Skip to main content

A bee in my bonnet 7


The other day I walked into the ladies shower room at our local swimming pool and found two middle aged women having a shower. It's an open shower room with no cubicles. The two women who were both naked (as one should be under a shower) seemed to be deep in discussion. I kept my one-piece costume on (as I usually do) and went to the far shower in the room. I winced involuntarily as a hot jet stream hit prickled my back. The women turned to me and said something about the water temperature. I looked down at the floor, mumbled a response and quickly shuffled outside to the changing rooms.

The incident really got me thinking. Why was I so embarrassed when they were the ones who didn't have any clothes on? Was it due to years and years of 'shame, shame, puppy shame'? If so, surely I should realise by now that there is absolutely nothing to be ashamed about one's body. I know a lot of other women who would have reacted the same way as me in a similar situation. Why are we so bothered by the sight of our naked selves? My little boy has no problem walking around the house in the buff. We too must've been like that as kids. When did it change? And why do we think it's so wrong? Is this an Indian women thing? Why do we go all 'chee-chee' at the first sign of nudity? Is it because we believe in the superiority of keeping one's modesty? Or is it simply because we dare not take our clothes off? And really, are we just jealous of those that do, even if it is only in a public shower room?


Anand said…

I think it is not just limited to Indian women - I am an Indian man and I have *exactly* the same feelings you express.

Even though I like to blame it on our culture and upbringing that teaches us nudity is bad, I think we as individuals also matter.
Kamini said…
This one is just begging for a Chockalingam Tantex jetti-banian masterpiece.
avataram said…
OV Vijayan says that our great grandmothers in Kerala swam naked in the periyar. Clearly, it was an open shower room with no cubicles. Elephants named Kunjumol were trained to squirt water over their hair and breasts while the periyar caressed their hips. Now we go to shower rooms in one-piece. What happened?

North Indians. And Hindi. I rest my case.
Lekhni said…
"Don't expose your skin! No tight tops! No mini skirts!
Sit properly! Don't cross your legs!"

And suddenly, it's OK to strip in a public shower? So what if they are all women? I am sorry, I cannot bring myself to do this. Can you give me a cubicle with 4 concrete walls? Maybe there, I will be comfortable in my one-piece.. no, no, I still cannot strip, not in public, you see.
Deepa said…
Isn't it quite the opposite in western culture? They never run around naked as kids unlike us yet feel comfortable with nudity as adults again unlike us. Which one is right and which one, wrong?
yezdi said…
I think its the sexual overtone that nudity is associated with in our culture.
Children can run about naked caz they have no sexual desires. Unfortunately sexuality is nothing less than a crime here, sometimes we make sound like a sin even for married couple. I guess thus the "shame shame". We are raising puppets....
usws said…
Well, i think it's just a little gross to look at naked people of the same sex (in my case, men). Especially when they're not all that nice to look at anyway.

Same goes for exposing myself too. Not even at the urinals.

Most of it, as you've pointed out, is due to social conditioning that begins at an age when we begin to perceive the difference between nudity and non-nudity. I suppose that's why many aborigines in many countries don't consider nudity as a problem.

I guess it's also got to do with the perceived "Indian culture" thingy too - that sex is bad, and nudity has obvious sexual overtones.
Madura said…
Have been through the exact same moments ...

and also dreams of nudity?! rather nightmares! Any day I ignore my wavering guilt, I am sure walking naked in my dream that night. Usually the story line is that I am not aware that something is missing, and ... voila,...

NOPE, NEVER it ended with any sexy note, damn my nude dreams! :) .... They provide pure embarrassment and nothing else.

I usually wake up in the morning and wonder what the hell was I ashamed of yesterday?

But in the day time, I talk as if I am so open and have made peace with nudity and even believe so! I wonder which kind of hypocrite I am when it comes to nudity! :) ...
faitoo said…
if everyone out there is gng to blame the culture and the elders who installed this thought in us.. then pls think over again. i've seen old grand ma's and aunts changing in front of me without even an iota of embarassment(shame), well on those moments am the one having so much of apprehensions.

Though i myself dont know the answer to this pondering,i can be sure this is not from our culture or elders ..
Do u accept ?
Jillu Madrasi said…
Don't know why you are making it an Indian Women things.

