(This is a column for the AWESOME Femina Magazine, (June 11th, 2014). I got a cover byline because obvi duh boobs. Do pick up a copy!)
Breasts. Even the word has weight. The hard B, coming directly before the rolling R followed by an “-issts,” like you’re beckoning a dog towards you. They’re called wonderful, snappy pet names like “tits” or the comical sounding “Boobs,” the scientifically accurate “Mammories”. They’ve been called “The Girls” “Thelma and Louise” and I met someone recently who called them “Tina and Amy.” As evolutionary biologist, Desmond Morris notes- compared to other female primates that experience swollen breasts and shiny red vaginal lips during mating season, human females are the only primates that have a permanently enhanced breasts, a beacon that this primate is ready to reproduce. And because of that, a HUGE source of interest and shame at the same time.
The first time I noticed them, two round -ish things filling out the dress of a model in a red carpet picture, I was intrigued. It never struck me that they were the same tiny bumps under the shirts of the seniors in my all girls boarding convent school, that ruined the crisp ironing lines of the shirt.
“Where can I get those?”
I asked my mother. She laughed and told me I would have to wait till I was a big girl. I associated “being a big girl” with demurely sitting out of of P.T. period, speaking softly and smiling at boys. As much as I hated P.T. period, I hated speaking softly and (God forbid) smiling at boys even more.
At an inter-house folk dance competition in 7th Std, the principal of our school walked out half way through our version of the Kohli dance, when she announced that she would not watch anymore obscene, breasts jiggling even if it was in an all girls environment. I was one of the guilty. My mother had told me nothing specific about it apart from it being a “big girl” thing . When I ask her about it today she admits “I was embarrassed Adu, I didn’t know what to say.” So, far from the “taking-me-aside-and-gently-giving-me-to-my-first-sports-bra” I had the violent “embarassed-in-front-of-entire-school-for-having-them” introduction to my own breasts. It would only be another 2 months till I got to leave boarding school for the annual break- till then I stole a crepe bandage from the First-Aid locker in the dorm and wrapped it nice and tight around the offending breasts and slouched so hard my shoulder and pelvis were threatening to get fused.
The shame of being a breast possessor is directly in proportion to shopping for a bra. For a middle-class woman, it is normally a young man named along the lines of “Chotu” or “Biju.”When you sheepishly mumble your size and requirements to him hoping that no one else will hear, he’ll stop everything he’s doing to take a good long look at your breasts before announcing your size, leaping up the wall of undergarments like a cat and coming down triumphantly with your new size and style. I am equal parts repulsed and fascinated by this job. Repulsed because of the long hard gaze that my breasts have to endure and fascinated because Chotu/Biju almost always get the size right in spite of the layers of clothes, dupattas and purse straps with said gaze.
The talent of Chotu and Biju often finds itself in the measuring straps of the expensive bra shops as well. It’s scientifically proven you have to find out that you are wearing the wrong bra size at least 2 times in your life. This time, instead of Biju/Chotu’s estimation, you will meet these measuring straps, that come attached to a know-it-all woman. The whole shop will be lightly perfumed with a smell of estrogen and someone will offer you green tea at some point. This woman with the measuring straps will nonchalantly measure the circumference of your chest, the diameter of each breast, the length from one nipple to another, the distance from Mumbai to Khandala during peak traffic hours, divide it by the number of hits Yo Yo Honey Singh’s last music video got on Youtube and the first letter of your favourite vegetables’ name, add salt according to taste and simmer for 30 mins. Personally, this is an extremely nerve wracking experience because now I really want my breasts to impress this lady who obviously has a PhD in boobs. Maybe if they sang or a song, or solved a complex mathematical equation? Then the lady fits me with a bra and I feel so grateful, confused and-still trying to impress her- I spend an entire month’s salary on my breasts.
Even today, I sometimes look at them in the foggy mirror of the shower, I am underwhelmed. Is this what the big deal is about? The “sweater puppies” that make saris curve deliciously around shoulders? A jiggle of which sends self-righteous school principals into a frothing frenzy? And the sheer relief of finding something to rein them in turns your purse strings lose? Are these the things that turn little children into curious adults and grown adults into bumbling children? Breasts– the baggage of them, is a loaded one to bear.
A HUGE THANK YOU Natasha Chopra- the girl with sketch Pen in her hand and an item song in her heart, for the adorkable sketches.