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Long before the world discovered a fashion phenomenon called sleeveless, sleeveless discovered the Bengali woman. This was the time that Marxism was still a respected ideology in Bengal when the bhodro-mohila embraced the sleeveless blouse and sent the dormant hormones of the bhodrolok on an overdrive.
Thousands of kakis, jethis, pishis and mashis took to this garment like hilsa to water and achieved nirvana. I grew up in the company of flabby arms encased in these sleeveless wonders, getting an unhindered view of subcutaneous fat swinging in gay abandon, wincing a little at the sight of sweat forming lazy pools under the arms. For a young girl growing up on Krishi Darshan, this was my wicked pleasure.
This bare-dare act was confined more to the urbane Kolkata woman who was more comfortable with her sexuality and didn’t mind flaunting it. Her not so fortunate counterpart scattered around the country would wait for her annual trip to Kolkata to stock up on these flimsy nothings. Sleeveless, backless and a neck that was deeper than the Grand Canyon ravine – this was Bhictoria’s secret! Truth be told, a Bengali lady fancies herself more as Moonmoon Sen rather than Mamata Banerjee - perfectly complimenting the Bengali ethos that doesn’t let work interfere with its quest for pleasure.
Long before an aging beer baron anointed himself as the king of good times, the bhodrolok was living it.
The grooming starts at a very young age. While the young male prefers spending his youth doing adda on a rock, his female counterpart is busy loving humanity. For her prem-kora(doing love) is a day job. For a girl growing up in dry, desolate Delhi, this was beyond fascinating. In fact it was my curiosity for her penchant for romance that got me to learn reading Bangla. Reading salacious details about a 12 year old’s love for her Math tutor in an Agony aunt column of a Bengali magazine...Chronicles of the Boudi in her frilly floral nighty serenaded by her love-sick neighbour – all of 30, useless and jobless (unless you count prem-kora as a full- fledged job). Mills and Boons seemed pale in comparison!
When I was old enough to make my own sartorial choices, I was more coy than daring. For the longest I was convinced that that going sleeveless was the prerogative of the plump. But when I finally succumbed there was no looking back.
The modern nari has the choice to ditch the sleeves, go backless, have her garment hanging precariously from noodles, defy gravity and go stringless or even embellish her bra with crystals and pass it off as a blouse. Who doesn’t like the feel of sun and air on her assorted body parts?
Alas, good times come with an expiry date! Just when we were having fun playing femme fatales, some dork declared that it’s not okay to sweat and stink and had us clamouring for deo-sticks. And just as we were getting used to smelling of lavender and other flowers with difficult to spell names, there comes another dork and says –Hey girls, shouldn’t you be doing something about your yucky, dark armpits?
Ah! The unbearable pressure of going sleeveless – pour hot wax over hair follicles, rub copious quantities of deodorant and now put a shade card to check if you are fair enough! Raising your arms was never this stressful.
Imagine being judged on the basis of our armpits! No thank you, I would like have my sleeves back please.
Suddenly, the Bengali bhordromohila in her sweat soaked Ladies Dream blouse, flaunting her tuft a la Julia Roberts seems ultra-cool.