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.