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.


  1. I have read all your post here, long time back, and just love to go through your life's journey!!!
    Please keep posting your memories!

  2. Thanks Jyotsna. Glad to know the memories are being read :-)

  3. Oh,
    you describe that so well. It made me remember how when we had moved & going to the new school & realizing that everybody around me were all into waxing and shaving and plucking eyebrows and I felt so hairy that I told my mom she had to take me to the nearest parlor.
    And I think I was 13 too.

  4. I can imagine how you felt. I grew up in the culture and often felt out of sync with other girls at such events. I was never quite part of those girls circles and they knew it. I must say they were often unkind about it although I think they might not have thought so at the time --- just a bit of fun for them.

    At least you did not wake in the morning to find that your bra had been filled with water and frozen.

    You have grown into such a wonderful, considerate person with such a good mind and open heart.


  5. O, don't tell me there were girls who did things like that!
    And O, thank you so much for the compliment.
    Thank you all for commenting. I was getting kind of discouraged. Glad to know the blog's getting read.

  6. hgm - I definitely read this blog and love it.
    Teenage girls have a tendency to be cruel when they are in groups. It's all about fitting in. Luckily, most of them outgrow it.

  7. This was a lovely post Sue . I remember being unlovely when the rest of the world(or so it seemed) was sylph like and beautiful . I am able to laugh about it now but then it was sheer torture .

  8. Actually this brings back a memory somewhat of the opposite kind for me. I remember wearing a body suit (brought by one of my American cousins) with a pair of jeans to a class party and feeling so out of place cos no one else in my class had ever seen a figure hugging body suit before. I also remember having a fight with you once about whether or not I should wear a blue tube top knitted by Mummy. You said I should and I said I wouldn't. Finally i think i wore it with a jacket over it and still felt quite uncomfortable. I had to keep repeating to my closest friends that "My grandmom knitted this for me"

  9. Hello

    Your blog is lovely. I love the way you write.
    Even though I don't belong to your generation, I totally get this post.
    Being raised in conservative Chennai by my grand mom, our days were filled with school, friends and games. When I turned 14, my father was transferred to Bangalore. Till then I wore pavadai and chattai to school and skirts for games.
    In Bangalore, we went to a convent school where the uniform was a pinafore dress. Like you, I had hairy legs, which unfortunately I didn't notice myself being too interested in what was going on outside. All the girls made fun of me behind my back since I was so dense, till it fell on my sister's ears. She told me that they called me a hairy clumsy thing. and I remember crying and forgetting.
    Amma didn't get me a hair remover and I used to flick my Dad's razor sometimes. Luckily we moved back to Chennai and I became more conscious of myself and took to rubbing copious amounts of turmeric to take off the hair. Nope didn't work.
    But thanks for the memories anyway.
    PLEASE keep writing, so hard to find frank, simple, honest and elegant writers.



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