My Daily Armour
From midnight party shawls to dupattas over nighties, a look into the layers of clothing urban Indian women wear as daily armour, to flout and honour convention.
Indian women often swathe themselves in various pieces of clothing, over their actual clothing, almost like armour. These layers when peeled away reveal a desire to flout convention, just as much as it sometimes reveals a complex desire to respect the rules. The practice is so common, it has almost become an unnoticed ritual, followed by young and old alike. Somewhere we have all become masters of subterfuge as we use these clothes as a shield, as armour, and as a useful ally to repel gazes and live without judgement and question. In this story, we look into the specific shields that urban Indian women use every day.
My Secret Stain Camouflage
A little red flower has bloomed on my uniform. So before everyone spots my ‘unn dinon’* ke transgressions and realises periods are in fact red and not blue like the ads would have you think…my best friend has grabbed my little sweater of disguise and casually draped it around my hips like Rishi Kapoor in that ‘80s movie. Was it around his shoulders? Who cares…no one is any wiser and I can stop feeling like I must dive under a table for being a woman on her period. I have stopped crying too, that’s a bonus, the sweater protects you from shame. Now if only it could flap into people’s brains and wipe out their prejudice.
*how Hindi ads delicately refer to periods. Translates as ‘those days’ in English.
Double Shield for the Brave and Braless
I have no time for sticky saris clinging to my legs as I bargain for bhaaji. Sometimes I have no interest in a bra that’s going to make me swelter as I fry paapads in hot oil. So I have one little magic trick that’s starched and sensible. It works as a hanky, towel and handle for hot bartans and as the mantle of my modesty despite my daring but weather-appropriate nightie. My dupatta keeps my reputation intact, my comfort isn’t compromised and my breasts are spared the ten thousand leery male gazes that I encounter everyday.
A mother’s gaze-repellent magic tent
Apparently they’ve never done this in their lives, fed a baby or even been a baby that is. Apparently they find me indecent. So this is me, setting up a jolly floral tent to repel fantasy and judgment, while my baby feeds in peace.
The Invisibility Cloak
I wear my hijab everyday, through crowded market streets, dropping my little ones off to school and bringing them back to our one room home in Vakola. While I’m happy with the lives we’ve made, it’s rather difficult to find privacy in our tiny home. Romance is furtive and sometimes forgotten in the chaos of containing five lives within four walls. So I look for intimacy and often find it amidst the crowds on Bandstand, by the sea. On a date with my husband, on those occasional stolen Saturdays, we can finally hold hands and look at the setting sun. Just the two of us, private, within my protective armour of anonymity.
The Auto-friendly hair helmet
My curls are covering my eyes, nose, ears, mouth, eye sockets, teeth gaps, nostrils, snaking around and into every available surface and crevice. My curls do not want to sit. They want to dance with the wind and breeze, jiggy to the autowaalah’s tinny tunes. They want me to look like I waged a war at 8:30 AM, where anti-frizz serum was spilt in vain. Anti-frizz serum that cost me Rs 1500 plus tax by the way. So please, hand me that scarf, won’t you?
The motorist’s fair and lovely shield
I have decided to battle hot plasma with polyester and plastic. The billboard tells me I cannot find a job unless I’m 5 shades fairer. The parlour ladies lie in wait with bleach to burn my melanin into oblivion. I want to stop all of them and tell them, that’s not a tan…that’s me you’re rejecting with your katori of cruel chemistry. But instead I just give in, and shield myself with gloves, scarf, visor and helmet in a silly bid to deny my own history.
My wrap around the rules
Ass shorts are in fashion, but the matron would have a seizure and I would rather not have a suspension. So I pretend I’m in Goa, Hawaii or Ganpatiphule and wrap a beach sarong over my cut-offs until I reach the party I’m headed to, far away from old rules and new problems.
Corporate Climate Control Coats
I came from Borivili East and entered Siberia as soon as I swiped my card at 9:00 AM this morning. And before my gooseflesh rose and nipples decided to spring up and say hello, I swathed myself in a mismatched jacket in my daily defence against AC vent aggressions.
The 3:30 AM Party Girl Cape
I’m taking a cab alone, because I am perfectly capable of getting myself back home at 3:30 AM, yes, I am. I don’t need a man, what I do need though is my trusty cape. Cocooned in my shawl-cape hiding every vestige of my sequinned backless mini dress, I am unsexed, ungendered, unwoman, a formless blob in a shawl, and thank God for that, ‘cause I need to get home alone in this cab I’ve called for. It is 3:30 AM after all.
Illustrated by Harshita Borah
Written by Meera Ganapathi