A life in clothes – Part 1: Childhood
Raw version. Publishing before I lose guts. Will take a look for editing in a couple of days.
As I was thinking of the Besharami Morcha coming up in Delhi, I found myself reflecting on clothes. I looked for examples I could “use” and found a narrative of my life in clothing.
I grew up with my maternal grandmother, who was a whole different creature from my father, so don’t expect continuity of context all through.
I don’t remember when I became aware of clothes as such, but it was fairly early, because I remember running around naked escaping my grandmother as she tried to get me dressed. That was real young, because I remember a sensation of a lack of confidence about the running.
Then there are snapshot stages. Running in knickers, then slips. The slip stage lasted long. The clothes themselves, I hated. Oh, I liked them when they were pretty, but on the whole, keeping them tidy was a pain. Somewhere down the line, I got “trained” into sitting modestly (in other words, without flashing my knickers). Within a few years, a girl who couldn’t do it was a bad girl. I was quite happy about this state of affairs, because it was pretty much the only good thing about the hideously oversized dressed my father used to buy me. My father was this huge depressing influence on my self image.
He had grown up in poverty and was used to wringing every drop of utility out of everything, so the idea was to buy clothes that were larger, because kids grow fast. Uh…. kids wear them out even faster, so … I was always dressed in oversize frocks. And yes, it was the opinion of the man that mattered, because no one else ever questioned this order (except once, later).
He had this belief that fair was beautiful, so all the fairer cousins were supposed to be this role model, and he was forever bemoaning my dark skin. Didn’t help that the maternal cousins I grew up with were fairer. It was an undisputed fact that I was ugly. It hurt, but actually not in the sense of how an adult takes it. I accepted it pretty fast, only it sucked totally. There were other rigid rules. Not leaving hair loose, not speaking with boys, not this, that and the other. It all sucked.
Ingenious kids that we were, we quickly cottoned on to the time honored tradition of “muh bola bhai”. So there were these boys who were also – pay attention – a year younger than us, who were like our brothers, hence we could play with them. Not that the adults liked it any better, but we’d figured no one was going to call our bluff unless they wanted to insult the *gasp* holy relationship between brother and sister (which was another massive thing with the father, since he is one of twelve siblings).
Before you want to lynch him (and I’m not defending this attitude at all – its flat out wrong), I also loved him. Because he is pretty much single handedly responsible for my love of reading and curiosity for what’s beyond the horizon. Early childhood was always about storied to help pass the walk. And he never told rubbish (at least I didn’t think so). In saving money for rickshaws, I discovered Rolls Royces, Wright brothers, wonders of the world, famous people, stories of films, Harry Houdini… and many, many wonders.
I never lacked books. Never. He used to buy them used on the street cheap – loads of them. I never cared about the used part, and nor did he. I was always reading. Always reading. In school, out of school, happy to miss school, play, anything to read. Used to put Enid Blytons inside textbooks and read during class. Lost track of how many were taken away by irate teachers. They provided me with a world where I could LIVE. Ironic, because they were also the biggest power I had, when my father let me down. Clearly there was a very definite line in what would be encouraged and what would not. Anyway, moving on. This is long enough.
Then puberty hit, and trouble right along with it. My first clash with my father was when my mother and I were debating bras. She was of the old school and said she would stitch one for me, as I didn’t need support as such. I was aghast. No, thank you very much. My friends use bras. They have them in my size. I want those. The same with cloth and sanitary napkins. My father had an opinion both times, and it was mortifying both times.
I was becoming a woman. I had boundaries and they were being violated and I was powerless.
To be continued in A life in Clothes – Part 2 : Teenage