A Life in Clothes – Part 3 : The World of Men

This is the third of a five part series. Earlier parts are A Life in Clothes – Part 1 : Childhood and A Life in Clothes – Part 2 : Teenage

This then was my grand attempt at freedom. A freedom with the price tag of leaving behind everyone close to me. In other ways, it was better like this. It is far easier to act like there is no shame around being a divorced woman among strangers, because they can’t throw the culture book at you.

A clean slate is always easier to write on than a broken one. Not like I had much choice. I could go back and hear about how I was characterless and become a depressed loser like my mom, or I could survive or die trying.

It took me exactly one day to realize that it is one thing to have friends as a girl or married woman, and altogether different when you are “free”. Amazing number of puns on this one. All except the one implying real freedom applied. Getting a place to stay becomes a character assessment. My mountaineering friends, who would also be working with me in camps as instructors were looked on with such suspicion or male “understanding”, that the decent ones kept away to spare me the embarrassment, and others started changing agendas on me. How I wish the ones who WERE decent hadn’t stayed off. How could they be an embarrassment for me? If they were, what’s a bucket more or less in the sea? Perhaps they were sparing themselves.

The work suddenly got cut off, and I the only explanation I got was that I was “naive”.

I was now dressing to look ugly. Oversize shirts, rigidly tied hair, no jewellery… with my father’s tape playing in my head, that I’m dark, I’m ugly I felt a little more better now that I was undesirable. I look back and shake my head in astonishment. Even if I were ugly, seriously, who doesn’t notice a twenty year old slim woman? That is our world.

And I was prickly. The tapes were louder. Be modest, head down, encourage men, and you’ll get raped. I had no trust in the intentions of anyone whom I didn’t know from a safer time, or they were visibly happily married. And then I made friends with the couple. Wise, I suppose, but it was nerve wracking paranoia. I had no girl friends. A “girl like me” didn’t meet approvals of families, with the empty home to get into trouble I had. Also, in hindsight, girls didn’t like me for the same reason. One friend I did have said her friend avoided me because I was living alone (and her boyfriend was interested in me, whom I didn’t want at all.) At the end of the day, I was a girl living alone. While no one obviously seemed to be judging me (tourist town), it was a fair bet that they knew me. I had also heard people speak about other women in ways I’d not like to be spoken about.

The other reason was money. I had very little. My good English had come to the rescue, and I was doing some tutions, but there have been weeks when I survived an entire week on one loaf of bread. Nothing with it. Being too obvious about such things could be dangerous too. Another mark of desperation/availability.

And the insomnia… wondering why me. Wondering if I was safe. Counting tiles on the ceiling. Practicing increasingly obviously meaningless Karate moves (body weight 40kgs 😛 ). Parents called me back. Didn’t go. At least I was alive.

It all changed with a cautiously made new friend remarking that I was beautiful. I smiled, continued conversation, but gears were turning in my mind. What did he want? Turns out he really wanted to be a friend, and he really thought I was beautiful and that friendship helped. A lot. Also I realized that people would be noticing me one way or the other. And my enthusiasm for clothes continued.

They became more feminine. Less jeans, more salwar kameezes, saris quite a few times. I had some jewellery with me, I used that. Made friends. And it was a friend who stole the jewellery. Made a police complaint. No one took me seriously. The gold that was my safety net was gone. Well meaning friends called me stupid for wearing it. Their hearts bled for me. Mine was bleeding too. But it wasn’t stolen on the street. It was stolen by a person of trust. Who knew full well that it was part of my survival kit. Nor did any of the well wishers offer to do a single thing monetary or otherwise to offer safety in life. This town was getting too small for me.

Time to move on. Coincidentally, parents called to complain that I make them worry. I lost track of the bitter laugh that kept bursting out at this line, but I didn’t hold them to blame. But really I made them WORRY? I was living worry because they didn’t parent me. I didn’t think they meant it. My father has always charmed me as long as I’m not living under his roof (in other words, he’s not at fault for my “failures”). Still, family is family. In some visit, they had got me to fill in a form for the HSC Board exams. He was calling because exams were next week. When was I coming? Ah… that explains it.

Frankly, I’d signed the form to keep them shut. I didn’t even have textbooks. He kept arguing. Attend and fail, but you must do it. It had been a long time since anyone had even been familiar enough to demand like this. Charmed (yeah, I’m crazy), I returned, got books, gave the exams. Realized that nothing had changed. Prepared to move on.

The chance was round the corner. I got hired as an instructor in children’s adventure camps in Manali. Pay was piddly. My interest was “new place” + “far away”. Asked to be paid money for the return at the end and I would do it at my own convenience. (in other words, one way, + the all important money on hand).

That was a new phase in life.

To be continued in A Life in Clothes – Part 4 : My Terms

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8 thoughts on “A Life in Clothes – Part 3 : The World of Men”

  1. Holy Shit! I’m too awestruck to express myself coherently 🙂 I don’t know how to thank you for writing these posts.When Ketan gave me the link to ‘A life in clothes’ I was reluctant to read it. The title pissed me off. I am almost a tomboy & i was expecting your post to be about..er, feminine clothes! I despise people who define genders & make these rules..girls should wear this, guys cannot wear that. Seriously who make these rules and why should we follow them? Why can’t a boy next door wear make-up? I know the question is weird but i ask these questions.But your post is not about clothes..it is something deeper. It is about courage. You know..we all hate rules (it is okay if the rules make sense but most of them don’t) Each one of us in India hate the education system..We DO NOT like the status quo..but what will we do? We will shut our mouths and  just obey the system. Life’s like that, learn to be happy with whatever you get..don’t challenge the status quo!  And you know, this is my problem with people..they are satisfied. They are OKAY with it. I see people on the street & their faces..almost 99 percent of them hate their jobs, hate their lives..but yet, they will go with the flow..because flowing against the current requires courage. But you on the other hand are homeschooling your daughter. HOLY SHIT..this requires guts! You walk the talk..i seriously want to salute you..because i see many people who call themselves ‘rebels’ but they are just conformists. They will never home school their daughter (“bina degree ke survive kaise karega” shit) or do the things that you have done. You know, i want to make my parents read your amazing posts (especially the one on schooling) :)I seriously admire you..salute to a true rebel! You inspire me 🙂 *Bows* 

    1. Holy Shit! your appreciation is as touching as it is full of fire 😉 No wonder you love my writing. Your comment echoes my way of thinking too 😀 Like attracts, they say.

      What comes to mind is never lose that fire, no matter what. All else falls into place sooner or later.

      Glad you wrote. You made my day!

  2. Perhaps irrelevant, but I thought you look good, at least in your pics. 🙂 So might’ve looked a tad more beautiful in your ‘youth’? 🙂

    1. Actually no, but then, I don’t know how reliable this response is, since I have never really thought of myself as beautiful. Even now I have trouble believing it. Attractive in some mood, light, etc ok. Beautiful? Not sure. Illogical, I know, but the pics to me are great photos, not me…. sigh. The other reason I think I wasn’t beautiful is because I was quite self-conscious and insecure. And, like some women can do it prettily, I couldn’t 😀

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