Saturday, August 11, 2007
Miracle Bra - Naina and Pradeeps' Story
"Us Indians are a marriage happy people. There is religious, social and the parental sanction to copulate with a perfect stranger on the wedding night. The elaborate rituals and the furious pace of events leading up to marriage makes the couple delirious. What under normal circumstances would be unthinkable seems perfectly reasonable in that condition. A truck load of jasmines and tuberoses were used to decorate my sister's bridal bed. These flowers are supposed to be aphrodisiac and are standard issue for weddings" Naina wrote to her friend Ginger in the wake of her sister Rajani's marriage.
She recalled the hickies on her neck and the sindoor smudged across her face as she emerged briefly from the room to go to the bathroom in what seemed a state of stupor. She had met her husband for the first time just a week earlier. The next morning Rajani changed colors like a chameleon to become the shy and demure daughter-in-law helping in the kitchen. The ravages of the previous night were well disguised by concealer. Ginger was an exchange student who had spent a year with Naina's family when she was in the ninth grade. They had stayed in touch ever since.
Two years later it was Naina's turn at delirium. Pradeep was on a three week trip to India to finalize a bride from a short-list of three. This parents had moved mountains to whittle down a list of twenty one prospects to "a manageable size". Naina was the second stop on his busy itinerary and he had looked no further. The wedding preparations that had been in a holding pattern in both households until that moment, were jump-started at once. A marriage had to happen in a week and there was no time to be lost.
So there she was in a state not any different from Rajani's after the deed was done. The smell of jasmine in the room was overpowering. It had been amazingly simple considering they were strangers to each other. Maybe it was the combination of fasting, praying, incense, sandalwood, flowers and the wedding mantras. Maybe they were destined to be man and wife forever so there was nothing unnatural about being in that state. While the physical consummation of marriage had been a breeze, the first post-coital conversation was quite a different matter.
"So do you think they're too small ?" Naina asked in a low voice.
"It's a basic pair - just about a handful. Works for me" Pradeep replied in a conversational tone.
"You mean you don't care they're not bigger" she asked somewhat incredulously.
"On a wife, that's a good size. I won't have to deal with men staring at your chest all the time. Mind if I go out for a quick smoke ?" he said as he fumbled around for his pack of Camel Lights.
They made a trip to the American Consulate to get her dependent visa stamped the next day. Naina had wanted to resume the conversation that night but it did not feel right. She did not want Pradeep to think the size of her mammaries was her life's most consuming concern. He was still awake but silent.
"What are you thinking ?" she asked.
"Oh nothing much. It will be hectic moving to the new apartment right after we arrive in Detroit. Good thing I don't have a lot of stuff but its a Friday so I won't get much help from my friends" he said.
"Why are you so quiet ? Did I do anything to upset you ?" he asked with some concern after several minutes of silence. It turned out easier to make love than to break conversation ice.
The flight was long and the layovers even longer. Pradeep's friends showed up during their lunch hour to help with the move. They had the weekend to get over jetlag and set up their new home. Pradeep returned to work on Monday leaving Naina behind with cable TV and internet for company.
In the months that followed, Naina had acquired a driver's license and some friends who like her were stay at home Indian wives. Ginger was excited to have her stateside and promised to come see her on the next long weekend. Pradeep's social circle had given her a warm welcome too. She was settling down in her new life and in her housewife role until one afternoon when she found a Victoria's Secret catalog addressed to Valerie Jennings in their mailbox.
Naina had seen Pradeep set other mail addressed to Valerie Jennings back on the mailbox with “Not this address” so the mailman could take them the following day. It was still several hours before he returned from work. Naina figured it would not hurt for her to browse through the catalog putting it back there to be returned. And it was that afternoon, she discovered the Miracle Bra.
She wished there were before and after images so she could ascertain the exact extent of the Miracle but it was evidently a pièce de résistance of the asset enhancement business. Why else would it be be a trademarked Miracle. She knew she had to see one of these things up close. With a credit card, she could have ordered one right away.
Her thoughts went back to the night of their wedding when Pradeep had decreed “Works for me” with such understated finality that it had been their last conversation on the subject. She knew he would not be excited about the Miracle. In fact, as she thought about it she realized she had no idea what his reaction might be.
Their relationship that had commenced in the bridal chamber had in the last several months acquired some other hues. There was a budding friendship along with playing at being a married couple to the world outside. When they were alone, they would let that mask drop and try to discover each other’s personalities, likes and dislikes. It was like jumping head first into a bottomless pool and then trying to fathom it.
Considered from a western worldview this relationship was all backwards. There was never any time spent getting to know each other before making a lifelong commitment to be together. Friendship was just beginning to catch up with physical intimacy. It would probably take them the next several years to forge a strong emotional bond. By then, the marriage would be old and they might even have become parents. It seemed to defy logic and reason to embark on such a thing and put a lifetime at stake.
Yet this was the time-tested way in India. It had worked for generations and was still the most popular way to find a spouse and not because people lacked the freedom to make independent decisions about their life. Both Pradeep and Naina came from very liberal families; their parents would have gladly accepted any partner they chose on their own.
