|Photo courtesy: Mala Kaur|
They made for a pretty picture. Three generations of Indian women and from one gene stock, faces aglow in the pensive gold of a porcelain lamp. Steaming mugs of caffeine marked their vintage; a milky, a green and a strong black.
Setting her needle point aside, Raninder Kaur mused “I used to recognize the men around me only by their shoes. Beeji would not let me look at their faces.” Her daughter Harleen nodded wanly, tatting shuttle poised mid-air, “But you and Daddy were ahead of your times Ma; you would insist that I bring all the boys who were my friends home.” Tia looked up from fingering the tattoo on her wrist, amusement writ large on her young face, “Not boyfriends, is it? Boys who were friends!”
The three sat as though adrift, the debris of a social convulsion lapping around them. Harleen laughed softly as she shared with Tia the acute discomfort it caused everyone to have a bra strap peak the slightest. It was considered bad form to tuck it away in view. The offender would hurry away to privacy, shamed by the narrow piece of elastic. “My mother had to wear a heavy lehenga over her salwar, every time she stepped out of her home,” Raninder Kaur called to memory Tia’s great grandmother.
The sartorial mishap that had the women in a huddle had to do with Tia’s fondness for the racer backs. At a party the night before, a page three reporter had clicked her picture and copies of the rag were ruffling on dining tables across the extended family. “Spotted, a neighbourhood hottie!” the family was squirming as much over the caption as they were at the offending shot of Tia’s ornate halter neck. That it sat well on her toned body and she radiated joy had evidently escaped everyone.
Raninder Kaur held the newspaper up to get a clearer look, “She looks rather nice in this dress, whatever they call it…the color suits her.” Harleen shook her head resignedly, “You know how conservative our clan is Mother. They will pick this bone for years.” Their family of highly educated and staunch Sikhs tolerated diversity but brooked the barest of adventurism from their women.
“Checks and balances make sense for social order, I guess,” the two seniors turned towards Tia, their eyes widening. She had eventually lifted her shiny head from the WhatsApp screen “I don’t know Mum! What is so scary about an exposed shoulder blade? It is wrong to sexualize the female dress. I wear clothes for myself. The gender power imbalance in our society we talk about…I think many women internalize that and feel forced to commodify themselves through exposure. How about we shift focus to the men and their ‘boys will be boys’ mindset?”
Stung into silence, the adults stared at their progeny. “Oh, and before I forget, there is a letter for parents from the discipline committee at school. They are convening over the dress code at school functions. Some of us wore tank tops to the senior jam session and believe it or not, there is talk of expulsion by way of setting an example. Would you call this reasonable? I mean, the weather is so warm these days!”