My body has been talking to me.
Once upon a time a body, to me, meant black circles for heads and sticks for hands and legs. As a child, that is, drawing on paper with crayons and sketch pens, picturesque scenes I had never seen before and bodies so far removed from what they actually looked like, yet real in their sameness of being. Short-lived were those days, because when I was taught to a happy tune how chubby cheeks and dimpled chin and blue eyes and curly hair make one the teacher’s pet, the reflection in the mirror told this child’s head I could never be her. I had held the picture of the cherubic girl in the nursery rhyme book in front of the looking glass. Next to my reflection. To look at dark coffee next to peaches and cream. A horse tail next to luscious curls the colour of sun. Eyes with not even a drop of the blue ocean the teacher’s pet mirthfully looked at me with. In the mirror.
And my body sighed! Loud enough for me to hear its echo for a long time to come. It told me as it thought aloud that I could never be loved enough, because I looked different – from the girl in the book. Even from the doll in my bed who I dressed in pretty clothes. So pretty, my best friend. And so different, from me.
In my first school which was an all-girls convent, Monday mornings were uniform checking days. Now, we were 5 years old then. Checking happened right after the morning assembly, to see if the shoes were polished, the ribbon in the hair red, nails trimmed, the length of the socks as disciplined as the neat plaits. And no panties, no. Only bloomers. That shapeless underwear a size too big with tight elastics holding it in place. If not, red-checkered shorts matching the infant frock in colour and feel. And in fit – loose, keep it loose. Boyish, almost!
And my body said, I wonder what is wrong with wearing a different underwear down there? It suspected conspiracy. Whispered the same to me, and to my two pigtails which nodded with equal comprehension. When we were asked to cross our legs and sit, at all times, my body knew for sure a secret it hid under my skirt and which needed to remain hidden. My body felt confused, I with it. But the idea was sealed in my mind. Deeply so.
So much, that as a 14-year-old recently put in a co-educational school, I was worried all the time. Am I sitting right standing right jumping right eating right? Right was important, for there were boys around we could see, sit with, stand, jump with. Boys. The sex called opposite, so difference there must be. Has to be. Bloomers had become panties, but cycling shorts covered the thighs, and not just on PT days. For after all, we did have to climb 20 stairs to go upstairs in a line, where boys followed girls really close behind and skirts became traitors ready to expose our well-kept secret to those who were yet to climb. Standing downstairs and stealing glances up, pure curiosity and tender-aged hormones. And girls, please wear sports bras before the dance performance and tight shorts, we were told. Most wore matronly white slips over their bras and under their shirts. Their bodies under layers of chaste white. But still, it had to be a sports bra. Tight. All over. Who needs to breathe?
My body was talking all the time now, confused and pleading, actually, to set it free. But my adolescent head ‘educated right’ shut the voice in the attic instantly, and swallowed the key. None of the girls standing under the tree in the corner, away from all things boys, will want to be your friends. Not even the boys! You are a good girl’s body, stop thinking so much. Just do as you are told. Don’t you know how much is at stake? The body didn’t know, but it obeyed.
They say no freedom is felt before college happens. So true. All girls again, all girls all around and how my arms and legs and breasts and periods and hair and hips and pimples and hands felt mine. To dress up as I pleased. Carry as I willed. Because sexuality was not a bad word. Neither was sensuality. And there were no rules, perhaps, because there were no nuns around, or fathers, or boys or even male professors. Free body. Except in the mess, where all pairs of tiny shorts were hidden under wrap-around skirts bought cheap only for this purpose, because the mess bhaiyas were men and decorum in the dining room is good anyway. Oh! And especially outside the red walls, where it was a bloody starved world. An area called ‘Rapist’s Paradise’ to one side of this plush South Delhi locality and the rest teeming with men and boys in buses and autos, bikes and swanky cars – ready to be turned on by the slightest sight of a red bra, or even the edge of a dupatta dangling in front of their pants in the bus. A 55 year old I slapped. That dog!
The body learnt, to adapt. It told me when I was alone or in a crowd, that different rules exist for different terrains. It learnt and taught my mind to accept. Learnt to guard itself. Make hidden. For such bestiality roamed the roads. The danger was now known, no longer lost in confusion wearing checkered shorts. Felt, so many times! The body revelled in spaces where it could freely rule, but walked the commoners’ paths totally veiled. Seething inside, but safer this way. In self-defense, it explained to itself. Possessive, about itself!
But no defence in the marriage market, oh no, none at all. Well-wishing vixens and their foxes, free from marrying off their own, lay claim over my future. Starting with my body. That’s where it always starts, before the infection spreads and enters the head. How tall is she? Isn’t she too thin? Are those hips? How will she bear a child? He earns in dollars, her neck will be laden with gold. Why don’t you put on some weight, child?
That’s when the body screamed through my mouth. Get out! My body, what’s your problem? My mind too, which I will make up my way. Your idea of weight and height and character and shame is yours to keep. Thank you very much. And then one day the recently-measured body sang those lovely tunes some marriages are made of. Wedded, the body, as if to its own voice and thus allowed to be just mine. Shared, but respected still.
And here it is today, talking to me. Let the last word be from its mouth … it says,
How far back in time the uniform check seems to be. I’ve changed. Infant to girl to woman to … to mother. And what has also changed is how I feel about myself. Not shame, just concern. Possessiveness most definitely. And pride. So much pride. Oh yes! The sagging the flab the stretch marks the belly, combined, is me and you too, Sakshi. One 6 inch c- sec scar where motherhood began, and those many trademarks branding me. In a good way, because I came out victorious from a painful battle only to realize I love every bit of me even more now.
And I created this for you, it says, as it holds my giggling baby in its arms while I write this, in my new born avatar. A new mind. Removed, far removed from those which stopped my body from speaking to me!
About Sakshi Nanda
Sakshi Nanda is usually all over the place. But, whenever she has a spare moment, she sits sharpening her pencils somewhere ‘Between Right and Wrong’ at sakshinanda.com.
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