My friend Jaya, screws up her nose every time a young girl, skimpily dressed, comes into her view. And while watching movies, she liberally hurls abuses at the ” nange naach” by the shameless lot. She frets and fumes when she observes the ever-plunging necklines and the ever-rising hem-lines that have now come to be expected as normal.
Going by her unrestrained use of invectives against the “atrocious attires” worn by the girls of the current generation, which is about three times removed from hers, I strongly feel she measures the respectability of a girl literally by the “yard” stick of how many metres less than normal length of cloth is used to cover her modesty. She is no less critical of their parents and elders whom she squarely blames for not reining in their excesses in their sartorial choices.
Both she and I are pure silvers, belonging to the same generation and have the same high educational qualifications. But my perception of all changes in the present day world and society is entirely different.
I was totally fed-up with her ever-recurring remarks at the end of her tirades like, “this is the limit”, “this is too much!”
Now the million dollar question is, how much is too much? where to draw the Lakshman Rekha, beyond which the revealing of the skin should be forbidden?
With a view to changing her mindset, I took her along with me down the memory lane, lined with different styles and fashions of dressing,, that varied from time to time and generation to generation.
In the 40’s Vijaya Laxmi Pandit, freedom fighter and sister of Jawaharlal Nehru was seen wearing sleeveless blouses on occasions, some orthodox elements did not take kindly to it. They could not bear the sight of bare shoulders. It was thought of as rather unbecoming of a person of her dignified stature. With the passage of time, however, it started becoming more common.
And that was the time when the blouses were long, the midriff out of sight. The bra with the cups and straps had not arrived on the scene. A humble bodice covered the bosom inside the blouse.
But the blouse itself was for the most part hidden from view in cases where the pallu of the saree was meticulously draped around the entire torso. Wearing the saree this way was considered highly desirable. The woman who never failingly did this was considered an epitome of modesty and those who let the pallu slide down the back was found a bit lacking in the desired degree of decency.
It was imperative for girls, switch over rather gradually to wear the sarees or salwar kameez by the time they had entered their mid-teens. Frocks became a thing of the past which the girls had reluctantly to part company with forever.
In the south, no sooner did the girl show early signs of developing curves than they had to wear ‘Pavada‘-a piece of saree without pleats draped on the chest, a pre-saree phase that usually lasted two or three years depending on the growth of the girl, depending on the growth of the girl and the leniency shown by the elders.
In orthodox families, even skirts were forbidden. In my school days, a friend of mine frustrated at being disallowed to wear a skirt had to resort to a hunger strike to get her desire fulfilled!
In the 60’s the salwar kameez insidiously sneaked into the fashion scene with some girls emboldening themselves to be seen in this before the eyes of the die-hard traditional elders. Non-Punjabis wearing this was looked upon an alien.
Now it has become universal across the country and has replaced the saree the draping of which is admittedly cumbersome and time-consuming, The dupatta that beautifully covered the curves has been mostly done away with which needless to point out is still frowned upon by a section.
Jaya often fretted seeing her grand-daughter ‘unabashedly’ donning the shortest possible shorts in front of the grandparents. I would laugh in return and sarcastically, ask her why she was unable to ‘reform’ her own grand-child before passing comments on other elders.
My friend related how she did admonish the 16-year old, for being too bindaas. Stung to the quick, the young girl caustically replied, ‘Nani, please keep your regressive and this moral policing totally to yourself. I like it, so I wear it.” She continued, ” Do you expect us to go back to your era, where women draped in yards and yards of saree, slogged in their homes day in and day out disregarding their own comforts?”
This comment of hers, at once stroke, achieved what my constant preaching to my friend of the need to expect the reality with grace had failed to do.
My friend is only a stereotype of a section of our Indian society who can neither come to grips with the changing trends in fashion or in mindset.