Volume 33, Number 2

The Brassiere

It hangs from a key, cups still in the shape of their former occupants
and salt deposited on the underband like ripple marks along a shore.

In the scarlet afternoon, I can see it move to the rhythm of the fan
overhead, swaying forward only to be pushed back into the almirah:
a relationship that is almost like a telephonic exchange with my mother,
who once told me that she loved me the way she loved sour candy;
Like any masochistic behaviour that is at once benign and malicious.

When I wore it in the morning, I never noticed the rings
and the sliders that compose this elaborate garment.
It is always worn with a sense of urgency: reversed,
brought under the breasts, hook clasped to the eye,
reversed, straps passed through the arms, cups lifted up,
underband adjusted. There is a protocol and little room for thought,

which is how most regimes sustain themselves.
A mind deprived of language is obedient by nature.

There is no foregoing it though. It is worn to hide
what lies beneath and a camisole is worn to hide
the brassiere, and a shirt is worn to hide the camisole.
To remove it would be to bring all order, all social order,
under scrutiny. Women are always hiding—objects, organs,
themselves. If we decided to stop, where would we?

It is more than a garment. The one I wore today
was supposed to be put into a case last week
for preservation. The women in my family have a tradition
around it: to preserve the first one they bought.
My mother says it was her first step into womanhood.

Womanhood is guileless in how it starts with restraint,
and all the women in my family are cruel.

There is no lesson here because I have not yet gathered
the gall to disregard it. It leaves indentations
where it touches me: a scalloped line circling
the skin over my ribs, another going over my shoulders,
and a bridge-like structure in the middle of my back.

Everything about it is imposing. It contains components
that are made to make the body remember its place.

I sit here, seething, watching, as it dances.
The almirah it hangs from belongs to my deceased
grandfather. My grandfather, who never owned any property,
wanted to be buried. But six years ago, my father decided that
he was a hindu before he was a son and had him cremated.

The guiltless entitlement of men over all bodies,
living and dead,
is the basis of most misery in society.

It looks graceful. There is something disquieting about how the lace
draws flowers over the cups and two threads pass between the apices.
This could be an ornament. Beauty is still not out of character

for an object that was made to restrain. All restraining things,
like traditions and totalitarian states, are designed to look appealing.
An hour has passed and I am still looking at it.

By tomorrow, it will have been washed and placed inside the almirah.
And I will be wearing it the day after. I will once again hook it,
unhook it, hang it from the key for the sweat to dry, look at it
for another hour, think of families, autocracies, dead people,
and then put it in the washer. If nothing changes, nothing changes.

—Alolika Dutta

"The Brassiere" first appeared in The Indian Quarterly