20 x 23",
acrylic on silk
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.
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 Now even our traditional attire of mundu has been replaced by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."