The Nanga Panga

22 Jul


A friend and I were going back and forth on the pros and cons of subsistence farming, comparing the POVs of the Indian farmer to the interest expressed in Western locavore circles, when I saw this article about kiddies around America running naked and freaking people out. And it fit in perfectly with a general pattern that’s struck me over the years, another one of those “everything old is new again” things, how you can put one situation in two countries and arrive at two entirely different results.

In India, of course, most toddlers seem to be clothing strictly optional although it’s not for lack of modesty or a commitment to new age body images. Like any other child on the planet, my family’s albums carry a full complement of photographs in which I’m either gloriously naked (ok, I have a diaper on) and clearly happy about it; or else I’m swaddled within an inch of my life (complete with woolly hat – in South India!) and my face is a sulky, oily, thundercloud as I sit grumpily on someone’s lap, staring up at the camera with eyes full of misery. It’s no wonder I started talking early – I probably wanted to be able to shout “Off!” everytime they came near me with those sweaters.

However, as far back as memory serves, my mother believed in clothing me from head to toe. I don’t know if this was prompted by any special feeling of modesty – knowing her, she probably just wanted to dress me up in pretty little frocks. Going shopping is a very clear, very early memory. But somewhere along the way, I remember her and my aunts telling me I needed to learn how to sit properly because I was flashing my panties all over the place.

One aunt told me the correct person to emulate when sitting down was Lady Diana, legs pressed discreetly together at all times, never crossed. “Sounds ridiuclous,” Young Amrita said, in blissful ignorance of Older Amrita’s meek submission to the rule. Another one would physically pull my legs down if I propped them up, the way I loved to do. All of them told me morning, noon and night that nice girls acted more ladylike and ladylike = no flashing panties. I ought to have grown up into Britney Spears just to show them all.

Of course, I never learned a social lesson easily when I could do it the hard way, so one fine day Ma came home with… wait for it! Bloomers! “For active little girls” apparently. I have no idea where the devil she got her hands on one, much less the half dozen she bought. Since my idea of “dressing” at the time was to stick my paw out the bathroom door and wait for Ma to put clothes in it, I even wore those things. But she didn’t give up on the lady training.

In retrospect, I think she was overcompensating for my lack of sisters. When she was my age and learning decorum, she had her elder sisters to look up to. In fact, there are times when I think my grandmother’s basic MO in raising her daughters was to raise the first two very strictly and then tell them to raise the rest of them in a similar manner. And having failed to provide me with proper feminine role models, she decided to take over the position herself… with a vengeance.

I’ve always thought her dedication to the affair was fairly wasted on me because by the time a girl enters middle school, there is a vast amount of peer pressure to act “like a grownup” which frequently means acting like a peculiarly Victorian ho. You know what I mean – on the one hand there is the need to be all girly and chaste and wouldn’t know the meaning of all those dirty things if you said them vs. the need to try out your budding sexuality. Girls who flashed their panties in seventh grade didn’t have a lot of friends, I can guarantee you that. The ones who were wearing bras, on the other hand, were very popular.

But where do we get those impulses in the first place? It has to be from our mothers/ mother figures. If we didn’t have a healthy fear of the female authority figures in our lives and what their opinion of our behavior would be, would tween girls be as teeth-jarringly, piously moralistic as they can be?


Posted by on July 22, 2009 in Life, Personal


13 responses to “The Nanga Panga

  1. pitu

    July 22, 2009 at 5:05 pm

    “peculiarly Victorian ho”! HAHAHAHA! Also, nekkid babies in India creep me out. Ugh. And I hate it when people bring their nekkid or fully clothed but non diaper wearing kids near me coz I’m sceered I am gonna get sprayed. YUCK!

  2. M

    July 22, 2009 at 5:25 pm


    sounds like my childhood and that was (Several) years before yours 🙂 I also wore bloomers, later shorts. Stopped wearing skirts/frocks as soon as I could (pronbably age 10) and switched to pants/jeans…lived in them. And the cycle continues….girls in my kids’ school are officially advised to wear shorts under skirts in the dress code.

    Nekkid babies in India – like Pitu, I avoided them for fear of getting peed on, before I had my own and lost all disgust of baby bodily fluids 🙂


  3. sachita

    July 23, 2009 at 2:23 am

    adults run around almost nanga panga for the lame summers here, right(not so much where i live now, but they did in my grad school town). Indian summer requires the kid to be nanga panga.

    Regarding the rest, All the good in us is ours, all the bad in us our Parent’s mistake. Simple rule.

  4. Gradwolf

    July 23, 2009 at 3:31 am

    I had to google bloomers. I did an image search and then rest is history.

    But I’ve met mothers(my own included) who regret not having a daughter for the only reason that they could have dressed them up in all glory and displayed to the world.

  5. /urgu

    July 23, 2009 at 11:22 am

    Haha! Nicely written. I remember folding myself into geometric positions when sitting in one of those huge (at age six) chairs while watching TV. Sitting upright was (and still is) so boring. Those small values of tension in some limbs held me together so comfortably.

