Not a Dress, Not a Maxi: How the Indian Woman Finds Liberation in a Nightie


Not a Dress, Not a Maxi: How the Indian Woman Finds Liberation in a Nightie

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

Ilove it that kurtas these days are so long, even if you don’t wear pants or churidar underneath, nobody will notice. It’s like wearing a socially acceptable nightie.

Nighties, for those who missed the point, are the best thing to have happened to womankind. And like most best things, they come in two varieties – good and bad.

A good nightie locks herself at home, preferably in her bedroom and is only for the visual pleasure of her lord and master. She may not be much to look at, but her loose character lets women experience a drawstringless and unclasped existence while keeping everything she pretends to cover cool as a cucumber. Like a perfect relationship that women crave for but never get, the nightie gives ample space. Women fall in love with her so madly, they never want to part ways. And why not? Her tent-like shape doesn’t discriminate – you might have Kareena-like abs or you might be well-rounded, the nightie gives everyone the sex appeal of a potato. The sweetheart she is, she’s as forgiving of your indulgences as your conscience.

You become inseparable like Thelma and Lousie. Like any badass couple, you want to step out together to experience the outside world and leave the drudgery of your everyday lives behind. And when you do, all hell breaks loose. A good nightie becomes a bad nightie for no fault of her own. She is shamed for inciting shameful thoughts.

It starts with the moment Raju Raddiwala beholds your ample middle held back by the brave waistband of your smock in vivid pink, forgetting his trademark manoeuvre to take the extra kilos off the stack of newspapers. The same loose character of the nightie that’s much cherished at home, brings out the Ravana in those who behold her. Their eyebrows arrange themselves in a permanent knot imagining the disproportionate assets the woman could be hiding underneath that shapeless sack.

Nighties, for those who missed the point, are the best thing to have happened to womankind.

But now that you’ve tasted freedom, you will not be held back by the Rajus of the world. So, you set out to conquer the world, in your Bata chappals and Batik kaftan with side slits, the wind whispering sweet-nothings to your inside story, your armpit hair swaying with joy. Since you don’t want your sabziwala to have fond mammaries of you, you fling a dupatta over your shoulder.

Your love story has now become so intense, you disregard all opposition and take her out to meet your friends, to buy cheese slices from Kalpana kirana store before rushing off to drop Keyaan at his bus stop and scream at the presswala on your way back. Is this what emancipation feels like? To give zero fucks to what the world thinks of you and your sartorial choices and the gaze that lingers too long?

Maybe that’s what gets so many chuddies in a twist – seeing a woman comfortable in her own skin. So much so that fines are imposed by village elders and residents of neighbourhoods to dissuade women wandering around in nighties.

But hey, nighties are a woman’s best friend

But hey, nighties are a woman’s best friend.

This garment is much loved by the sanskari middle-class woman because this is the closest she can get to a dress. After a few washes it acquires the texture of a super-absorbent dusting cloth she can wipe her face with, while she runs from chore to chore. Since buying a nightie is a usually a choice between “grandma don’t give a shit” and slutty Savitri – available in all shades of ewww – most women end up choosing the former so as to not offend others with the suggestion of a body underneath the garment.

Yet nightie-donning ladies have to put with censorious gazes from both men and women alike. Is it because once a woman slips into this garment that has better coverage than Airtel and Vodafone put together, she turns into a blood-sucking hound that targets men and sings like Himesh Reshammiya!

Who knows.

But we women are smart. We have centuries of experience in outwitting those who come in the way of our beloved freedom. If we don’t find liberation in working ten times harder than our male colleagues and still getting paid less than them, we’ll find it somewhere else. We will find it in defiance. We will kick the tag of “upholder of her family’s honour” in the arse because it’s nothing but a leash to manipulate us into submissiveness. We’re done with the responsibility of being the caretaker of a man’s lust.

Notions of femininity will get to see our middle finger as we slip into a garment that confuses the hell out of those who judge us for our curves or the lack of it. Is it a dress? Is it a maxi? Is it a kurta? While they are getting their eyebrows in a knot, they’ll notice the smug smile on our face. It’s only for us to know that it feels like our beloved nightie – accommodating, understanding, and liberating as hell.