Thursday, July 01, 2010

The Naked Truth

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.


  1. Urr..Hmmm. This was a daring blog. I am guessing you will get all the wrong type of attention here. That makes the blog even more daring.

    I faced similar shock in men's changing room in phoren. I could not bring myself to change in the 'open' changing area. I did squeeze myself in a toilet and changed there. I prefer it that way. I guess to each his/her own.

  2. I would say definitely it's a very very daring and candid blog from a married women.
    But worth making any one sit and think.

  3. i guess its different with men and women. most men would not hesitate to be in their birthday suite in privacy.

  4. forgive my saying this - but after a fairly long time you have written a really enriching piece. Great writing this one.


  5. @kaho pyare:
    Wrong. This is not about men or women. There are men who have even refused to get nude even in front of fire officer to escape from a flood like death trap because they were shy. So stop with your gross gender stereotypes that men have no problem being nude.

    Nudity is personal. Some people are comfortable with it even at home, some are not.

    Your assumption that we stay clothed even at home because of "beliefs" built by society is plain bullshit. I live alone and while I've been nude at times most of the time I prefer to wear at least a thin undergarment and I grew up in one of the most conservative (doesn't freaking mean no freedom) communities in India.

    We all think by doing a few things like being in the nude, questioning religion, questioning customs etc. that we are somehow empowered, wiser and being non-comformant. If anything what this all this has brought to most of the people is MORE narrowmindedness, ignorance and arrogance.

  6. I loved it and I totally agree with you!! Daring but thought provoking.


  7. sud0v0id: i beg to differ.. just coz u believe in the concept that rashmi has talked about in the blog does not mean that India as a country is liberated in the same thought process. I still see women cover up even their ankles with clothing if they realize that its visible and someone is prying their eyes upon it.. And case in point as rashmi said, the saree reveals more and is revered as a garment here in india. Also not many people like being nude even with themselves, thinking that they might be doing something wrong.

    @Rashmi: I applaud you lady for the dignity and poise with which u've written this piece! i'm a fan all the more.. Cheers! :)

  8. haha i remember my room mate bathed with his underwear on even in the privacy of cubicles!!

  9. Rashmi,

    I applaud you for the grace with which you have handled the subject. I say this because, I, being a man, would never have admitted to having similar feelings or experiences. Until today, that is.

    I think too, that we place excessive stress on the often twisted notion of shame. First, we teach children to be ashamed of certain body parts just because they possess it. (Imagine, by the time I reached double digit age, I used have at least an undergarment on even while bathing!)

    Then, by the time they are adults, it is time for them to be ashamed of their body because it is not "perfect" - whatever that means!

    But yes, I have experienced the freedom of naturism in solitude, both indoors and outdoors - and I can vouch for the purity of it all (as opposed to the perversity which it could assume if the persons involved are not mentally mature enough).

    Although, I feel men would be more hesitant to take it off in front of other people than women (for obvious reasons).

    Finally - about the real gist of this post (which is not about the body at all, is it?). I agree that we need to disrobe ourselved of our closely (and often falsely) held beliefs. Only by opening our minds can we really experience the world in a more inclusive way!.

  10. Very well written. I used to think about this topic and you have put in in such a nice way. No inhibitions whatsoever.

    I saw your blog link on Pritesh's blog. Keep writing !

  11. I had discussion on this once and it was surprising for me to know that some of my friends when they stayed in hotels alone, still closed the door to bathrooms to take showers. I for myself don't have such extreme inhibitions though. I agree the first time this thought came to my mind, it did feel a little 'unnatural'. But then I only went ahead with the thought that it is absolutely stupid to close the door when you are staying alone in hotel.

    I for myself didn't have any mass-nudity experience unlike you did but I think when you are writing about nudity experiences in public locations, beaches would be a little far fetched since now this involves ppl of opposite gender too.

  12. @sud0v0id: Without questioning the "axioms" told by religion the society moves backwards. I would argue that trying to think different is better than blindly following what has been told. Most of our customs have been penned when times were different, perspectives were different. We have greater freedom now, of expression, of living your own life and a better security than those times. It has become fashionable too to say what you said to keep people from thinking different

  13. Rashmi, is it so difficult to remove the irritating spam which infests the comments page of all your blogs nowadays?

  14. true.....have not had any such experiences of common bathing areas or anything...but its true...we as a ppl are way too conscious....and for wot?? even while getting a wax....girls get baz luhrmann said "Enjoy your body,
    use it every way you can…don’t be afraid of it, or what other people
    think of it, it’s the greatest instrument you’ll ever

  15. Your Japan experience was quite similar to mine - sitting alongside 20 others in the public bath was quite an experience. Yet another aspect of Japanese culture that surprised and humbled me.

  16. I love this post! Its such a marked difference from your usual subjects. And your personal posts are the one I always go back to. Like the one where you spoke about your personal troubles and Po Bronson's influence. This post have safely replaced all other better posts of your.

  17. somehow.. your posts are different now... more.. introspective... thought provoking, than i remember them initially... maybe its bcs ur changing as a person too.. i really liked this post a lot... esp the last metaphor..

    and agree with u totally.. i have also wondered why we are so uncomfortable with our own nudity, and worse still, with ppl who are comfortable in their own skin. thank you for putting that up.