It is just you .
the 5-yr old said…
Well, according to me, it is just that Indian women are not taught to be comfortable in/ about their respective bodies. We need to cover it up. Even a really fat woman in the west is extremely comfortable with the nudity..

In fact we push it to such an extent that we dont even feel comfortable to sleep naked even when alone!
muse said…
Don't know whether this is an Indian women thing. Maybe most western women would be comfortable wearing lesser clothes but being completely naked in a public shower room?? I don't think so. It feels slightly weird, not embarassing.

You Might Also Like

Voicing Silence 1

There is no nice way of saying this so I will say it as brutally and as unvarnished as it needs to be said. I was sexually assaulted when I was ten and a half years old. While I recall the precise details of what happened that night, much of what happened in the immediate aftermath, I have little memory of. In the days and months that followed, I became increasingly angry. I would smash things, kick people, yell, scream and throw a tantrum at the drop of a hat. I was labelled difficult and called names. Rakshasi was a regular epithet and it clung to me like an dirty scent.

There were so many incidents of rage from those years and most involved destruction of some sort. I once lost a card game and went about meticulously ripping up an entire pack of cards much to the amusement of the gathered extended family. There was some other minor provocation which ended in a lovely red dress which was a gift from abroad being shredded to pieces, again to a mute audience

Word got around that I wa…

Voicing Silence 7

(To get a background on this series, I suggest you start with the first post here and then scroll up)

Headphones recommended

(Click on image for link or click here)
Written and narrated by  Abhi Arumbakkam
Animation and edit  Lucy Lee
Sound Louise Brown
Music Nefeli Stammatogianopoulu & Stelios Koupetoris

Sivaji, Jayalaitha And Us

I first noticed it when Sivaji Ganesan passed away. As someone born in the 70s, much of my growing years was marked by the rituals of Sunday evening Tamizh cinema and Friday night Oliyum Oliyum. And Sivaji Ganesan was a permanent fixture in them. Anyone who was melodramatic was a 'Sivaji' and rhymes like 'Sivaji vayile jilebi' were very much part of our book of nonsense rhymes.

So much so, I remember being fourteen and being part of the school drama team enacting a popular scene from Sivaji's Thiruvilayadal. It was a plum role that we all vied to play. Sivaji played Lord Shiva in the movie and in our minds, he might as well have been immortal. So years later, when news broke that he had died, I was in utter shock. Heck, I was not even a fan. Apart from Motor Sundaram Pillai and more recently, Thevar Magan, in every one of his movies, I felt Sivaji had outacted the entire cast. As if to tell the producers, you've paid me a lot, so let me give you your money'…

Tide - 17

Part - 17 “Are you waiting for me, Kamakshi?”, asked Padmaja a little breathless from climbing the stair case. She had never been particularly slim. But lately, she had noticed a tightening of her blouses, particularly around her upper arm that she taken to using the stairs over the lift.
“Hmm? Everything okay? Why do you want me to keep quiet? What is the matter, Kamakshi?”, Padmaja reeled off questions with mounting alarm.
“It's nothing”, hissed Kamakshi between gritted teeth guiding her neighbour by the arm away from her own door. “Come in to my house. I need to tell you something, Padmaja”.
And once inside, Kamakshi's behaviour was even more erratic. She said something about a letter and answering and now meeting someone and the man waiting for her at home.
“Where?”, demanded Padmaja.
Kamakshi silently pointed her finger at her neighhour.
“Where? In my house?”
Kamakshi nodded.
“Have you gone mad, Kamakshi? I gave you the keys in case you don't see me for days a…

What Would You Do?

This afternoon, I went to our local leisure centre to use their steam room and sauna. I had an hour to kill before it was time to collect my son and the leisure centre is across the road and I couldn't think of a better way to spend a tenner and so I went. No sooner had I settled into a corner of the steam room than I heard a voice ask me, 'are you from India?'. Yes, I nodded before it struck me that if I couldn't see the person clearly neither could he. Yes, I said. To this he (by now I could make out a dim outline of a man) volunteered in a very heavy accent 'My country Bangladesh' and then went on to ask me if I lived locally and if I was living with my family (yes and yes, I answered) and told me that he worked in a local Indian restaurant as a chef and that I should visit them if I hadn't already.

