A Life in Clothes – Part 2 : Teenage

Raw version. Publishing before I lose guts. Will take a look for editing in a couple of days. This is Part 2. You can read Part 1 here A Life in Clothes – Part 1 : Childhood

Right along with puberty and the information that I was a “young woman” as I secretly liked being called, came the need to do something about it. I mean, what’s the point if everything is going to be the same? Oh! Not boys… ME!!!

Presenting this new me became a muse. I turned into a mini activist. I was living with the grandmother, not my father 😛 so this was possible, since my grandmother was a total sweetie. So, there were protests and debates and logical reasoning and pointing to what friends to and so on, till I won the following rights, chipping away in full pursuit of my womanhood. Readying for the journey from awareness of gender to awareness of sexuality.

  • I will leave my hair loose when I go out to play in the evening. From two plaits tied up, I chipped my way through two plaits let down, two plaits with the ends of hair loose, one plait, one pony tail, one loose pony tail, and finally, victory!!!!! Took me a year. Should tell you how much it meant.
  • That was no good. My hair was hideously oily. Another satyagraha (to use the happening term, but its true, I don’t know a purer cause). Will not oil my hair. Less transitions – from not oiling immediately after bath, to not oiling at all on holidays to skipping oiling once in a while, to not oiling at all. Actually, the feel of my grandmother doing the oil and comb routine was so deliriously soothing, that I missed it, but I feared to allow it for fear of losing this newfound freedom – the beginnings of cutting nose to spite face, so to say 😛
  • Clothes were a slightly better situation, since after the initial horror of me wanting jeans, my father approved so thoroughly that he hasn’t approved of frocks in all their shameless risk since, though he hasn’t given up recommending salwar kameezes at every turn. He has a penchant for synthetics, but we’ll leave that aside. Yes, I am 35 now.
  • Makeup. That was HUGE. And it has so many things to fight for. I won, in this order. Mehandi and nail polish during vacations, lipstick for dressed up festivals, lip gloss (hideous, cheap stuff) which I discarded in favor of vaseline, and the winner – eyeliner to REPLACE kajal AND bindi. I made myself truly horrendous in the learning phases of eyeliner on the eyes, but my intricate hand drawn designs on my forehead were winners all through, always.
  • One win I regret to this day. I was in the market with my mother, and she had got paid. I liked a skirt. I just liked it. I wanted it. I pestered her, and I was so in love with it, she relented. It cost Rs.300/- which was fairly expensive in that time – it was an air-conditioned shop, which was a huge thing in those days. And my father had a fit. The skirt was too short. It was obscene and I would not be allowed to wear it, it was expensive and most of the cost was the store’s air-conditioning, and to at least consult him before making expensive purchases. I have hated that skirt since, because my mother paid for that purchase with her own salary in strips of dignity. My father I had started hating a long time before that.

That got me through till I hit college. My grandmother was old. Didn’t have the energy to look after me. I moved to my parents place and shit hit the fan.

I had been thoroughly respected by the grandmother. She was gentle and she never ever criticized. My father was a dominating man with a huge sense of entitlement and ideas on what women are and how I should be. I thought he was crass and an abuser and my mother deserved better and I hated her for not having a spine. Last month, she said something, which hints at defeated wisdom too – they are all like that. Yeah, 20 years later.

And I grew up fast in that haze of judgments. Till that point, I hadn’t been interested in boys, but my father calling me sluttish and accusing me of trying to attract the male gaze made me wonder if there was something good about it, seeing as how our ideas of good and bad seemed polar opposite. No, not rebellion at all. A well considered curiosity.

My beloved grandmother was routinely abused for raising me so shameless, like my mother, instead of grovelling at her feet in utter gratitude for raising his only daughter with such love and care. He was a man. If he didn’t like the result, he could flay it as his right. This frustrating state of affairs was only reinforced with neither my mother nor grandmother ever calling him out for it – this was nothing like my world (from my books 😀 ). I was accused everyday of things I had no freaking clue of. So a lot of my curiosity about boys was also to figure out what the fuck he was going on and on about.

My first real contact with many bad words, not just gaalis, but cigarette, alcohol, sex, affairs, prostitute, mistress, use and throw, cheap, etc came with first hand experience of being accused of them, with my enlightenment mainly being, “he’s insulting me, whatever that means”.

The funny part was that his idea of an ideal costume was a sari, which would leave my waist exposed. Go figure. I held my own. I wore what I liked. He pushed me toward womanly interests (namely sewing) and I designed stylish clothes that I WANTED to wear. I fought every inch of the way to be me, and I paid in metaphorical blood, sweat and tears. No, real crying was out of the question. That would be a weakness I dare not show.

