By Anam Naqvi
When I moved to a big metro over six years ago, I hadn’t imagined that summers would be so harsh. The joy of strutting around in the house in my underwear might have just saved me in the first summer, when my flatmate and I could not afford a cooler or an AC. Contrary to the verb I used (strut), we didn’t do it to impress anyone; we did it to be ourselves, just like men in boxers. The subsequent summers were also spent in a similar fashion, unwatched by familial eyes. A cool glass of iced tea and a book bring comfort as you lounge about in your bare essentials thinking of what to do with a Sunday.
One would think the best part of living alone is the freedom to roam around naked or in your underwear, but the ability to just have your undergarments strewn about is unmatched. We had learnt to wash our own clothes and dry them in any “safe” place, away from bird shit and dew. We could wash them, leave them on the headboard or the sofa to dry and stack them up in a clean pile anywhere in the house after they were finally dry, without thinking twice.
Let me pan to only a year ago, when my mother and brother decided that the time had come to end the living-away nonsense. They needed to pack up from the smaller towns they inhabited and find favour in the big city too. Unavoidable drastic changes have ensued after the shift.
Apart from the obvious ones, I can’t remember how many times I have been chided for divulging the big secret that women wear bras. Leaving one’s colourful bra in the bathroom after a bath or to dry, or under the pillow to free yourself before you sleep cannot be the norm; because a man occupies the same space as you— your brother.
“Okay, we know women wear bras, do you need to show what sort?” my mother asked me. “Fine, may I leave my bras and panties to dry on a clothesline on the terrace?” I asked back. More rage followed—how could I have even thought such a thing? Neighbours can’t look at them, their eyes will burn and kids will be scarred by nightmares. Such catastrophic, visionary and anxious consequences! The last time I checked, lingerie doesn’t bite, or does it?
This aversion towards undergarments got me to notice certain other situations: Men hanging back at women’s lingerie sections, staring at their cellphones, in a family clothing store as they brace themselves to be bored while their partners shop. They vary from the sleazy ones taking selfies outside a La Senza outlet or pointing to leopard-printed sensuous clothing and sniggering, to the very eager (or sometimes nonchalant) salesmen who might find the shapes and sizes amusing. No wonder then that online lingerie stores are mushrooming and perhaps flourishing. This also happened to be the premise for the founding of Victoria’s Secret – the founder Ray Raymond was too embarrassed to buy lingerie from a store and sympathized with other men who felt the same. However, the stores now target female buyers and employs “angels” to exhibit sculpted underwear – alienating and drawing male interest at the same time, and fashioning the lingerie sector as an extraordinary enterprise.
Ostensibly, mannequins that are scantily dressed (read bikini-clad) don’t just make some men uneasy, they also lead to sexual assaults of actual women. This bizarre connection was drawn by the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai, which passed a law that shopkeepers have to cover up their plastic dummies to curb “wrong acts” and “impure thoughts”, since they’d otherwise pollute minds and create an awkward atmosphere when a man and woman are forced to be near such mannequins. This ruling must have curried favour with those who believe that the ebbs and flows of a woman’s body walking on the road or the sighting of a piece of intimate clothing makes a predator go berserk and out of control.
People, seriously, why do women’s bras and their fabrics, laces, straps and hues scare you when you suddenly encounter them – in public or even in your homes? So much so that an incurable urge to suppress these garments transcends generations? Bras are merely upliftment tools.
Anam Naqvi works at the Economist Intelligence Unit as a Production Editor and has been in the news and research business for over five years.