Having exhausted his arsenal of polite questions to ask a rank stranger, he fell silent. Shortly, I left the steam room to take a shower before dipping into…

Tide - 7

Part 7

Dear Mrs,
With regards to your advertisement in last Sunday's Hindu. My name is Mr.S.G.Santhanam. I am 65 years old. I retired in 2007 after 40 years of service in the Indian Railways. My daughter and my son are both married and settled abroad. I am in good health except for slightly high blood pressure. Last year I have undergone an operation for a growth in my retina and now my eyesight is better than it has ever been. I follow a strict vegetarian diet (no oinions no garlic) and I have managed to bring down my cholestrol levels also. Recently I have suffered from pain in my hips and my doctor has adviced me to go for a hip replacement operation which I am due to have some time in the next month. So if you reply to my letter, I can arrange to meet you before I check in to the hospital as I will have to be in bed rest for 6 weeks after my operation. I have also attached a photo of myself with this letter. This was taken before I had my new set of teeth.
Your's sincere…

Voicing Silence 4

(To get a background to this series of posts, I suggest you read the first one here, the second one here and the third one here)

Some years ago, my mother mentioned to me that she had attended my sexual assaulter's Sashtiabdapoorthy and I was appalled. This filthy beast was a pillar of the society and had had the temerity to invite my parents to its (no human pronoun for it) birthday celebration. Suffice to say I was apoplectic.

It was also around this time that the whole sordid episode of Jimmy Savile came to light and I had a thought. I began to wonder if I could take my abuser to court on historic sex abuse charges.

For days I fantasised about dragging the filthy piece of shit to court and have it look me in the eye as I would recall in graphic detail what it had done to me. Then, I would watch with glee as it lost its house, its job, its status in the society and delight in the gradual unravelling of its life.

I would have my perfect revenge. I would be able to show it that i…

Voicing Silence 3

(To get a background to this series of posts, I suggest you read the first one here and the second one here.)

In the intervening years since my assault, the whispers grew ubiquitous. Hushed conversations from scarred friends who all talked in coded language about what had happened to them. I should have stopped becoming angry but I just couldn't. Instead I channeled all my rage into the blows I rained on the random stranger who once groped me as I was walking past him one evening when I was in my early twenties. The nonchalance with which another pervert thought he could get away with pinching my breasts made me chase after him faster. But I could rarely sustain the rage which would blaze fiercely and frequently but never long enough for anything positive to emerge. There were no planned course of action to follow through, it was largely fire fighting on a daily basis.

And then something happened a decade ago which reminded me of what triggered my anger all those years ago. I won…

Voicing Silence 2

(To get a background to this series of posts, I suggest you read the first one here)

I realised, almost instinctively that what had happened to me was not a one-off. A casual conversation with a cousin revealed that she too had been touched by the same person. She didn't give me details but all she said was, "that one, him, you know...he's a devil" and gave me an almost imperceptible nod. A secret code that meant that she knew about what had happened to me too. It was our shared language of shame, wrapped in silence and consigned to the deep recess of our minds.

Every now and then the incident would get an airing but I would almost dismiss it by making light of it. During joint studies with classmates from the 11th and 12th standard, two of them talked about the improper touching that had happened to them as children with an almost casual aloofness that I added my incident (for it was now entombed and labelled as Exhibit A in my mind) to the mix. Being abused was so…

Voicing Silence 5

(To get a background to this series of posts, I suggest you read the first one here, the second one here, the third one here and the fourth here)

For years I had been wondering how to articulate my trauma. And then, a little while after I'd moved to the UK, I'd done courses in documentary film-making and had started telling factual stories. Could there be a possibility there? What purpose would retelling a personal story in all its gory detail serve? And is this what I wanted?

In 2013 I watched Yael Farber's Nirbhaya in Edinburgh to an auditorium full of sobbing men and women. I found its portrayal in all its attendant specifics and bit too real. Even the actors playing it had each suffered horrific abuse and it was their own story that was being told. It was discomfiting and I knew I didn't want to go down that route.

A year or so later, I met with Leslie Udwin, director of the documentary India's Daughter, the day
after it had been banned in India. Leslie was de…