In the mid-nineties every Indian family that we saw in London around the Thames walk wore clothes that conformed to what the people in the West wore and so Specky, my wife was probably an exceptional case in salwar-kurta. Did this make her feel odd? No. She was comfortable in her ethnic dresses and the people around smiled. No sniggers, mind you. They were all appreciative and asked a lot of questions on the fabric, the designs, the cut, and the comfort of what she wore.
‘Isn’t it strange,’ she asked in a hushed tone, ‘that every Indian woman here seems to be wearing the same old blue denim and some inane top to go with it?’
‘Well,’ I said, looking around, ‘what you’re wearing is certainly spreading a lot of smiles.’
This was then.
Last we were in London was in 2014 and we really felt like clapping our hands when ethnic Indian dresses were no longer shunned by the Indian tourists… yes, a lot of them wore them with pride.
What I wear has to make me and those around me feel comfortable and then there shall be smiles. Let me quote Arindam Mukherjee here when he wrote: ‘A rainbow looks good because the colours demonstrate restrain. Otherwise it would be an ugly blob.’ It is almost the same with the appropriateness of dresses we opt to wear and before I move on I think we must be clear on what an ‘ugly blob’ really means. An ‘ugly blob’ happens when you see a tourist hop down from the bus wearing an ankle length fur coat on a sweltering afternoon in June to get herself photographed in front of the Eiffel Tower in Paris. A distinct wave of restrained sniggers gets triggered but this is not really a dress spreading smiles… or is it?
Smiles and dresses need to work in tandem. Adding to this ethereal charm are ethnic dresses but a lot of thought has to go into their selection and they must obviously not be seen as outlandish in any way. I mean, if you are poet and in India, it is fine to wear what I saw Javed Akhtar wears on his latest show ‘The Golden Years’ on Zee Classic… and thus being spotted wearing hand-woven ensembles in unusual designs and stunning kurta buttons in silver and beads is far from being outlandish. If we love wearing embroidered kurta or a sherwani at Indian weddings or festivals, why can’t we do that to other events as well… or even when we go abroad? It is a great idea to pay close attention to every detail in the ethnic wear that we opt for… starting from the cloth to design, lining, and style, combining the perfect accessories to add the wow factor. I’m sure we have enough talented designers to make colors complement each other seamlessly and we have such a wide choice starting from an array of block prints, khadi, applique, embroidery, patch work, linen… and you know that with the number of States here and the subtle differences in these elements, we can be really spoiled for choices. I will go the extent of saying that even for the men going to formal events it is no longer essential to be a clone wearing the same suit and tie. I wasn’t at all surprised to see even corporate bigwigs donning ethnic Indian wear at a summit that I recently attended. No, they were not looking outlandish at all. In fact, they appeared to be completely at ease and the foreign delegates found many other points of discussion as ice-breakers than the same inane, ‘Aha! So you’re interested in introducing artificial intelligence in the travel portals that we have…’ Everyone found it so much more comfortable to talk about the added charm that wearing ethnic dresses could do to tourism in general.
Do we also need to be afraid of bright colours or accessories? Come on now, the trend of wearing plain black and white kurtas are now fast giving way to bright and unique colors like orange, blue, burgundy and even yellow. Look, if Javed Saab can pull it off, so can you! You have the freedom to experiment with contrasts and mix match too. The same goes with accessorizing as well. Kurta buttons, pocket watches, dupatta, brooches, and drapes are all ours to wear with a free mind unencumbered by stiff notions of fashion. The truth is that there are no stiff notions of fashion existing any more.
Just remember that life is short and wearing clothes to spread smiles is no longer a taboo anywhere in the world.
If you think I’m fibbing about Javed Akhtar, just go ahead and watch the next episode of The Golden Years: 1950-1975, A Musical Journey with Javed Akhtar this coming Sunday at 8 PM on Zee Classic!
27 April 2016