Men in the heroic age had no frills; they were men of action unbothered by aesthetics. Warriors had everything tied up and strapped down, even if that rather cut down on their allure. But these are lesser times when men toddle off to clubs of an evening rather than stride off to battle. Or it may be a mistake to call these lesser times. Instead, now that men have as their champion a redoubtable lady, these should at least be called novel times. The chief minister of Tamil Nadu, J. Jayalalithaa, has jumped to the defence of the men in her state who wish to go to clubs in veshti, a form of the Indian dhoti traditional to the region. The chief minister has rushed through a law with penal clauses for clubs and other institutions that refuse to admit men in veshti.
But Ms Jayalalithaa has never had to think twice about the matter as far as she and her gender-sisters are concerned. Women in India are fortunate — their traditional wear, whether the sari or the now ubiquitous salwar-kameez, is always presentable, adaptable to all occasions and innately graceful. But women’s traditional wear did not become so enviably presentable in a day: the sari, for example, had to be ‘styled’ to fit the needs of the ‘modern’ woman, and that required the combined aesthetic and pragmatic attention of remarkable women such as Jnanadanandini Tagore. Perhaps Indian men are less evolved in this tussle between nature and nurture, casually inclining more towards nature. Ms Jayalalithaa lost it when a judge in a veshti was refused entry into a club, but her idealistic rage at “sartorial despotism” reminiscent of imperialistic notions of propriety may need a touch of reality. Granted, the veshti is traditional wear in Tamil Nadu, but, by the same tradition, no stitched clothes are allowed above it. So clubs could soon be teeming with bare-bodied men in veshti. Add to this the relaxed imbibing of the favourite poisons, whether in Chennai or Calcutta, and this might evoke an unnerving prospect. Wardrobe malfunctions are neither relaxing nor entertaining.
Besides, the dhoti is not worn in the same way everywhere. The veshti is just one way of wearing it; it can be worn above the knees as well. Men in the East wear the dhoti in numerous different ways, often according to their station in life. So if clubs are to surrender their specific dress codes, to which they have a perfect right since they are private institutions, and welcome whatever is considered ‘traditional’, their most lively nights may end in a messy tangle of different drapes. And lungis claim a long tradition, too; maybe there should be a new law about them? This logic can lead further: gamchhas are not only traditional but the new ‘cool’, and they are truly versatile wear. What about a ‘Gamchha Night’ with prizes for zero wardrobe malfunction?