Updated May, 5th 2016
Aaaand here's my first draft!!
“And then there was light!” I thought to myself as the door to Cemberlitas Hamami opened and the steam filled marble atrium opened out in front of us. We’d have noticed the marble walls and the light streaming in through the sunroof in the atrium. We’d have noticed the silver plumbing and our noses might have welcomed the subtle scent of jasmine and musk. But no, there were naked women here that required our attention.
There were four of us, standing there, toes clutching cold stone, feeling over-dressed in our red and white towels that only five minutes ago felt too skimpy for comfort. Zeenat, 32 years old, married with kids, back home after ten years in the States. But of course, all the beaches in San Francisco couldn’t have prepared her for this. Then there was Shirin, 47, married, the administrative head of a college back in India, who only yesterday advised me to change my Facebook profile picture because it showed ‘too much of a hint of a cleavage’.Zara, 18, the family’s answer to American teenage-dom. “ I’m not getting naked with the fam-jam. Hell no!!” she must’ve been thinking. And there was me, 23, born and bred in India, half-scandalised, half-amused but most of all, really really glad about that trip I took to the salon just before leaving home.
Now, we like to think of ourselves as a fairly progressive bunch; educated, working, non-hijab wearing women that we were, but let me tell you, if you are South Indian and Muslim, there is never a good time to get naked with family members. Naturally, no one spoke a word while our collective conscience battled with reason.
The Denial phase: Try not to look
Now we must focus. We must focus on not focussing on the apparent nakedness of all these naked people. We must force ourselves to make conversation that does not, in anyway, acknowledge their lack of clothing or the fact that we were expected to join in. Because we are totally okay with this.
The Anger phase: We have to do what now?!
We just paid fifty pounds to have someone bathe us, but now we have take our clothes off to make it all worthwhile? Why didn’t I have a private cubicle? How is sitting in a room full of naked strangers relaxing? My ankles are just going to look fatter once I take the towel off. Look at these other women, just lying there chatting with friends like they're not naked; rubbing their nakedness in our faces. They do look happy though. Why does it seem like a good idea? What does THAT say about me, me with all my respectable upbringing? Well, it's not happening.
The Bargaining phase: Let’s analyse the crap out of this
Surely, we can keep our towels on. But that would be the most ‘Indian-abroad’ thing to do now wouldn’t it? Besides, what will these carefree European women think? T
Skip to second most indian-abroad thing to do: “How much is fifty pounds back home?” Almost, 4500 rupees!! You can’t spend that much money and not go the complete mile. People back home are starving, for god’s sake!
The Depression phase: Story of our lives
Forget the carefree European women and mass hunger, what’s my cousin going to think? And my niece, she’s never going to look at me the same way again! And my aunt’s going to see my readiness to take my clothes off as a marker of my ‘modern lifestyle’. Yes, story of our respectable lives. Yes, there’s way too much riding on this towel.
The Acceptance phase: Throwing in the towel
As luck would have it, I was the first to go. ‘Will she?’ or ‘Won’t she?’ was the question hanging in the air. As the masseuse approached me, soap and loofah in hand, I knew what to do. The cold stone, the naked people and the steamy air had done it’s magic; I didn’t come all the way here for a half-bathed experience. Deep breath, tummy sucked in (Damn these complementary hotel breakfasts!) and NAKED.
And just like that, older cousin, younger cousin and aunt followed suit. Four towels on the marble floor; four naked women; zero eye contact.
‘If I pretend not to see you maybe you aren’t really here, right?’