The British Summer was almost here and, if I didn’t get my act together, it would be gone before I’d had a chance to air my handful of cotton tops. Winter is a good time to ignore all the bulges and sacks that pass muster for your body, but summer is the season of repentance. Some better-fitting inner wear was definitely in order.
Certain physical problems had ensured that I had not indulged myself in that department for some time. No, I cannot give you details; anyway, I spent my Physics class in school writing poetry, so I wouldn’t know how to explain the ergonomics of a bra or why my shoulders ache when I wear one.
Well, the upshot was that I decided to go the whole hog and begin with a fitting. Google, Google Talk, Cortana, et al., were unusually unhelpful. Evidently, Swansea is not London, not in terms of options for higher-end innerwear fitting services anyway. So, I settled for the ubiquitous Marks & Spencer and sent up a prayer. Baring my boobs before an audience is not my idea of recreation, I’d never be able to earn my living as a stripper, no, not even in a blubber fetish club. I was, therefore, reassured when the fitting lady turned out to be elderly and well stacked in the upper shelf herself.
‘It’s a terrible burden, isn’t it?’ she murmured sympathetically, as I poured out my requirements, problems and woes, not necessarily in that order, into her comforting-looking bosom. ‘I used to have heavy ‘uns too.’
I had to prop up my jaw with my hand. Used to? Then gathered myself to ask, ‘So have you lost a lot of weight?’ You may think you’ve seen all the possible renderings of obese Auntyjis in Delhi, but the UK can take ‘obese’, in both Auntyji and Uncleji avatars, to a whole new dimension when it puts its mind to it. And, oh, it does!
‘I had to have a mastectomy,’ came the reply. Needless to say, that was the conversation stopper of the century. And definitely not the moment to chip in with my ideas about retractable breasts and how they would transform the world forever.
I went home with the first bra she offered me and lived to regret it, in between bursts of brooding on the unfairness of it all. For within me lived this sylph of a girl who wanted airy little confections of lace and silk, with straps and without. And innerwear that would not pass for decent street wear on a bright, sunny day in Swansea. Was this too much to ask?
When in India, I had got used to the salesgirl telling me dismissively, ‘Madam, aapka size to nahin milega, your size is not available.’ Also to grapple with innerwear that Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele would have commandeered without a second thought for their S&M boudoir.
I’d had great hopes of the UK. And, yes, well, they did have stuff in my size, whatever that was, since the one offering I’d brought home was already giving me shoulder pain. But lace? No. Froth? Not a wee bit. Silk? Forget it. I gazed at the aisles and aisles of lingerie on display at various stores. Teal, apricot, blueberry, heather, lime, evergreen, sunset – just the names of the hues promised instant glamour. French lace, Jacquard lace, push up, balcony, plunge, memory foam, okay that’s stretching it now, I definitely did not need padding. But wasn’t there one out there that would fit both me and my dreams?
After one visit to the store, the husband was quick to bring me down to size. ‘You wear it inside, right?’ he demanded, wiping his brow, which was slick with sweat. You could die of heat stroke in a British store in January. It has been known to happen. ‘How the hell does it matter?’ What would he know? He gets me to order his boxers online. Even those that show under his fashionably threadbare jeans.
I had a friend who, when a relative got her her first M&S bra, jumped up and down shrieking, ‘I wish I could wear it outside my shirt!’ But that was India in the 1980s. This was the UK after Victoria had bared all her secrets. Evidently not for the plus sizes though.
It was around this time that Bollywood decided to take on the weight of obesity in a film that, curiously enough, did pretty well at the box office. It had a young man who is forced to abandon his dreams of a slim bride and obey the family and marry an overweight woman. Needless to say, the suhaag raat is a distant shore for that particular bride. But she is evidently made of more ballast than you would think. So she goes to what looked to be the equivalent of the local ‘cut-piece’ store and asks for a filmi nighty. The salesman squirms in embarrassment, but not because he will now have to say, ‘Aapka size to nahin milega, madam!’ Said bride is successful and goes home with said seductory garment wrapped in brown paper.
I was stunned into silence by this extravagant flight of the imagination. ‘Howwww?’ was all that emerged. In a country where you can barely get a DD bra, how was this woman even daring to think she could get gauzy night apparel that would ensure a happy culmination of her wedding vows? That too in Haridwar, for God’s sake!
Well, that’s Bollywood, nobody said it was known for its realism. And this is my story, so we shall return to it now.
It was the husband who finally had the brainwave. ‘Why don’t you try a sports bra?’ he said. ‘You need more support, right? And those are supposed to do just that?’ I was still feeling sulky after his lack of cooperation at our infructuous store visit, so I did not deign to grace his idea with a reply. But it took root in my mind.
And, so, I paid the lingerie department another visit, this time ignoring all the temptations that were laid out in my way, making a beeline, instead, for the sports section. Success! I finally had a bra I could wear without every muscle in the region groaning a protest. And my body profile no longer looked as if the mammaries had slipped into the region of my belly.
As for lace? What lace? I’m too mature to want frivolous come-hither stuff like that. Aren’t I?
First published in Democratic World in July 2015