  6. maxdavinci

    July 23, 2009 at 12:16 pm

    My gues is that moms let their kids go nangu pangu for then they can run around n not soil their clothes. You gotta be wearing some to soil them or spill something!

    VIIth n VIIIth were fun coz that’s when suddenly girls began to be less irritating n more interesting!

  7. Foodie Doody

    July 23, 2009 at 7:43 pm

    I don’t know what irks me more — finding out that there is a method to the madness, or not. This is what I mean: They played a favorite movie of mine on TV yesterday, Twister (I happen to hold Helen Hunt in high regard, though I didn’t care too much for her TV work in Mad About You). And shortly thereafter, I came here and read this. And didn’t make it past line 2…that “locavore” link practically hijacked me and held me hostage for the next hour or so (yup, I wound up plowing thru the guy’s entire “Empire of Dirt” series — what a riveting read!).

    The all-knowing creature that you are, you’ve probably guessed by now the reason I’m all jumpy is the opening line of this piece: “At 6:40 a.m. on August 8, the tornado hit my house in Brooklyn … A tornado hadn’t struck Brooklyn since 1889 (that’s 80 years before the sequence that opens Twister, BTW), when Flatbush was farmland; this one laid waste to the lonely little farm that I had planted in my backyard and that, within days, I planned to rely on as my sole source of food for an entire month.” (Now, that last part I thought was reminiscent of the scene in Adaptation where John LaRoche talks about his nursery that was destroyed by Hurricane Andrew, sending him into the orchid-poaching business — talk about “locavorism” meets piracy.)

    Now that I’ve gotten all warmed up anyway, here are other delightful tidbits from that article:

    “..the neighbors might think I was Richard Dreyfuss in Close Encounters” — don’t you love that movie?!

    And the three does and a buck that he buys for the farm, from Connecticut; the “Home-Garroted Roast Rooster” — now this one reminded me of the poor rooster that wound up on your dinner table when you were a kid (that was a lovely piece of nostalgia from you; reminded me of all the over-the-compound-wall slaughter I’d witnessed as a child, as my way-too-rustic-for-city-life neighbors used to breed (and feed on) anything and everything from rabbits to goats to roosters to, yes, turkeys — I was secretly glad to see the turkeys go though, coz the two of them used to fly over the compound wall and frighten me out of my skin, with their dirty red plumes in full display and the ear-piercing “gobble gobble” (that sounded like anything but!), just as I would draw water from the backyard well on a no-electricity-motor-not-working summer morning. And no amount of shooing would scare those beastly creatures away…either they were blind AND deaf or phenomenally brave bullies); “Maimed-Rabbit-Euthanasia stew” — what else? Fatal Attraction!; the sight of those two Flemish Giant rabbits making love — reminded me right away of D.H. Lawrence’s fabulous poem “Tortoise Shout”…

    I could ramble on. Nostalgia, I can understand; poetry, that could pass off too, but who would’ve thought a relatively unassuming article on food and farming (or farming your food) would dredge up movies, of all memories? Cuisine must be connected to cinema by more than that odd bucket of buttered popcorn, I say! 😀

    P.S: Shall return later to read all about Amrita in bloomers!

  8. Naren

    July 23, 2009 at 10:39 pm

    Enjoyed this!

  9. NSFW

    July 25, 2009 at 5:09 pm

    Oh yeah, my uncle delights in disgusting his city-bred wife with tales of how the brothers used to frolic nanga-panga in the local river. 🙂

  10. NSFW

    July 25, 2009 at 5:19 pm

    That said, like many quoted in that article, it disturbs me to see little girls running around naked. Everyone presumably is comfortable with boys running around naked. 🙂

  11. desigirl

    August 1, 2009 at 3:34 am

    the mint has been wandering abt in the buff ever since we landed here in chennai!!! i blame it on the heat!

  12. Amrita

    August 1, 2009 at 2:18 pm

    Pitu – hahaha@ sprayed. it’s not a skunk! that said, its not exactly my favorite thing either. but as long as it plays elsewhere, I’m all good.

    M – yeah but this was the late 80s.early 90s, where on earth did she find them? I still dont know. Wow, your kids’ school asks them to wear shorts under their skirts? My school actually just put the lot of us in shorts until we reached middle school when they stuck us in divided skirts.

    Sachita – its almost peer pressure! I feel like a freak if I wear jeans in the summer and the sun is out.

    Adithya – hee hee hee, educating males one at a time, thats what IQ is all about. And yes, the only reason I’d want a kid right now is if I could put it in a pretty dress. Does not bode well for little boys.

    /urgu – right? sitting up straight is for sticks.

    Max – hahahah! save on the laundry bill huh?

    FD – it’s a great article, isn’t it? That’s why I can’t believe print is really gonna die because people still like to read that stuff. Fine, so I like to read that stuff. And I will be very sad to see it go.

    NSFW – thats funny, I wonder if thats gender related because I’m a lot more comfy with little girls being naked than little boys. I dont feel like i’m getting flashed somehow 😀

    DG – awww, poor mite. Monsoon not made its way over yet?

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