“One day when I was running around during recess, a teacher stopped me, took me aside, and said, ask your mother to buy you a bra. I was in seventh standard, and that was the first time I became aware that I had something that needed to be bound.
The only way you will know the kind of bras I wore as a teenager is if you google ‘vintage bras’ – white cones for the breasts and a sturdy strap that dug into your shoulders. As I was to find out soon, they were never that sturdy. As my breasts grew and grew and grew, the straps kept giving up. And as someone who would have failed SUPW had it been graded, my hateful task was to keep stitching those straps. Imagine this – you have just worn all the layers of the uniform – bra, jetti, petticoat, shirt, pinafore, and as you twist to sling the bag, the strap snaps. In a panic, you thread a needle and stitch, stitch – pinpricks aplenty. It was a battleground and though the bras had crisscross sutures and needle marks, it felt like I was the one losing.
I think of my errant bras whenever someone mentions Stephen Hawking. I was with a friend and her mother on a trip to a science exhibition, and my strap snapped. After a minute of acute panic, I gave up – ditch it, I decided – no one knows me here, I will let it all hang. I ended up enjoying the visit. I remember chatting happily about ‘A brief history of time’ with my friend’s mother, a physicist, and she was a bit amused that I had read it and indulged my chatter.
Once, I overheard a brotherly male relative who visited us after a long time telling my mother that he saw me continuously pulling at my shirt, adjusting it, to trick the cloth into not moulding those mounds. He sounded a bit sad and concerned – why is she so conscious, his voice seemed to ask. I didn’t wait to hear my mother’s response.
All through college, I wrapped myself in voluminous dupattas. Once when I left the dupatta hang on one side, a la Bhagyashri in Maine Pyaar Kiya, a guy, a senior, could not stop staring at that side of my un-dupattaed chest. It would have been comical, were it not for that sinking feeling in a pit deep down my body.
It now seems inevitable that I was not too comfortable with my body, in my body. (Ha – pun! Incidentally, body is what they call bras in Tamil land.) Then I met my room-mate – I was working then. She was petite, fit, and fun. She used to exercise and exercise, and make these terrible healthy lunches (only boiled salted chole) for the both of us. And she used to keep telling me – kaash, mere tere jaise hote. She was everything that I thought people who are comfortable with their bodies are – petite, fit, and fun. Nothing that would tell you that she had just ripped herself out of an abusive marriage and that asshole had done a number on her – she didn’t think she was beautiful. And no matter how many times I told her she was, she never did quite believe me. I think it is like music. Only if you are tuned to a certain frequency, certain notes will resonate. Else, it is all dissonance.
We both soothed each others’ edges off, a bit. I thought maybe, just maybe it was all not so bad. Though they jutted out and upturned a laptop on the desk as I stood from my seat (colleagues all around), and always made button down shirts gape a bit right there, it was ok. And she calmed down enough to enjoy accha-waala lunches.
Sometime, when I entered my 30s, I decided to go to a place that would tell me what bras would fit me. I had done my research – read a lot of literature on how to find the right bra, how to decipher those number-letter combinations, and what a loyal bra is supposed to do (not snap for starters). That’s when I realised the bras I wore were called ‘vintage bras’ – it was not a happy realisation. A kind woman measured me, and said, your size is so and so. She made me try out a few bras, and it was a relief. Nothing popped out here or there. There was no strange bulge on my back that many have poked at and said, maybe you should try spot reduction. The cleavage no more resembled a pillow stuffed into a cushion cover.
It was not an inexpensive undertaking – my mother was shocked at how much I had paid per bra.
She insisted on looking at each one, and did that classic straightening of her lips, code for I don’t approve, but I know you are not going to listen. I ended up feeling guilty, but I didn’t listen.
It is not a happily ever after relationship with my breasts, body, self (I guess it is all connected) and at the same time, it isn’t abrasive. When we make love, when lips suckle them, or known and knowing fingers knead them, I adore my breasts. When I try a top in a dressing room and everything except the chest is the right size, I don’t despair, I just sigh and try another one. When the laptop shudders, almost toppled by my devilish Ds as I get up in a hurry, I even end up swallowing a giggle.”