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'I feel naked without my bag & earrings'

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August 14, 2008

One of the country's most famous women bloggers, Meenakshi has always been writing about life as a young, single woman in India. Refreshingly candid about her life and detailing everything from drinking and smoking to sexual escapades, she has won an audience that loves her bold style and can relate to her experiences.

As part of an ongoing series, we have featured extracts from the first, second and third chapters of her new book, You Are Here. Presented below is another excerpt from Chapter 3:

Now, though, there's this unspoken code that specifies that you can't flirt with your friends' ex-boyfriends, former crushes or fuck-buddies. I don't quite get the concept of a fuck-buddy, though, and I certainly don't think it works in an Indian context. Sure, we're second-generation liberated and all that, but there are still people among us who talk about rape victims in the most uneducated way, saying things like they had asked for it because they had dressed attractively and were walking alone on a deserted street and what not. In short, the accusatory finger points straight at the woman, always, and I'm not sure it's about to change. It's not really the twenty-first century in many parts of India, and it's not just the small towns I'm talking about. Sometimes when I'm travelling and I light a cigarette, the way people look at me it's almost as if I were dancing around naked, ringing a bell in their ears to draw attention. In Delhi [Images] itself if a woman is thirty and opinionated and lives alone, she's either a slut or one of those terrible Indian women who doesn't need a man and is therefore, definitely, a lesbian. With attitudes like this, is it any wonder that women in Indian urban societies still stifle orgasms and are yelled at in school for wearing skirts that end above the knee because it would mean attracting 'male attention' which would make you, well, 'dirty', 'Westernized' and 'loose'?

I moved away from the mirror to dig out the turquoise blue sleeveless top with little pink and blue flowers embroidered diagonally across it, which I'd recently picked up at the export surplus market in Sarojini Nagar and chose a comfortable cotton bra to wear under it which wouldn't look too grotty when I got wet. I was bound to be thrown into the pool and emerge dripping, holding my top away from my standing-at-attention nipples, which would only draw more eyes to my chest. It happened every time. I picked out a pair of shorts to go with it, and floaters. Finally it all looked right.

While I was trying to smooth my hair down around my ears, Topsy emerged from her room wearing nothing more than a sports bra and shorts. Unlike me, Topsy is free and open with her body. In the summer, during power cuts, she strips down to her plain cotton panties with just the tiniest bits of lace around the crotch and shrugs out of her bra and walks around the house eating an apple, or sometimes just lying down on the cool floor waving a newspaper over her body. Initially it really freaked me out, this display of naked skin, and I would run around looking for a towel or something squealing 'Topsy! Come on! Put on some clothes!' But she would continue to lie there, eyes closed, asking me to 'Just chill', and she looked so cool, so comfortable, that soon I would strip to my bra and shorts and lie down next to her.

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Next to Topsy I always feel large and chunky. Not that I'm much bigger or taller than she is, but she has a certain elfin grace, what with her fluttery fingers and her tiptoe walk and her perfectly flat stomach and the way she shakes her head to move her hair gently from her cheek to behind her shoulder, like a girl in a shampoo ad. Tonight she was wearing a twisted copper armband with a huge green stone in the centre on her golden upper arm. Her hair was brushed and gleaming and she had made two little braids and coiled them around her head to keep it from getting in her face. I noticed the stud in her bellybutton gleam and even though I have a navel piercing too, I felt bloated and fat, like a troll with greasy hair and a snarly voice. Even the silver rings I had worn on my recently pedicured toes suddenly felt wrong.

'I feel fat,' I said sadly.

Topsy looked me up and down and nodded decisively. 'Well, you don't look fat. You look great, Arsh, better than great. I wouldn't be surprised if half the men at the party hit on you.'

I made my 'aw' face and grinned. 'Thanks, but no thanks. I'm through with men, completely. One hundred per cent finished.'

'What you need is a fling to get that stupid Cheeto out of your head.' She contemplated me closely and then turned towards the bathroom. 'You also need some bronze body glitter. It'll look good on you.'

With deft, quick movements, she strategically dabbed the shiny powder on my face and in the hollows of my neck and cleavage. That's another thing I don't get about Topsy. She's so very touchy-feely. Really. She thinks nothing about hugging someone she's met for the first time, and I'm talking about a full-body hug, where every inch of you is in contact. In the same situation, my body cringes and is stiff and awkward. When she's with her friends, she rubs her head against their shoulders, like a cat, or holds hands, or links arms, and around Fardeen she's like a vine, because she's constantly twined around him. Once at a party, one of those really loud, really crowded parties, I spotted the two of them in a corner. Topsy was sitting in the crook of Fardeen's arm, gently stroking his torso, and he was murmuring something to her while he ran his fingers through her hair. They looked so private, even in that crowded room, that I felt like I was being rude by just looking at them.

Just as she finished, a single ring sounded on her cellphone: Fardeen's signal for us to get ourselves downstairs, pronto. Topsy hurriedly examined herself again in the mirror and dumped her stuff in my shoulder bag. Bags don't go with her personality, she claims. She carries a jhola-type bag to college because she has to and the first thing she does when she gets home is dump it on the nearest available surface. Normally when she's going out she stuffs her phone, wallet and keys into her pockets, or Fardeen's, and hooks her glasses on the neck of her T-shirt or top. On the other hand, I can't go anywhere without my bag, not even to the local Mother Dairy or grocery store. I feel, I don't know, naked without it. In fact, I feel the same way if I leave the house without earrings on. Topsy says these things are like my security blanket, which might actually be true.

Also read:
'My life is like a bra that's been put on wrong'
'Having sex with someone doesn't mean you're connected'
'Men believe women always wear sexy underwear'

Excerpted from You Are Here by Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan with the publisher's permission. The book is 257 pages long and priced at Rs 199; it is being launched on August 15 by Penguin India.

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