Mom has a love-hate relationship with bras: she loves them during the day and detests them at night.
When she was working, she would return home after a tiring commute of two hours and change into her night dress – a pajama suit. I remember her squealing in delight the moment she would let go of her bra, giving her breasts a quick feel-good hand massage.
She would only buy her bras from Libertina (her all-time favourite brand) in Bombay. When I was introduced to bras, I was only introduced to Libertina. In those days, we did not have much of a choice. Bra buying was a hushed-up affair unlike now when a neon lacy M&S bra shows up on your screen while reading an article on a website.
Over the years, my mother stopped working and spent more time indoors. But her experiments with bras continued. She claimed had figured out the reason for bras being uncomfortable. It had to do with the manner in which she was wearing them.“It’s because I put the bra strap high up instead of strapping it perpendicular to the bust which makes it so much more comfortable,” she exclaimed excitedly.
So, with mum getting older and her trips to Mumbai becoming fewer, she kept her bras in a good condition and stitched them up if they got worn out. She wore a bra daily after her bath. It was a necessity for her unlike my grandmother who never wore one and my daughter who hardly wears one.
Then the dementia struck and she began to forget things. She would ask me to buy her undergarments and sometimes “a bra from Libertina” that she continued to fancy, but couldn’t remember owning. So the new undergarments started coming to my cupboard as she refused to be associated with them. Despite my explaining the situation to her, she did not quite use them. I told her I would embroider a ‘C’ on her bras so she could tell they were hers. Instead, I drew a C with a marker just to check if she noticed (and she did not) and the undergarments kept coming to my cupboard.
I got her six camisoles stitched with fine mulmul (a type of think soft muslin). For a woman who was a partition refugee, six was a lavish number. On days she couldn’t find her bra, she was okay with just wearing the camisole as an inner lining. On days she couldn’t find a slip/camisole, she started using a hanky with a safety pin to cover her breasts.
My mother had always been thin but the dementia made her look frail. Her physicality changed but not her love for bras. That remained constant. Her bras started getting older though. Despite repeated stitches, hooks or extensions, they were not in a condition to provide any support, let alone fit her. I threw away some, the ones which were in dregs. I kept telling her that older women need not wear bras; a slip would do. The mulmul slips were good enough given the humid climate in our small town.
One day, I bought a bra on sale, a lovely beige lacy underwire bra that refused to fit me. So I gave it to my mother. I was curious to know if she would wear an underwire one. Such a concept was absent in her heydays of Libertina. I helped her put it on and she was full of joy. Although the cup size was too big for her sagging, almost flat breasts, she loved how she felt in it. She loved herself in it. To my surprise, she did not complain of the underwire at all. She kept peeping at it with a childlike excitement, thanking me profusely for buying it for her.
My mother’s latest prized possession hangs in prominently in her cupboard. Her caretaker keeps reminding her to wear it after her bath from time to time. I cannot wait to visit her again and hear about her gushing about it.
Working at Love Matters has made Chinmayee a true blahcksheep. She can comfortably talk about any “taboo” issues ranging from sex to sexuality. Her mother, a refugee from Karachi who obtained her PhD in Social Work at the age of 60, has been equally vocal about body positivity and sex related issues like her. Today, at 85, she is coping with dementia.