I am waiting for that perfect topic to plop into my mind before I write here again. But it isn't. And meanwhile I can't stop thinking about a short sketch a blogger friend posted, a semi-fictional conversation between two little girls discussing earrings, one of them complaining about her mother allowing her only glue-on ones and no piercing. A perfect storm of thoughts and memories in a teacup.
For a whole bar of chocolate
My ears were pierced in my fifth year, and my memories of the event are very clear, it happened at my maternal grandfather's house, one of my elder cousins, my mother's sister's daughter, was also pierced, just before me. We both had to sit on the floor on a small square rug, behind us our grandfather's bed against the large window, and before us our mothers and the stranger who did the piercing. I remember nothing about him except that he wore a somewhat soiled dhoti. My cousin cried a little. My aunt promised us a whole bar of chocolate each if we didn't cry or make a fuss. I remember becoming apprehensive at this point, if adults were willing to give such recklessly huge bribes, then it had to hurt like hell!
When my turn came I sat on the rug and the man pulled at my ears, first on one side and then the other, and I felt a prick while he marked out the position on the lobes. I kept waiting for the terrible pain for which only an entire bar of chocolate could compensate enough. But he did nothing further and turned away, I remember the smell of Dettol, but not my lobes being cleaned, and then my aunt handed me the chocolate. It was over. The first blood had been drawn.
I remember being mildly disappointed when I looked in the mirror next, there were only bits of black yarn threaded and knotted through the scabbed hole, no fancy earrings like the grown ups. I don't know when I got actual earrings, my first pair were tiny hoops in gold, which my mother substituted with small silver ones when I started to walk to school by myself, maybe around six or seven. She had heard or read of a little girl's lobes being torn open when her earrings were snatched by a mugger. I liked my silver earrings better than the first gold pair because they had a small crystal embellishment. At that time, silver was as good as dross. The assumption was no-one would want to steal them.
I wore those all through school, till I was sixteen, never thought of taking them off, or trying a different pair. Studs and danglers were totally no-no, as was costume jewellery. The whole idea of a child/tween/young teen possessing a range of earrings was inconceivable. I didn't see the women in my life changing their earrings often, from my grandmothers to my cousins, everyone had a pair stuck on their ears forever it seemed, I never consciously thought about the ornaments. I started with my brand of special cluelessness pretty early.
I took off my hoops first when I passed my school certificate and went back to Delhi. At that time, it was all the rage to wear nosepins and many young women I knew got their noses pierced. I didn't, though if anyone had asked me why, I wouldn't have been able to articulate a reason. Over the years there I acquired maybe three or four pairs of silver studs to rotate as and when I liked. That felt grown up and almost decadent.
You're not quite whole without some extra holes
I vaguely disliked going out with bare ears, or even with the wire hook earrings which left the holes visible. For a long time, I disliked also that compulsion that I felt I was under, to wear earrings to cover my lobes. Pretty much a no-win situation. Some neuroses are good for a decade, some others more long term and greater value for money. One learns to pick and choose ones complexes as one grows, that's one good thing about ageing. Nowadays I don't give a (insert preferred expletive here, I can't think of anything strong enough right this minute) either way.
But the thing is, women who don't wear jewellery make people uncomfortable in India. I remember standing, bare-armed, bare-eared, by my mother's bed when she was very sick indeed, just before she got diagnosed with her cancer, and a visiting doctor remarking on my unjewelleried state, asking why my arms were bare. I remember being out with an aunt and her telling me that I was not fit to be seen in public because I had forgotten to wear my earrings that day. She insisted that I buy a cheap pair and bung them in right then and there, which I didn't, but all the same I felt like an idiot, like my slip was showing. I was unmarried then. The expectations regarding jewellery wearing take a quantum leap after a woman is married. Let's not even get into that here.
And the thing is also, women who wear too much jewellery or the wrong kind of jewellery make Indians equally uncomfortable. A young adult woman wanting to get multiple piercings in her ear is likely to be opposed by her family, the same family who have got her lobes pierced as a religious ritual at age one or three or whatever. A niece who wanted a tattoo and a piercing for her 18th birthday didn't get either ultimately because no-one in the family approved (including me! I dislike tattoos! henna is so much cooler). Either way we can't seem to let our women just be themselves.
The problem with any piercing is that it is a mutilation. It alters our bodies permanently. Any piercing done in childhood impacts our acceptance of our own bodies. "Look, your ears are not pretty as they are, they need things to hang down, stick out, loop over, loop under, to make them look presentable." That's the message, and we pick it up. However clueless, however unconsciously. It took me years to realise that bare ears can be pretty too; better bloody late than never.
Of course, jewellery and piercings and extreme decorations are all part of self expression, about choice and rights. Any adult should have the right to do whatever the hell she pleases with her own body. Adult. That's the operative word here. Not a four year old or a 16 year old. Not even an 18 year old who is dependent on her parents still, or who might change her mind two weeks later.
As I was writing this post, my husband came in, so I asked him whether, if we had had a daughter, he'd have considered piercing her ears.
"Pierce? ears? Wha-? What for?" he looked at me with a is-that-a-trick-question-what-are-you-up-to-now kind of expression and then satisfied, said,"Nah. Not under my watch. Besides, any daughter of mine can damn well pay for it herself."
What for. Exactly.