Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Pajama party

I saw a school version of the musical 'Grease' recently. Incidentally that was my very first introduction to the musical. I had heard about it naturally, but never got a chance to see or hear it before this.
Watching the pyjama party scene that the girls have in the play (complete with baby doll pyjamas, though very modestly made, in deference to parents and family watching!), brought back the memory of the one pyjama party I had--a proper one.
This party took place probably in '64 or '65, when I was around 13 or 14 (a very vulnerable age). I had spent the night at various aunts' and uncles' place before but never with a bunch of girls almost my own age, till then. There was this couple from the US, who were working with my father for a short time, while we were in Calcutta. They had a daughter who was around my age. So that is how I got invited to an American style pyjama party.
Well anyway, there were quite a few girls there, all of whom were children of other US expats (as I remember) and I was the only Indian kid there. The early part of the evening was interesting because they had an American style barbecue, with steaks, et al and a cake dessert I think, all of which was unfamiliar to me, but which I enjoyed thoroughly. Besides the parents of my young hostess were there and they did what they could to help me fit in. It was only later at night, when the pyjama part of the party began that I began to feel the complete outsider.
Here I was, a teenage girl, who didn't shave my legs, nor remove facial hair or wear make-up. Young girls of my age in the India of that time very definitely did not do things like that. Besides I was plump and I had long hair tied in 2 tight pigtails (or else my thick frizzy hair got impossibly tangled) unlike the other girls, all of whom either had their hair worn short or in a high ponytail. Suffice it to say that I was as alien to the girls there, as they seemed to me.
I can see the picture of that room so clearly now and I can see me sitting on a bed in a corner being the observer. I remember hearing them talk derogatorily about other girls who didn't shave their legs, watching as some of them stuffed rolled up toilet paper into the front of their clothes to look busty, while I loathed that I had breasts which attracted attention from sick older men (yes horrible) and watching in fascination as they tried on make-up. I really felt like the ultimate outsider and I so wished that my mother--as was normally her wont--had vetoed the idea.
Anyway, the upshot of all this was that I came out in hives--big huge itchy ones--on my face and and limbs and and the worried parents of the girl called my parents and sent me home, wondering whether it was their cat, or some food I had eaten earlier, that I was allergic to.
Much later, after reading much more American fiction (till then I had read mainly British fiction), I realised that those girls had indulged in behaviour very normal for them. Besides, they were too young to appreciate a person from another culture, never having been exposed to that before. I really was such a drag for them I guess and I'm sure my young hostess must have been very relieved when I left.
The whole experience was such a culture shock to me that I had just shoved the memory deep into the back of my mind. So I was really surprised to find the memories flooding back, when I watched the play.