He is very sensitive but he still takes charge in that male way. That has meant I can be softer.”
Eventually, I’m able to stop her talking for a second and direct her attention to the left. There it is – the magnificent Neasden Hindu Temple. It really is an amazing sight. So unexpectedly decorative in this industrial landscape. Kavida is ecstatic. She hadn’t guessed that this was the religious establishment that we were visiting. “It’s the perfect heart-centred place to take a tantric goddess to,” she exclaims.
We’re lucky, we’ve arrived at one of the prayer times when the sacred shrines are open. Ironically, it’s me who is handed pieces of material to cover my legs and arms. We’re directed outside once we’ve removed our shoes. The craftsmanship – 2,820 tons of Bulgarian limestone and 2,000 tons of Italian Carrara marble were sent to India and carved into these ornate pinnacles by over 1,500 artisans and finished in 1995 – is spectacular. We’re drawn to the voluptuous statues of dancing goddesses on the outside of the temple. They are flexing their barely clad bodies in all sorts of joyous, celebratory ways. They are incredibly sensual. “So these goddesses are allowed to be this sexy and undressed,” says Kavida, “and we have to cover up. What’s that all about. Look they’ve even carved their nipples in. No doubt it’s men who are scared of women’s sexuality and ultimately their power, and so want them to hide their bodies away. It’s not right. That’s so non-tantra.”
We enter the sacred space and a few Indian families are in prayer. One of the men lays prostrate on the floor. They touch the shrine and kiss the hand that touches it in a time-honoured fashion. We stare at Rama and Parvati– the heroic prince and princess from the Ramayana – who are fetchingly bedecked in pink and blue. There’s an atmosphere of spiritual reverence but also a crazy sound of beating in the background.
“There isn’t an S&M party going on behind the scenes,” says Kavida with characteristic irreverence.
I burst out laughing but smother it with my hand. “I think they are feather-dusting the deities,” I say equally ignorantly.
As we walk away our heads back and transfixed by the marble lotus flower ceilings, Kavida tells me about a 25 year old British Asian man she knows. “Often Indian families are so repressed when it comes to sexualty,” she says, “he is a virgin and very shame-filled. But I got him to come to one of our sensual soirees and he ended up kissing someone. He felt ashamed at first, but came back and now has started getting rid of those layers of repression. I’m really happy for him.”
I decide to ask one of the information assistants why we have to cover up when the goddesses on the temple depict such an overt pleasure in their bodies. “Because we are ordinary people,” he says, “and they are not. They are on another planet so they can do what they want. They have attained that right, we have not.”
Ah yes, they are ‘in heaven’ so they can take their clothes off and act erotically. We mere mortals must wait until we die before we are allowed such unabashed pleasure. “An enticement to death? wonders Kavida.
In the temple shop – truly fabulous tat from sparkly garlands to ayurvedic remedies – we hear a family discussing the stock. “Why have they got an Eiffel tower key ring here?” asks the young father. His wife cannot explain. Neither can we but we can’t help loving the idea of it anyway.