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QOTD: Indians ashamed of dhoti?

Jun 09, 2007 11:07 AM IST India India

"In your country you wear plus fours, in mine I wear minus fours," Mahatma Gandhi once said to the British. One man in a loin cloth fought an empire by dressing like the poorest of the poor.

Is the colonial hangover alive and kicking in India? Do Indians secretly still want to be English people?

The dress controversy started after the Tamil Nadu Cricket Association Club in Chennai refused entry to a civil servant because he was wearing a veshti (traditional Indian dhoti) and not a suit.

So the question here is, do our social practices remain unthinkingly imitative of the bada sahibs of the British Raj?

Clothes have a political significance, they create an identity, they tell truths about our inner self and they make and remake us - so why are we still wearing suits instead of dhotis?

The question that was being debated on CNN-IBN’s Face the Nation was: Are Indians embarrassed by their traditional dress?

On the panel of experts to try and answer the question were ad guru Alyque Padamsee; President, Calcutta Club Ltd, Dipak K Mukherjee; TV Anchor, Mini Mathur and President- Dastkari Haat Samiti, Jaya Jaitly.

A Colonial Hangover?

The Calcutta Club itself, like the Madras Club, does not permit kurta pyjama and a dhoti can be worn only on the occasions of Poila Baisakh and Bijoy Sammelan and sandals only if they cover the foot and ankle. Is this really a miserable colonial hangover?

Answering the question Dipak K Mukherjee said, “I think that’s not quite right. Our club rules say that the national dress is allowed any time and a member is allowed to enter in any attire - be it a dhoti, pyjama or chudidar kurta, everything is allowed. I quite agree that there should be a club rule, a dress code, otherwise there will be indiscipline, but at the same time we should be proud of our Indian identity.”

Strongly reacting to Mukherjee’s statement, Jaitly said, “I am surprised that Mr Mukherjee thinks that clothes determine behavior because obviously he has got the mentality of an old British policeman who thinks that Indians behave badly if they wear their own clothes and that you are well-behaved only if you wear a suit and a tie. “

“With our kind of climate, we have to wear what we feel comfortable in. The clubs have to wake up and realise that we are now a free country and we should be able to wear whatever we wish. And if we enjoy wearing our traditional clothes, then three cheers for us,” she added.

Young Indian Girls on Saris

When asked whether there was a reason why young Indian girls preferred not to wear a sari anymore, Mini Mathur said, “I think it’s more issue of practicality. I think most people - significantly large part of the youth - are not ashamed, but simply think that it is impractical. Can you imagine somebody in a cotton sari in Bombay in the monsoons, or catching a bus going to the college wearing a sari? It just does not make any sense. However, one always brings on the traditional attire at weddings or at traditional festivities.”

She was of the view that the sari was one of the sexiest garments around and that it was the latest designer trend.

“Saris with their modern blouses look extremely sexy. In fact, it’s common knowledge that women look very hot in saris,” she added.

Then if the fact is that the Indians like their traditional dresses and manage to look sexy in them as well, then why are clubs - like the Gymkhana Club and various others across the country – so slavishly imitative of the British in terms of clothes?

Alyque Padamsee, attacking the decision of the Madras Club to bar entry to a traditionally dressed man – said, “I really think it’s absurd. I mean the father of the nation wore a dhoti. That means if he went to the Madras Club he would be denied entry? And I know on occasion that M F Hussain has been denied entry. I think it’s ridiculous. The club must revise its rule and all clubs all over India should revise their rules.”

However, he added that there was a bit of problem in the sense that if traditional wear was allowed, then what would happen if a tribal wanted to enter a club?

Jaitley contended by saying, “Quite honestly I don’t think any tribal would waste his or her time going to these kind of clubs, but if they did want to come, they would be welcome in their traditional dress as much as anyone else for they too are citizens of India.”

And what would happen if a white man came in to the Calcutta Club wearing a kurta pyjama and bare footed? Would he be let in?

Deepak Mukherjee denied and said it will not be allowed.

“The club rules are quite clear. It’s the national dress or the western dress the rules are very clear about it it’s the national dress or the western dress, “ he said.

Traditional Clothes a Stigma?

Why there is a difference between a man and a woman. If women can come in sari why can’t men come enter wearing a kurta pyjama?

Deepak Mukherji said, “The rule says that our dress code is national dress which is churidar and bandgala or the kurta along with that. That’s the rule and I think we should have some sort of discipline otherwise if we allow anything and everything then the sanctity of the club is really not maintained.”

The question that was uppermost on everyone’s mind then was that why did professionals like air hostesses, news readers and hotel receptionists not take Indian attire as a kind of a modern dress.

“Air hostesses wearing saris look far more graceful. But honestly, I think the whole attitude stems from the fact that we are schooled into dressing in a certain way – be it to get entry into clubs or at the work place – and that is pathetic. I think as long as we are clean and presentable we should be allowed anywhere,” said Mini Mathur.

Giving her opinion on this, Jaitly said, “I think it’s time for people, who have even an iota of sense – to boycott such clubs and force these clubs to change their rules. After all we did it with the British and drove them out of India.”

After all, if Mahatma Gandhi could wear a loin cloth to bring down imperialism surely we can wear a dhoti to a club.

Are Indians embarrassed by their traditional dress?

Final verdict:

Yes: 45 per cent

No: 55 Per cent