So, there is currently a controversy around whether a well-loved professor of NID asked students to undress, as part of an experiment. The chap stoutly denies the allegation and students have come out in his support.
Course participant Pratik Shah told DNA: "The concept of his course is that we all are bound by many things like the norms of society, fear of different things and so on. If we want to be creative in the work that we do, we need to free ourselves from this binding which will enable us to think out of the box."
So, there was a session where each student was asked to walk alone in the night in 'pitch dark' of a jungle without a torch. And yes, there were 'talks' of nudity to take students beyond their comfort zone.
"There was also a session on 'who would strip' just to challenge the need for conformance to societal norms, but when somebody dared to do so, the professor stopped them."
I personally believe this version of events. I also believe we in India are especially touchy when it comes to nudity. Which is funny, considering our national dress (the sari) reveals more than the standard attire of most other cultures.
I think it starts early, this idea that nudity is somehow dirty and/or undesirable. Toddlers are taught that to be nanga is 'shame shame'. I mean sure, we have to teach them to keep their pants on but why choose an adjective like that?
Then there was the issue of privacy; the concept hardly existed in our society. Both for cultural and logistical reasons.
Mujhe yaad aata hai wo scene. In the aangan of our old house in Ratlam my uncles bathing in their blue and green striped kacchhas. My aunts - when we sometimes bathed together for logistical reasons (a large family with single gusalkhana) - always kept their underclothes on.
I think it was quite common to do so, even when bathing alone.
My first shock as far as nudity goes is when I was at high school in the US. In the locker rooms after PE class, girls did not squeeze their wet bodies into clothes inside the bathrooms. Afraid that someone might see them exposed - the way we would be.
They had body confidence which desis of my generation simply never had.
My next adventure with nudity occurred - ironically - during a course we took at IIMA called ERI (Exploring Roles and Identity). But there was no instructor involved.
In the dead of the night, on the beach of Teethal (near Valsad) where we spent four days, a friend suggested we go skinnydipping.
And that's what we did. Removing clothes was the easy part; walking into the darkness towards the water was what scared me. Even though it's a flat beach - in low tide the sea recedes a km away. The waves are small and gentle. So you know you can't get swept away...
It felt good.
Five years later I was in Kyoto, staying at an international youth hostel. The place was great, but there was one problem. They had Japanese style bathrooms, meaning no private bathing area.
You enter a large room with showers on the side. In the centre of the room is a largish tub. After showering you can go soak in the tub - with other people.
So there are separate baths for men and women but still, the first day I decided I couldn't. I simply did not have a bath. But on day two I said - what the hell. This too is an experience. I showered and then sat in the hot tub - nude - with two Korean girls (also nude).
We briefly glanced at each other and noted the difference in body structure (they were very slim and small built). And that was it - no awkwardness at all. They didn't speak English and I didn't speak Korean, so we all enjoyed the warmth of the water (It was December and bloody cold!).
I slept really well that night :)
I think I crossed the final frontier when I gave birth to Nivedita. A different doctor came in every 15 minutes to check how many cms I was dilated under a flimsy sheet. And my mother, mother-in-law and husband hung around watching like it was no big deal.
Later I realised, it was a liberating moment.
Or maybe I was just in too much pain to feel shy or violated!
That day I fell in love with this amazing piece of biological machinery that is my body. And in the years since, I have made a conscious effort to love myself.
All of myself, including my physical being.
Well no more 'adventures' since then. But if I happen to be on the French Riviera and find a nudist colony on the beach, I won't hesitate to take my clothes off.
I don't have a perfect body. Maybe I will, someday. But it's really not about that.
If someone asks you to strip in a classroom - sure, that's unacceptable. But try it in the privacy of your own home, with curtains drawn. I bet most of us will quickly cover ourselves up because... it just feels 'unnatural'.
Which is ironic, isn't it?
And in a metaphorical sense, can you see all the layers of beliefs, of rules and judgements with which you cover up your True Self? Imagine looseing your tie, opening the buttons... shedding even a belief or two.
You will feel light and easy and all-new.