During my childhood and early teens, my grandmother had established a ritual of sorts when it came to her new sarees. She wouldn’t wear anything new unless I wore it first. Her apparel of choice was the traditional nine-yard saree that did not involve wearing any inner skirt, like the one you would for the six-yard sarees. I would be expected to stand there, wearing a saree blouse and no saree skirt, and let her drape it for me. Obviously, a very embarrassing situation for me!
So, I would always stand in front of her, covering my lower body in a towel, and divest off the towel only once I was decently wrapped in the saree. This would always elicit a comment from her – “Why are you shy to come to your grandmother without that towel? After all, I washed your bum when you were an infant!”
This line of thought is not uncommon in India. We’ve all heard this line at some point or the other in our childhood. It’s like washing our bums at infancy earns our elders the right to view us in all our naked glory no matter what our current age.
It never failed to alternately amuse and frustrate me that if I needed help to massage my back, or apply a post-surgery dressing in an otherwise unexposed territory on my body, or even assistance to take a shower after a long illness, my female relatives thought nothing of roughly shoving away my clothed modesty with the punch line – “Hey I washed your bum when you were a kid. This is no big deal to be so shy about!”
Many such instances occurred consistently over the years. There have been numerous occasions where I’ve had to lean on my family for care and assistance, and while they supported me whole-heartedly and ensured my speedy recovery from whatever medical challenge I was facing – it was never without my bum being shoved firmly in the centre of the conversation!
You don’t even need to be in a compromising position for this to happen. You could be at your wedding reception. An elderly aunt could walk up to the stage, bless both of you and look at you with pride shining in her eyes, and address your husband squarely – “You know I washed this girl’s bum!” It is basically meant as an indicator of how long that elderly aunt has known you, but no, we can’t say – “I held her as an infant in my arms.” Where’s the shock value in that?!
I wondered every single time this line was carelessly thrown into the mix of things – what was it about washing bums in infancy? Where did this expectation, this feeling of entitlement stem from? No doubt, it’s a smelly and nasty job, not to mention my elders had no recourse to diapers or baby wet wipes. It was a matter of washing the entire cloth nappy out, after you had held the infant in a basin and thoroughly washed them off, then used a gentle cleaner and washed them off all over again. Then dry them, powder them off with that cute puff, leaving them smelling like babies should – only to rinse and repeat, literally, a few hours later! I guess the effort, the care, the smell – all that they had to bear to clean you up every few hours, that just had to come with some future benefits, right? Benefits like waving your bum in front of you every chance they got. No matter what the current shape, size and condition of the said bum.
A couple of weeks ago though, it all changed.
I was back home, spending some time with my mother and nephew. I cannot remember exactly what it was that my nephew chose to very reluctantly start hemming and hawing about, clearly unsure whether to share with me or not. I reached the end of my patience and before I knew it, the words were out of my mouth – “Dude I washed your bum when you were young, tell me what’s on your mind!”
I suppose by now he was used to this line being used on him. I, on the other hand, was completely unprepared to hear myself utter it. But I did find the answer to the question that had haunted me for decades when I examined what exactly I felt when I said those words to my nephew.
I concluded that we women form a deep emotional bond with every child we happen to care for, whether it is our own or someone else’s in the family. It is a bond so intimate that we’re at a loss for words to describe how it feels to see that infant all grown up and standing in front of us. All we can think at that point is – when did this happen, when did that infant grow up to be a man, a woman? When did that dependency to me break?
So many questions come to us at that point of realisation that the infant we cared for at one point in our life is now a complete person in every sense of the word, so many thoughts and emotions assail us that all we can utter to cover up our shock is – I washed your bum!
Author’s Note – This post originally appeared in SiyaWoman. The content has been slightly changed for relevance to present time. Republished with permission from SiyaWoman. Link to original post given below: http://www.siyawoman.com/i-washed-your-bum/