However, I was no doormat. I had grown up with the world at my fingertips courtesy the same man who was measuring so poorly against it. I fought back. I accused him of having dirt on his mind, I accused him of being uncouth, of not being able to speak well enough to be heard without forcing people into it, etc etc. Ugly words, both ways. But when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object, what is less noticed is what happens to the fragile missile the force was propelling. A child shouldn’t have to defend herself like this. I see that now, I regret it, and I feel often that my father regrets all that fear oriented imprisonment too. To be fair to him, he was the youngest in his family, unused to thinking for himself, well loved, and their success story. He had no interest in working to win hearts again. Not his wife’s not his daughter’s. He didn’t want anything shaking this picture of perfection, certainly not something as mundane as imperfect women. So it wasn’t like this was a happy time for him either. He is a victim of his fears. He genuinely believes that I WILL come to harm. He lives in a permanent state of panic and braced for disaster.

I see that now, and can forgive. I saw that then, and I wanted him to fucking grow up. I had no context for his realities – a worker in a factory sees a LOT of dirty attitudes on women he doesn’t want pointed at his daughter. He suddenly had a grown up daughter he didn’t know what to do with.

And things were bad. Very bad. My only worth was my brain. I cheated them all. I bunked my twelfth boards. Got into mountaineering. When he forbid me to go on treks because they are an excuse for having affairs, I fought all the more to go. By then, I wanted to have an affair. I wanted a husband lined up at 18 to get me out of that place. It was the only way I believed women left parent’s homes.

Needless to say, that was a disaster. It ended in an separation and later divorce and at the grand old age of 20 I was the “khandaan ki sharam”. If I was dying to get out at 18, I was absolutely rocket propelled with the new vocabulary I was learning. But this time around, I took small time work out of town and moved out.

That was my first real bid for freedom.

To be continued in A Life in Clothes – Part 3 : The world of men.

10 thoughts on “A Life in Clothes – Part 2 : Teenage”

  1. Glad you posted this. Reminds me of a lot of my friends. And some issues that are resonant across the globe, specially the socialised femininity that women are subjected to by their families and must be unbundled and resisted.
    I am very lucky when I look back, although some discomfort with his daughters’ sexuality still colours my dad’s reactions when we ‘glam up.’ His two classic remarks: (1) to me first wearing saris – “you look silly. Wear jeans, you look better in those” and (2) to my sister trying out bangles – “yeh kya hai…ladkiyan choodiyan pehenti hai?” Both are still trotted out regularly to tease him.

  2. Wow! I wish I could say something more. But as you know, you and your life that you stand for are perfectly capable of overwhelming. 🙂 But then I wonder, when I say “wow” is it because I lack empathy and find your kind of pains so difficult to come to terms with that I see them as some kind of a ‘story’ and not as real things that had happened to a real person? I had the option of deleting that “wow”, instead, but well as you know me sufficiently by now, I chose to type in revelation of something that would make me feel guilty for some time. But then knowing how broad-minded you are, I guess you’ll ‘forgive’ me for that and there is no need to feel guilty. 🙂 Yes, I can type unto redundancy. 😛

    1. I understand. I am not offended at all. It is difficult to relate with something you have no personal context for, thank God. Imagine how it would be if we started comprehending all suffering in its full glory? 😉

      Light comments apart, the “wow” is a response I have become accustomed to. You are possibly the first to realize what the problem with it is – that it is a distance – a spectator’s word. But in acknowledging that, it gets negated. You consciously reach out, if not over your feelings on the story, then because you care about me, which is more important.

      As always, you astound me with how perceptive and honest you are.

      1. You added dimensions to my own response that I’d myself not been aware of. Wow! 🙂 Yes, you’re right. I’ve read many evocative accounts of people, and have greeted many of them with a “wow”, but it is perhaps for the first time I paused to think of its implications. The reasons for that could be many, and I do not rule out the possibility that one of them is my caring for you. 🙂 Hehe! But then another predicament arises. Shouldn’t care flow down the gradient of mental strength if you get what I mean? Am I a kind of person who’s in position to care for you if I consider you mentally and perhaps even otherwise stronger than myself? 🙂 Let’s see what you have to say in response to that. 🙂

        1. I think you are confusing caring about with taking care of. Taking care of possibly requires some superior ability, depending on what care is needed. Caring about…. and this hierarchy thing you bring up – as in more/less mental strength…

          I think it is different for different people.

          I can answer for myself. Whom I care about is largely directed by my feelings. If I like someone, I care about them. If I’m in love with me and the world in general, I care about everyone. If I’m in the pits, but there is someone I really love, admire, feel inspired by, I still care about them.

          There are people who believe that someone stronger, or more powerful doesn’t need the care. I see it differently. Someone stronger and more powerful also ends up facing more shit and needs care more. I also don’t think people can be measured as more or less like that, so the whole thing falls apart further for me. We are strong in some ways, weak in others. I don’t think there can be an encompassing comparison.

          I think the world would be poorer if no one cared for the strongest in it. I know for a fact that being strong can be lonely and voices of caring are precious.

          Here’s a twister right back at you. If you offer me caring, and I accept. Wouldn’t that make you stronger than me?

          1. I ‘liked’ your above response. 🙂 I guess, my remark in question was an outcome of my being too awed by you in that moment. I overlooked the possibility that there might have been or might be in the future, occasions, when you won’t be able to summon the same mental strength. And lastly, caring is not ‘voluntary’; it just comes. Whether the cared for person finds ‘use’ for that care/concern or not is an entirely different thing. 🙂

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