Somewhere in Madras Presidency, sometime before the ̐Channar revolt, the twin-conical fabric sat on the coir bed way before the bride entered the room. ‘Could be a bit large,’ the man thought, as he took them. He caressed the right cone, then the left. Jolting as if hit by instincts, imagining the weight, the burden that cloth would have to bear, he walked to the window where the full-moon ripped the dark sky, inspected them again, plucked off small protruding pieces of thread from the sides, and watched every stitch closely until the doors behind him opened with a gentle sweeping swoosh.
The man and his wife had been neighbours, childhood friends, and had even married each other umpteen times during their childhood plays. But, then she was seventeen and really married to him. Seventeen was too late for any girl to get married, but she was determined that she would wait for her man who had moved to the far north of the country along with his uncle, to be a tailor, when he was just about the age when his voice changed. In a manly voice, he had promised her that he would come back for her. And he did.
The dry palm leaf tips brushed against the floor as the doors closed as gently as they opened, and the newly-wed bride walked in. One step was all she could take, for passion and tension rooted her to the spot, she stood on the cold mud floor like a small dark statue lit by the chimney light, covered only with a white skirt hugging around her hips. She had heard bits and parts of the biology of the first wedding night from her friends, and of course, those that were cooed into her ears by her lover on some rare occasions before their wedding. Nature thrust her, culture pulled back. But he came forward eyeing her breasts—only her breasts.
Somewhere in the so-called free, developed world, a school principal is seen seated in the reading room at his home. The large wooden-finished room seemed a compact version of some of the finest libraries in the world: in structure and in collection. On either side of his study table were neatly stacked books, towering to a height of about fifty centimetres. On the right were those that were read by him. And on the left were those to be read before the month-end. Above his large ornamental ebony chair were inscribed the words: ‘Knowing is everything. Knowledge is liberation.’ His books were mostly academic, philosophical or political; literature was for the feeble hearts is what he believed. To read a book every morning before leaving to work was his routine, something that he followed since his school days. Such was his incredible speed that it never took him more than a couple of days to finish a book of five to six hundred pages. Of course, he was a man of conversation, but more than that he was a man of discipline. If knowledge is his right eye, discipline is his left.
The dark goddess of the man, with her charming firm-ripe-round-breasts, an invisible but very much pounding heart, was ablaze when he touched her shoulders and moved behind her. He admired her long black hair that snaked its way to her waist, held the thicket of her hair near her neck, and slid his fingers slowly down strands of darkness. Down and down. And slipped in between her arms, cupped her breasts, and pulled her towards his warm body.
Her lips parted. She gasped.
Her man held her tight, his large palms fully covering her breasts, measuring not relishing, he whispered, ‘I’ve a gift for you.’
Desire rushed through her veins and arteries, but curiosity won the race. ‘What’s it? ’she asked in a husky voice. The bride hardly understood what it was until her man wore it over her breasts. When he placed it properly and tied it, he found her fill every corner of it, to the tip, making him proud about his sewing skills and the bounty of youth he received. The girl was speechless. This gift was a different experience. ‘You look like a rani.’ Indeed, she felt like a queen. Three moons shone that night, one in the sky and two in the man’s hut.
The village buzzed with the news, men and women flocked to see the bride—bride with a bra—a backward class bride with covered breasts. Some admired, some envied, and some even warned. But, the girl wore it every single day. She flaunted the volume, the cover and the cleavage; while every other girl desired a husband like the-man-who-gifted-a-bra.
As a part of the marriage rituals, the couple and their relatives walked in a procession to the famous forestshrine—the idol of power dwelling under the huge old tree. This god or goddess, or perhaps who knows what, neither had faces, eyes, breast or legs. It was a dark flat stone slab worshipped exclusively by the likes such as these. The procession, however, had no air of devotion, it was full of talks—about the couple’s love story—about the excellent job prospects of a tailor—about the fortune of the bride—and mostly about the fear—the Fear that soon manifested before them.
The morning rituals were over, and the punctual headmaster heads to his school and reaches way before the first bell. Everything was in order: classrooms, teachers, question papers, everything was in order. All board exam candidates had to report at the school half-an-hour before the first bell, in full uniform. All reached in time, except one girl. The tensed class teacher asks the girl’s friends, searches the classrooms, tries phoning the student’s parent—her widowed mother, a domestic worker. ‘She left home at the usual time,’ the mother cries anxiously. Panic sprawls like water raging from a broken dam, the news reaches the school office, and finally the principal too.
‘What the thing are you guys doing? Send someone to the girl’s home and find her.’
‘No use sir, her home is around 43 kilometres far. By the time we travel to and fro, the exam will be…’
‘Excuse me, Sir.’
