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 THE Bath
20 x 23", acrylic on silk

"One of my earliest memories from the sixties is the Periyar river near Alwaye, Kerala. I remember the topless women with violet flowers in their hair who came to bathe in the river and my North Indian friend Rachna who found it most shocking and disturbing. Perhaps it was our matriarchal culture that gave our women such freedom in an otherwise patriarchal nation clinging on to the virtues of purdah. In fact, it was only during the turn of the century that the blouse was introduced to our culture. It is said that a British resident of Travancore felt offended that the women went about topless and had an order passed asking them to adopt the blouse.

Bathing in the temple tanks and rivers was quite common during my childhood. Bath was such a ritual to us Malayalees that women bathed at least twice a day with all the paraphernalia of turmeric paste, herbal shampoo and whatnot. Then came the Gulf boom of the late seventies and the new cement houses and the attached bathrooms. Bathing outside automatically became frowned upon and going topless, taboo. Even our maid's grandmother who went topless all her life was forced into a polyester blouse when her oldest son returned from Sharjah with his polyester gifts and the two-in-one music box. Now even our traditional attire of mundu has been replaced by the sari, Punjabi salwar and the maxi. Women industrial and agricultural workers prefer the six yard sari to the two piece mundu and blouse. Polyester has come to stay, and each year our blouses seem to get longer and longer."

 

 

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Last Updated: August 22, 2000

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