‘My breasts seemed to connect directly to everything that went wrong. They ruined my life’
Book excerpt from Chup: Breaking the Silence About India's Women
This is me, in my pre-teen and teen years:
I wanted breasts. I wanted breasts badly. I was 11. I had noticed that boys really went after my older sister. She was 14. And she had breasts. So I concluded I needed breasts and soon. I was impatient to grow my own. From then on I kept a close eye on my older sister, hoping to learn. I thought my sister was the most beautiful, mysterious creature, who had this heavenly power to make all boys and men stop in their paths. There was something about her. I watched and tried hard to copy. It never worked for me, not even with the oddest-looking boys my age. In my wretched failure to interest boys, I concluded I did not need breasts. I rejected them in advance of their arrival.
I decided I wanted to be free like a boy. I spent most of my life in my school uniform, a thick, layered green tunic, high white blouse, banian, green and yellow tie and big green bloomers, the uniform of Bishop Cotton Girls’ School in Bengaluru, where my father was posted as a government official. I somehow persuaded my mother to buy me a pair of yellow-and-black check pants. I took to hanging upside down from trees. I started playing cricket in front of the garage with my brothers.
Soon I was 13. One day my sister called me, beckoning me to our shared bedroom. As she closed the door, she had a strange expression on her face. She held out a bra. It was one of her old bras, which by now was off-colour but had clearly Chup 128 come from a white lineage, a sturdy, no-nonsense cotton. She said, ‘Wear this. And don’t try to escape. I will check every morning before you go to school.’ I could have died. I felt revolted. By now I hated breasts. I was not even aware of mine so how did she know? I rushed to the toilet. I bent over and heaved. She never said a word about it again. But every morning for months, like a furtive lover, she would feel my back for the bra hook. My mother never said anything. Never was a word exchanged. Never tenderness. Never pride. Never joy. Never comfort. Never an explanation. Nothing. My sister remained her quiet emissary. One day an uncle helpfully commented on my growing underarm hair. I backed into myself. I carried the burden of my sprouting breasts and hair. Silent. Sullen. Resentful.
The fact that I had breasts got me attention in Delhi but it was not the kind I wanted. I started feeling reptilian, ugly and undesirable, except to the perverts on the streets – in Durga Puja pandals, in markets, in shops, on streets, on trains, on buses, it seemed everywhere. I felt lost, bewildered, hurt. My breasts seemed to connect directly to everything that went wrong. They ruined my life. I lost interest in my studies. I went from having a free mind to hiding even in the classroom. I became indifferent. My body tightened even more. My shoulders turned in. I was sweet 16.
Chup: Breaking the Silence About India’s Women (Juggernaut) is available now.