The procession came to a halt on seeing the village chief and his men arrive.
‘So, you think your wife is an elite flesh?’ The stout tawny landlord pointed his gun straight to the groom’s chest.
The young man’s father was soon to his knees, begging forgiveness for his son’s impudence. He assured that his daughter-in-law will remove her brassiere right then, right there. The ladies in the crowd soon headed to undress the bride’s breasts, but her husband held her tight. ‘Who said only the elite can cover their body? It’s her body, and she has the right to cover or uncover it.’
None had expected the young boy would speak like that. Even the wind seemed to be shocked and frozen.
‘The bastard has started to speak about rights! Kill him and anyone else who tries to revolt.’
The crowd shrieked, pleaded mercy, but the brave man said, ‘Whatever may happen, girl, you will never let go of your pride.’ The chief and his men were in tens, the couple and their people were in hundreds—hundreds gripped in fear. But, any rebellion against the landlord would mean inviting the more powerful, country heads: the ̐parangi demons who would not hesitate to plunder their harvest, rape their women and make a slave of their children under the guise of bringing law and order in the village. How far can a single man resist! His body gave in. He was tied to the tree, and the sword was already wounding the skin of his neck. They held her too.
‘To the king of the pigs!’ mocked the chief as he stripped the bride. Tears of the hundreds made no difference; the laughter of the wicked few echoed.
He tapped her breasts, slapped them, and then clawed it with his sharp nails. She groaned with pain. He buried his nails further into the soft bed of life. She bled—her husband was alive but dead. There was nothing he could do, he spat on the chief’s face, the very exertion wounding his throat more.
‘Bastard!’ the chief pushed aside the girl, fumed to his prey, and whipped his head.
The woman who was bearing every pain—every sting—every wound until then, roared to the sky, pushed aside all the men and the chief and with the same sword that killed her husband, she sliced her breasts.
And then the other.
And flung them to the men, ‘Eats you dogs! Eat!’
The severed, uncovered organs of the girl lay on the ground, and she laid red and still, near her man’s body.
The girl stands at the office door, late, exhausted and not in full uniform.
‘My God! Where were you, and why aren’t you in full uniform?’ asks the teacher.
The girl apologises and explains what made her late, but the headmaster eyes her like a hound.
The class teacher interferes, ‘Sir, please let her attend the exam first. We’ll take due action later.’
‘She has put the reputation of my school at stake. The little crap turned in late, gave us a long story about some road accident and that she donated her shawl to tie around some street dog’s wound. How dare this girl step into my campus half-naked.’ He growls, ‘And you don’t advise me, teacher. Leave to your business right now, I know what to do with this filthy creature!’
The little eyes plead for help, but the teacher would dare not stay there. As soon as the latter leaves, the principal catches the girl’s braid and drags her to his room on the second floor of the building.
‘Sir, please. Please, sir. The puppy was badly wounded.’
‘You, liar, you little brat! Do you want to show off your body to the boys?
Inside the headmaster’s room, she was sweating profusely, and her innocent face turned redder and wetter with every second, ‘Trust me, sir, please.’
‘I won’t. How dare you come without a shawl? Don’t you know girls are supposed to cover their breasts? Or, does your flesh desire to be kneaded like this?’ The crushed flower writhes in pain, as the smog-eyed demon scrunches her heart, along with her veins and tender flesh. Knowledge, clearly, did not hit him right. But, a hard slap hits the demon’s face, ‘Let her go,’ raged the class teacher who returned. But before the principal could comprehend what happened, before the teacher could console the child, running hysterically, sobbing all the way through the corridor, she jumps to death.
The girl’s under-covered organs lay flat on the ground, holding behind them, her broken ribs and dreams.
And from that day when the bride died sans breasts for covering it, to this moment when another girl was harassed for not having enough cover over her breasts, the organ kept singing and still does:
I was here forever
guarding the secret
of turning red to white—
in monkey, in man and in every
other mammals alike.
every life knew that
save man, smog-eyed-man!
neither cover me
with the fabric of a religion
nor uncover me
i am not a sign of caste
nor has my size to do with class,
i am not pride
nor am i shame,
i am not a gift
and never a curse,
i am life— the same life
every cell of every body,
the multiverse, and beyond brims with.
i am an organ.
just let me be!
̐The ChannarLahala or Channar revolt, also called MaruMarakkalSamaram, refers to the fight from 1813 to 1859 of Nadar climber women in Travancore kingdom for the right to wear upper-body clothes to cover their breasts.
̐A term in Malayalam that was used to denote all Europeans, in Kerala, during the colonial period.