Shopping for bras in Kerala

Reams have been written about the urgent and inescapable need for reinforcing gender equality in society, especially in Kerala. Feminists, male apologists, male chauvinists and female school teachers have all expounded without mercy on the subject. While the domesticated kid generally tries to stay away from intellectually stimulating discussions of all nature (primarily due to lack of pertinent knowledge), this is one where I felt the need to make an exception. Not so much because I felt particularly full of expert knowledge on the subject matter but because I felt the need to air a grievance on the topic.

It has to do with shopping. To be specific, shopping with members of the opposite sex. To be even more specific, shopping with members of the opposite sex for unmentionables. Very embarrassing situation for guys to begin with, this exercise is made even more unbearable by the fact that a sort of gender bias applies uniformly in these situations, to the disadvantage of the male species.

Have you ever accompanied a girl on a shopping trip for bras? No? Haha, score one over you. 
But seriously, it’s not that great an experience. For while it’s perfectly all right for a girl to stride over purposefully to the male changing area with the express intention of scrutinizing a guy’s clothes, woe betide the hapless idiot who wanders over to the female changing section even by mistake. He is immediately struck dead in his tracks by a cacophony of indignant hisses and condescending stares from a variety of aunties, stalwarts of an era where interaction between the sexes was strictly regulated and monitored, with lapses in judgment punishable severely.

The segregation starts early on in childhood, with boys and girls seated separately in classrooms and in school buses. While such forced measures never quite stemmed basic human curiosity (games of “I show you mine you show me yours” still happened occasionally) it certainly put a veneer of cultural dis-respectability on the otherwise beautiful woodwork of healthy interaction between sexes.

Leading to inappropriate expressions of repressed sexuality, as humorously caricatured in the clip below from the classic Malayalam movie In Harihar Nagar. The guys are desperately trying to stalk a lady. 


Of course, the veneer has worn thin over the years, especially with society opening up more and more, but one venue where it still clings on strongly is the changing room of apparel stores. This was brought home rather painfully the last time I visited a Marks and Spencer store in the company of my better half in Kerala. While she flitted innocently in and out of the changing area to cast disapproving glances over my choice of pants, I was all but physically accosted out of the female changing rooms when I went to return the favor. The moment I crossed over some invisible moral line separating the male hoi polloi from the rarified atmosphere of the changing section, the cacophony of indignant h. and condescending s. erupted, creating a palpable sonic barrier.

Matters were not made any easier by the presence of these three barely clad mannequins right in front of the changing area. In an attempt to impart a finishing touch to the realistic nature of these plastic goddesses, the manufacturers had also installed nipples on all of their breasts. Not just that- for reasons best known to them, they had ensured that the afore mentioned appendages protruded rather obviously from beneath the sample undergarments the shop had provided them with. 



None of which would have been an issue, had I not been standing immediately to the left of these inanimate beauties as the cacophony erupted. I had fully intended to go see my wife, but, societal disapproval personified by an especially fierce looking aunty roughly half my size was barring my way. She had the loudest h. and s., and seemed to have taken it upon herself to protect delicate sensibilities from being offended that day by yours truly’s bid to see his wife.  It was a potent moment of truth. I felt the pull of a sense of righteous equality dragging me to the changing rooms, while the equally strong push of indignant morality stayed my feet. My wife, blissfully unaware of this epic battle of wills being waged not more than 10 feet away from her, continued shopping. Beads of perspiration rolled down my eyebrows, while the 4 feet bundle of indignant womanliness stood less than a meter from me, daring me mutely to take a step forward or peek a glance into the doorway through which my wife had just disappeared.

I sensed things had come to an impasse. The lady would not let me forward, and my own sense of soon to be injured manliness would not let me back down. In a bid to break this deadlock, I took a contemplative step sideways and promptly crashed into the mannequins, going down in a tangle of arms, legs and protruding nipples, to the accompaniment of a tremendous scream. The aunty, presented with the unique opportunity of helping a fellow human being escape some embarassment, had decided upon a secondary course of action and had let out a magnificent scream ,perhaps in vocal support to the recently violated mute nipples.

Long story short, I am not allowed to shop at Marks and Spencer until July 2017. My wife has promised to stop needling me about it by August of the same year.