Do you wear a bikini? I used to. Early in our marriage, my husband optimistically bought me a bikini from Brazil, little realizing that I would look like a cabbage- patch doll in one. You know the kind. You press one ligament or body part, and another, seemingly of its own accord, expands like a balloon. Now, there are women who look great in a bikini, but I am not one of them. My bikini problems can be attributed to a simple law of physics called transference and a Brazilian bikini simply exacerbated the problem.
Brazil has a lot of inventions to its name. Actually, I can’t think of a single one except the Brazilian wax and the bikini: two cosmetic inventions that women all over the world swoon over. The Brazilian bikini is unlike any other bikini I’ve known. There are clothes that reveal; then there are clothes than don’t even bother. The Brazilian bikini falls into the latter category. Once you wear it, you think, “Why even bother?” This is the bikini as the non-bikini; the garment as loin-cloth or fundoshi, as the Japanese samurai call it; the lowest common denominator of the textile-challenged.
When worn right, bikinis are incredibly sexy. Nowadays, everyone wears them. Mandira Bedi wears one as a sari-blouse. And the entire cricket team ought to wear thong-style swimsuits, instead of uniforms, when they play. I figure that it’s the least they can do for us viewers, devoid as we are of the pleasure of watching them score runs and wickets. In fact, the BCCI ought to market the langoti-bikini as the Indian cricket team’s secret weapon and sole redeeming feature. Imagine: Sachin Tendulkar clad in a monokini.
Some of my girlfriends wear swimsuits as lingerie, although that’s something I don’t ascribe to. Swimsuits are too sleek; too plastic; too non-touchable. The mother of all this is, of course, that oxymoron: the swimsuit calendar. Calendars are supposed to mark time; swimsuits are supposed to depict time away from calendars—official or otherwise. What can be more futile than staring at a Baywatch babe on your calendar as you mark the date for an upcoming meeting with the divisional accountant for tax regulations? But that I suppose is the point. Swimsuits are an instant escape from accountants, meetings and, perhaps, even taxes.
I wear swimsuits. But mine are what I call the Olympic model: utilitarian, with the Bauhaus aesthetic of ‘form following function’. My swimsuits are more like a pair of shorts, except they are sleeker. I used to wear those frilly ones favoured by Chinese matrons, but they affected my buoyancy. The frills got entirely out of control as I tried to submerge and, even under water, I looked like an octopus.
Nowadays, I wear a one-piece swimsuit that I love. It is bright blue and doesn’t attract attention, and lets me practise my breast-stroke in peace. Best of all, it doesn’t get caught in underwater coral when I dive. I am not one of those divers who can wax eloquent about the reefs off the coast of Kalimantan or the sea-life in the Dead Sea. But I am certified and certifiably atrocious. My favourite spot is the place I got certified: Lakshadweep.
In fact, after my dive-certification, I almost bought myself an aquamarine bikini. But bikinis give me an inferiority complex. Actually a lot of things give me an inferiority complex (with good reason, my brother would add). When I wear a bikini, I think to myself that I will look like Princess Diana vacationing in the Cote d’Azur or Kylie Minogue sunbathing on a yacht. Against all logic and reason, this image somehow lodges itself in my head. Then I look in the trial-room mirror and freeze. The vision I encounter is nothing like those beauties; it is more like Abdul Kalam having a bad hair day. So much for bikinis, I mutter, flinging the garment at the sales clerk. It’s not my type, I say.
Then I watch hundreds of our Bharatiya naris wading into Chowpatty Beach or Chennai’s Marina Beach, fully clad in saris and churidars and having a whale of a time. Who cares, I think to myself. Obsessing about swimsuits is a trickle-down from that western preoccupation: getting in shape for the bikini season. Instead, we should be like those women who simply wade in and enjoy the waves, underskirt, pallu and all.
Shoba Narayan fantasizes about getting a male swimsuit calendar… featuring the Indian cricket team. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org