Recently, I was traveling on a camping trip with a close friend. Being the gorgeous woman she is, she loves wearing short dresses that show off her legs and the intricate tattoo on her calf.
Representational image from Priyanka Shah's photo series.
However, wearing a short dress in India will definitely draw attention and people often stare at you. In Mumbai, it is common to see a group of men staring at a girl's legs as if they haven't seen a pair before. While a lot of this string is the result of ‘havas,’ judgment walks hand in hand.
But when we were in the interiors of Maharashtra, we observed how different village folks are from city people. We were camping in a village called Mhasegaon that is located 26 kms from Pali, a place of pilgrim near Lonavle.
Our campsite was located next to a river and right across the river was a small village consisting of merely 25 houses and a few cow sheds. The people here are mostly farmers and the village was surrounded by dried out paddy fields. As there was no market nearby, we decided to interact with the locals and ask them where we could get some grub.
While speaking with them, I noticed how they were not judgmental at all about what my girlfriend was wearing. They even invited us to their house for tea and snacks. Later in the day, she switched to an even skimpier jumpsuit. The jumpsuit was completely backless and the only thing that was keeping the outfit a little decent for outdoors was a bralette.
And even that did not seem to bother the locals. As we approached the river, we saw a few local women and kids swimming in a pool that had formed in the river. As we began crossing the river they invited us to jump in the water with them. We sat at the bank of the river and I could overhear their chatter because villages are quiet and sound travels further when there is nothing around.
“Kiti god diste ti porgi” (she looks so sweet) a lady said to another in Marathi. I could also hear the women joking about how they would look in an outfit like that. An aunty even said that her outfit is really good for the summer heat. We eventually went to a localities house in the evening for some Chai and Upma. (unrelated but that was the best chai I’ve had in my entire life)
Even as we sat at the veranda of the house, we could see a number of girls admiring my friend's outfit. They were talking about how they do not get such good clothes in their markets.
This is when I realized that they were talking about how great her outfit looked or how well she pulled it off. They weren’t concerned about how much skin she was showing. Instead of being judgmental, they were appreciating her courage while admiring her outfits.
Our trip came to an end as we proceeded back to the city in a state transport bus. The moment we reached Mumbai Central, the judgmental eyes were back. Even though she had changed into an outfit that covered up most of her body, it seemed that people couldn’t stop staring at her. That is when she said, "City people stare more at my legs than villagers. Its as if they haven’t seen legs before.”
Even as we made our way back home in a local train, I could see a number of people staring at her. Here's when I realized how difficult it is to be a woman, and carry yourself with dignity when they have to hear odd comments for their choice of clothing.