No miracles were mentioned that evening in the Verma household and the catalog was trashed on second thoughts. In every new marriage comes a defining moment when the couple comes decisively closer or a wedges a little distance between them - in this case in the form of a trivial secret. Pradeep chatted about his day at work as he sat at the kitchen countertop watching Naina make tea.
“You know I’ve been thinking about going to grad school. This fall I would qualify for instate tuition ” Naina found herself saying as she handed Pradeep his cup.
“You could do that. Do you know what you want to major in ?” Pradeep asked. If he was surprised he did not show it.
“I was thinking Computer Science. That way I can get a job. Grad school is too expensive to attend for recreation” Naina replied. Her husband agreed. And a second income would be nice he added. Conversation moved on to other things. In a few week, like waves washing over sand dunes, Naina's desire for education and employment had been overlaid by the clamor of mundane, everyday things at least in her husband's mind.
Ginger came to visit them on the Memorial Day weekend as she had promised. While the girls caught up on a million things, Pradeep felt left out. It occurred to him that his wife had more things to share with this woman than she had with him. He had never seen her talk so animatedly since the time they were married. He was seeing a side of her that had he never known to exist.
It was when she and Ginger went shopping, that Naina had her chance to try on the Miracle Bra. Looking at herself in the mirror she wondered if men would stare at her chest instead of making eye contact. There was only one way to find out.
Going by her demeanor that evening when she had briefly mentioned going back to school and finding work at some point, Pradeep had no way to be prepared for the events to follow in the next couple of years. Crippling morning sickness did not cause Naina’s GPA to waver at graduate school. She held steady at 3.9 and was among the first in her computer science class to land a job. Both sets of parents had visited and had been shown around the States in the couple’s non existent spare time with a colicky infant in tow.
The rhythm of their life had changed dramatically from the idyllic days when Naina first came to Detroit. Her day now started at 4:30 in the morning. She fed the baby, packed up everything he would need for the day and got ready for work. She was usually at her desk by 6:30 a.m. barring a major traffic snafu. Pradeep left for work around 11:00 and dropped their son off at the baby sitter’s on his way. Naina picked him up on her way back at 2:30 in the afternoon. Her husband got home past 7:30 in the evening.
This tag-team parenting was working out great for their child but not so well for their marriage or Pradeep’s career. He had to downgrade his job from a management position to that of an individual contributor so he could work the hours he needed to. There was no longer an evening tea time. On most days they were too exhausted to catch up on how the other’s day had been. Dinner was already on the table when Pradeep walked in the door. To him, that signaled the end of the day and it was the only time he saw his wife. He would be half asleep when Naina put the baby next to him in their bed at 5:30 in the morning. On a good day he would be flirty and for a moment it was like the early days of their marriage again.
“You feel big. What have you got on ?” he asked one morning
“Just a bra. What else ?” she replied nonchalantly.
“Let me feel it” Pradeep insisted.
“Don’t be ridiculous. Let go, I’m getting late. I don’t want to get stuck in traffic” Naina said as she struggled to pull herself free.
He walked up to the kitchen with her as she packed her lunch and breakfast.
“How long have you had it ? he asked her. He had not noticed the difference until now. It was winter and Naina usually had her coat on when she came in to lay the baby next to him in the mornings.
“Oh, I don’t know. I bought it a few months ago I guess. Why ?” Naina said. She found it hard to look at him in the eye as she spoke.
“I don’t understand the point. I know they’re not real and it does not even matter to me. Why would you do it anyway ?” he asked sounding genuinely perplexed.
“Can’t I just do it for myself because I wanted to ?” she asked as she picked up her car keys and got ready to leave.
“ You like the attention this gets you from other men who don’t know they’re not real ?” Pradeep asked. There was the mildest whiff of accusation in his voice.
“ I have not thought about that and right now I don’t have the time to discuss it. I really do have to leave to make it by 6:30” she said as she closed the door behind her.
After close to three years, the discussion around adequacy and importance of the size of her bust had resurfaced and with some vengeance this time around. He called her at work asking why she had not told him.
“What’s to tell, Pradeep ? I’m not sure why this is such a big deal. It is an article of clothing and not an affair I am having with another man. Can’t this wait until you get home this evening ? ” she whispered anxiously into the phone.
“I feel like I don’t know who I am married to anymore. This bra just does not jive with your personality at least as much as I know of it.I still don’t get why size would matter to you when it does not to me. You had asked on our wedding night and I told you exactly what I thought.Nothing has changed for me but something obviously has for you” Pradeep replied.
That evening, his tone was more assertive. He was talking about how a mother wearing Miracle Bra was an inappropriate image for their son to grow up with. Besides, the very thought of his wife padding her assets for the benefit of the world outside made him cringe.
“ I like you just the way you are naturally. You’re perfect. You don’t need any help. You know you are worth more than ten of those Victoria’s Secret models put together. Please don’t demean yourself” He tone was firm, polite and pleading all at the same time.
She continued to load the dishwasher and said nothing in response to all this but did wonder “what if” this conversation had taken place three years ago just before Pradeep had excused himself for a quick smoke leaving her alone in a room redolent with the smell of jasmines.