Last month I was invited for an event in Bengaluru as a speaker. All speakers were staying in a five star hotel, where when I tried to go into the bar, a man stopped me saying I had to wear shoes to get admission.
I reminded him India had become a free country in 1947 but he just looked at me blankly. I told him I didn’t have any shoes, which was true. Again he looked blank. We argued a bit. In the end I just told him to have me thrown out and walked in.
As usual the few men who were there were all properly dressed in western clothes. And as usual, the few women who were there were all in chappals and sandals. Talk about gender discrimination.
One day I spilt some sambhar down the front of my shirt and Eureka! I understood: ties were meant to hide stains on men’s shirts.
This ‘formal’ dress and ‘dress code’ thing has always flummoxed me. What does it mean anyway? I mean why is it dressing stupidly considered a good thing?
My first exposure to this idiocy was in 1964. Thanks to my father being transferred to Jabalpur from Delhi, I was forced to go to a school run by the missionaries. It was an excellent school but a tie was a must part of the school uniform.
Jabalpur is very hot in summer and less hot in winter. So I could not understand why we needed a tie. Then one day I spilt some sambhar down the front of my shirt and Eureka! I understood: ties were meant to hide stains on men’s shirts.
One day the aging Anglo-Indian master who taught science asked the class to each name an innovation. When my turn came I said tie. He looked surprised and asked why and I said it was great way to hide stains.
The old man gave me a rap on my knuckles with his cane. “You stupid boy, ties are meant to keep you warm,” he said.
Keep you warm? In India? In Jabalpur? And it was me who was stupid? Perfect!
His and hers
You should see the National Day functions at the embassies in Delhi. For nine long months the city sizzles, swelters and chokes. But the dress has to be a lounge suit. For the men, that is.
The women, however, are allowed to wear what they like. So the Indian women turn up in saris and salwars, East Asian ones in sarongs and such like, while the Europeans wear loose, flowery skirts. They look very cool and very happy.
The men, meanwhile, fidget and fight with each other to stand in front of fans that blow hot and dry (April-June) or hot and humid (July-September)
air at them.
For nine long months Delhi sizzles, swelters and chokes. But the dress has to be a lounge suit. For the men, that is.
Even the suits wouldn’t matter so much if the men could wear chappals or sandals along with them. But no such luck. You have to wear shoes. The result is that heat is bottled up both from below and in the middle. Thank god, that no one insists on hats.
I have been fortunate. Not many embassies invited me. And the few that did had to do without me because I gave away my single suit long ago. I wear only khadi bush-shirts, mostly white. I don’t wear shoes either, only chappals or sandals. In winter, I put on a pair of socks.
My reasoning simple: India is a hot country and if you must insist on ‘formal’ dress it must suit the environment. Even the bandhgala coat that the government has prescribed is hot. Most men when forced to wear it don’t wear a shirt under it. That is why as India regains her confidence, Indian men should switch to clothes more suited to our climate.
After all, why should girls have all the fun?