I was supposed to be in Ibiza this week with my dear friends Mark and Peter. Had my ticket out and everything but due to the insane reality which is my current employment status…sadly, no Ibiza. I long for the beach, the blue sky and the sunshine. But mostly I long to wear a bikini, bake in the rays and to turn my skin from this pasty awful white “winter coat” to a lovely caramel tan. This is the first summer in my entire life – MY ENTIRE LIFE – when I have not been to the beach, been tan, or have donned a swimming costume. It feels a bit strange. And it certainly looks a bit strange every time I look in the mirror and see this super white chick staring back at me in August.
Okay, obviously we are not in summer at the moment here in India (I think the summer peak is January?), there really isn’t much opportunity for me to sport a bikini anyway, even if I wanted to. In fact, here in Bangalore the only place I know where I could do it safely and without drawing attention to myself is at one of the five star hotels.
Aside from the nicer hotels – and from what I understand Goa – Indian women can’t wear bikinis everywhere in India. Not that they don’t want to but in some places there is actually a ban on it. Women wear proper clothes when they hit the water. I have seen a co-worker’s honeymoon pics and his new bride was wearing a t-shirt and pirate pants when the two of them were lounging in the ocean together in the most romantic cove you can imagine. What got my goat though was the fact that he was in nothing more than swimming trunks! For women, there is no laying out in a bikini, no blinging it up with a necklace and earrings, no sheer wraps for when you are walking around. Nope! For the most part if you are going swimming or to lay out in the sun and you are a woman, you can watch your husband, your brother, your dad or whomever in their bare chest and board shorts but you have to stay covered up.
I pretty much always wear a dress. And given that I lived in Barcelona for the past eight years, almost all of my dresses are strappy sun dresses. When I first arrived to Bangalore I was really good about wearing a scarf to hide my shoulders but lately I am a bit more relaxed about that here in the city. I think in part because I don’t believe that foreigners are held to the same standards of dress as Indians so, simply put, I can get away with it. But also because I have been here long enough now to know where and when a strappy sundress is appropriate or not. After my groping incident I think I am a bit more conservative again. But I can hit UB City in a sun dress and a few other spots (and definitely all the night spots), so I’m fine.
Yet I have to say that every time I see the full belly and back of a woman wearing a sari it makes me wonder what all the fuss is about with my shoulders? Why is it okay to take in the full glory of a woman’s (often) ample midriff or the rolls of a lady’s back fat peeking out under her blouse but my knees and my shoulders cause a stir? I read somewhere that for foreigners and dressing in India that the idea is to convey, “I understand I’m not in my own country, I did my homework and learned about the cultural norms here and I respect them.” But WHY is a belly or back roll okay but shoulders aren’t? I haven’t heard one solid consistent answer on this yet so please feel free to comment and share with me your thoughts.
Oh man…and talk about seeing more skin than I wanted to! The past few weeks I have been travelling in daylight on this one particular stretch of road in town that runs the length of a couple of cemeteries and parallel to the railroad tracks. It’s a nice little road with grazing cows yet, sadly, where I am constantly spotting men urinating. It’s pretty common all around Bangalore but for some reason – I guess it’s the grassy area that runs just below the train tracks – it’s a pretty ideal spot for a quick pee. What I don’t understand is why Indian men just whip it out though on the road side and don’t try to go behind the bushes or a tree to wee? That’s certainly what I would do. But nope, these guys have either the inclination to stand and just go for it or – my favourite – there are also the squatters who try to shield the world from their pee’ing as much as possible. My most memorable guy so far we spotted just last week. I assume – or hope – he was a bit drunk and this wasn’t done on purpose but he decided to pee standing face forward into the direction of our oncoming car instead of away from us. I caught my first unintended Indian showing of the Full Monty! Thanks guy but I really could have done without seeing your penis on my way to lunch! haha
So skin… my shoulders are bad but penis man was okay? Women shouldn’t show their knees but the ass-crack guy at the truck stop on my Chennai road trip was fine? Yeah, I know these guys are not really “okay” but they are my most extreme examples so far to compare my own flashing skin problems against.
Although I respect the cultural differences of my new home, they are still hard for me to understand at times because of who I am and where I am from. And trust me, it’s not because I want to strip down or flash anyone. It actually has everything to do with the inequality between men and women. Women run the country, run major corporations, fly planes, are CTOs, inspire millions and still manage to run a household and please their husbands. Just seems like they should be able to throw on a bikini or a tank top every now and again if they wanted to, too!
© Angela Carson, 2011