I caught the whiff of the topic even as I joined the conversation late. The girls were chattering excitedly about Victoria’s secret. I slumped into CCD’s bucket chair and in an effort to quickly be-with-it, chipped in, I too had read about her Muslim cook. Half of them fell off their buckets laughing. The other half decided they would ignore me for the rest of their lives.
Thus chastised, I sat all night in my full-sleeved, toe-tipping white flannel nightie planning how to bridge the gap. Enormous it was. Time was when a man accompanying a woman to a lingerie shop lingered outside. The shop sold other things – egg, hairpin, gajak, raincoat. But it had a small hidden corner for the ladies and didn’t have to proclaim that business on the name board outside. Selling rat poison and toilet cleaner was totally respectable. Not so knickers. In that cloistered corner, women attended women. They gave what you asked for and never checked you out to advise, “I think you need the next size”! If you said you wanted one with blue flowers but only yellow were available, you didn’t insist. It was indelicate. Almost a decade ago, I overheard two male colleagues hotly discussing whether it was lin-g-ri or lau-je-ree and wondered why they would need to use it. The word, that is.
Sanitary napkins were asked for in hushed tones. In fact, the hush itself was enough. You just walked into a store with a somber expression and the person behind the counter automatically reached out for the packs in the lowest or the topmost shelves where they were stacked out of sight. A wrong brand and you shook your head very slightly or raised a finger in another direction. If it wasn’t understood, you took the name of the color of the pack. Green one. It was then handed over discreetly wrapped in brown paper. Much later, in black garbage disposal bags. All this discretion came to naught the moment you walked out of the store with the pack that did not look like a loaf of bread or a cushion.
The pacing-thinking night was rewarded with an ad in the morning newspaper for a SALE of women’s itsy-bitsies. A sale that would ‘change your life’. Close-necked and full-sleeved, I arrived at the venue. Outside, a mammoth panel had stringy two pieces drawing-pinned to it. Was my sleep-deficient mind breathing life into pictures from the tattered salon Cosmopolitan? Was inner wear, outer? I mean, where would those that wanted to stick these on to themselves, do it? Since our swim pools and beaches still have soaked-to-the-skin and revealing every tyre, salwar-suited and sareed beauties that bystanding men in underwear cannot have enough of, getting into shape for these little triangles would seem so completely pointless, no?
I stepped into a hallful of frenzied women of all variety – tender zeros and abundant others; covered in shapeless tents and uncovered in low rise jeans; noodle strapped, nude strapped and unstrapped. The chatter was distinct. Sassy guffaws, muffled giggles, restraining grins of 32 As and loud proclamations of 36 Ds.
Some wide-eyed, bushy-tailed male escorts followed their ladies carrying their heap of fantasies, pretending duty; imagining every shapely woman in sight in red lace or yellow sheer; now and then nodding slightly at something held out for approval or pointing discreetly at something some other woman was holding to herself.
Two demure looking kurta-dupatta-ed girls ahead of me rummaged through a carton marked ‘Passion’ in uneven capitals. One pulled out a barely-there and held it out to the other, ‘Here, this!’ ‘Chee!’ The other exclaimed mortified at the public exposé of her private fantasies and buried her head into another carton to hide her flush. ‘What chee? Didn’t we come here for this?’ The spunky first quickly shoved the coveted piece into her own bag. With the number of eyes popping out, I wondered if at such sales they should also sell something to hold the eyes firmly in place.