Monday, February 09, 2015

W(h)ither the lungi?

The good old 2x1.2 sq m daily staple rectangle/cylinder is fast disappearing from the Indian landscape, its place taken by short shorts, bermudas, capris, drawstring pyjamas, track pants, and most ironic of all, lounge pants made of checked (very reminiscent of lungi) fabric. Why?

It is odd that as people’s daily lives have got increasingly sedentary, they have shed lungis/mundus and taken refuge in more secure cloth cases, fastened at the hip/waist, for their lower limbs. Compulsory transit and large crowds of strangers being the rule, no one is surprised at this sartorial segue for professional/daytime wear. But what of sleep? What of lounging at home of a summer evening? Why the switch to grey trackpants with a white or red stripe down the leg from the blue-checked or paisley-printed lungi or the off-white mundu?

Not everyone has the skill to wear a lungi/mundu securely. It needs to be taught/learnt and practised. And not many are bothering these days. This is much like the situation with saris and young Indian women (YIW). Where it differs from the situation with saris and YIW is at important ceremonial occasions – YIW get some expert or the other to get them into saris. Increasing numbers of YIM don’t even attempt this avenue. Too often at a South Indian wedding these days, you will find the bride in a dazzling sari, and the male protagonist in a chudidaar kurta/sherwani, liberally supplied with hooks, zippers and drawstrings, and a gorgeous stole to boot to swathe his body (or lack thereof) in safe layers. Or perhaps he will be in another kind of suit – the dark, pinstriped one which will next appear at a professional conference. No space for a dhoti/mundu, with or without upper garments.

Why are Indian men chickening out of wearing the 2x1.2? Afraid that they will look wimpy? Afraid that they can’t carry off the style? Afraid that they will be seen to be sticking to a sensible tradition? All valid fears. Not everyone looks impressive in a lungi/mundu. Poor posture and lax gait do show clearly in this outfit. Poor physique too, in some styles, e.g., the folded-up-from-the-knee style, particularly when topless. All this makes the good wearer of a lungi/mundu a sought-after exhibit, and now, sadly, increasingly rare.

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