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  19. @The Sun:
    You completely missed my point. My point was never about not questioning at all. It was about keeping an open mind and not just following the "trend" by society.

    The same society that asks you to go nude will not defend you when you're arrested. The society that asks girls to dress provocatively when it comes to their own daughters will prefer they lived in conservative countries/cities.

    With all this so-called freedom we have gained over the years, not just in India but even in developed countries extended studies have already shown happiness levels have declined with respect to freedom.

    I'm not saying don't go nude or don't be daring. By all means do it!! But only if YOU are comfortable with it. Be yourself. Don't preach that only people doing it are being themselves.

    @Chirag: "I still see (Indian) women cover up even their ankles with clothing if they realize that its visible and someone is prying their eyes upon it."

    I've seen conservatively dressed (good looking) girls even in Europe in Summer adjusting their dresses to cover up when they think it's slipping. So what's your point?

  20. I agree with you, We exist in this word via this medium Body, Love to our own bodies and respect other body, (shyness and Unnatural is our mindset created by ourselfs only which defines good or bad)...

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  22. Rashmi,
    Well said, your every paragraph poses a question and forces one to think.
    I thought of writing a comment here, but it was going loong, so thought of writing blog itself :-).
    Can we reason ourselves and follow our heart? -

  23. Surprise! Surprise! It's not just India. Americans are touchy too when it comes to nudity.

    Read on: When do they need a fig leaf?

  24. @sudovoid:
    "extended studies have already shown happiness levels have declined with respect to freedom."
    Care to link to a study where some survey or research has been done to establish this fact? It is a fashion to quote 'extended study's and 'careful research'es to put across one's point!

  25. @tejas:
    Here is one such paper for a developed country with women's rights and choices (which you people call freedom) during and after the time it has improved.

    And this is not just for one decade, but 35 years of methodically aggregated and sorted data.

    In any case this was hardly my main point, seems you need to read my text more careful on what point I was trying to make.

    True freedom is within. It has nothing to do with the world you see around you. Everything else is temporary pleasures you obtain to make yourself feel good for a while giving you a false sense of empowerment and achievement.

    Question not for the sake of questioning, but for the sake of finding out.

  26. A very honest and bold confession. I had my own set of cultural shocks or whatever we can call them, when I visited a fitness center in the US in my initial days. In the mens restroom, people were going around in their birth day attire and my first look was like I saw a lion in the restroom with my eyes wide open with a dreaded look. And the toilets did not have usual separators that we generally see. Initially I was hesitant to even take a piss, but I learned the culture quickly.

  27. A girl in Sari is much more demurely dressed than in most Western outfits. Even the most formal of Western outfits are body hugging (which leaves little to imagination) at best and have a deep neckline or short length at worst.

    Sari as it exists now is greatly influenced by the Western fashion. Just check back to the movies in the 50s and 60s, the blouse would cover right down to the navel where the Sari would begin to flow down. Even the length of arm (of blouse) would be up to the elbow.

    Okay, rant over.

    Your thoughts are very original and stem from real experiences, which is great. I really liked your objectivity on nudity.

    Will visit again.


  28. rashmi i hav read ur book "SHSF" n thatz wat had brought me here.well ur blog is something that will make evry1 think , but i blieve vr missing the real India we are obliged to follow societal prejudices which are antidated. But these so called "act of discipline" is imbibed in our roots rt frm day1 v develope our conscience. I think the only way 2 change is to provide a more pragmatic education system.

  29. That a very good article

  30. I wholeheartedly appreciate the objectivity with which you have handled nudity. It is interesting indeed.
    For me this post, triggered a bunch of related questions.
    Why is it that one would find nudity liberating? If it makes sense to douse off my clothes and plunge into the pool for purpose of taking a bath or for proving a point - yes I'm all for the statement that there shouldn't be any hesitation. But I still don't understand why taking off all clothes is symbolic of freedom? As much as I would like to overcome shyness in the locker rooms, I wouldn't want to roam around nude unless there is a need for it.
    For me going nude would make me feel exposed and vulnerable instead of making me feel liberated. May be it's just me!

    A lot of our hesitation about nudity comes from the fact how we were brought up as kids. It's not just about being confident of your body.. it's more about whether or not you've seen people doing these things around you.

    Another realization that happened was that it's not just being nude that makes me feel uncomfortable but also seeing nudity. I think it all boils down to one coming to terms with the idea that there is nothing shameful about nudity. Once that's done, who practices it or not is a personal choice.

  31. Rashmi if you have noticed this that many male Have commented on this topic.So am I.

    Taking out issues and talking about them so openly to which others just neglect or keep it hidden and private, is some thing like a spark for the change that is needed in thinking and doing.

    In 1960's when young people of U.S was facing unemployment and frustration, it give rise to hippies music lovers, which developed shedding of clothes as protest and showed their unity.

    Just remember the fact that it will be very soon, that people will become naturist and will stop wearing cloth's and so Idiom in Hindi which says "bund muthi lakh ki khuli muthi khak ki" this will happen. And all the hype will be gone.


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