‘Clothes are a code.’ The old lady points knowingly towards my uncovered legs. Barely ten, I am already too tall for my age. Aai understands something much beyond my grasp and averts her gaze. Her cheeks are slightly pink from embarrassment. I have never seen my fiery mother like this. Curiously I stare at the old lady sitting next to us in the women’s clinic.
She has dropped the knotted corner of her billowing farrashia, so her face is visible now. But the younger woman with her is still wrapped in the white sheet, leaving only one eye uncovered with which to see the world. I wonder who she is shielding her face from now that she is out of the harsh summer sun… for that’s what my friend from school told me. Her elder sister Maha has stopped coming to school and now covers herself with the white sheet on the rare occasion that she steps out, and never without her father or brother.
‘Do you think she can breathe inside that tent?’ I ask Aai in Marathi.
‘Don’t stare. It’s rude.’ Aai’s face is expressionless. She looks straight ahead, lest the old woman thinks that we are talking about her and her companion; which we are… but I don’t think Aai would appreciate me pointing it out.
‘But she is still staring at my legs. That’s rude too.’
‘Shall we stop at the hymermart on our way back? You can pick out some nice trousers for yourself.’
‘Bell-bottoms? Pink ones?’ I am already super-excited. Aai laughs and nods a yes. Distracted by the thought of pink bell-bottoms, I forget about the disapproving looks my bare legs are receiving.
It is only years later that I understand what the old woman was alluding to. There is no age when your legs, arms, face, body are not sexualized.
Are you worthy of
Dignity and respect, girl
Clothes alone can tell
Women themselves participate in setting up the hierarchy of domination and denomination. Clothes are the first step towards exerting control over another woman’s body… towards limiting her to a constricted role within this politics of class, wealth, culture and more importantly gender.
No matter how it looks in different cultures… it is still the same. It could be the farrashia covering women from head to toe… It could be the corset that leaves nothing to imagination…
A complex subject for sure… I will return to it later… perhaps do a series of posts. But for now, I understand that clothes are a code.
This post is a part of BlogchatterA2Z 2022.