Thoughts & Ideas

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Kursela Days 10 – Dress Codes



I find the pyjama-kurta combo to be one of the most comfortable clothes to wear. It is not very expensive, is easy to maintain, covers you well, goes well in casual, informal, and formal settings too, and the most important aspect is that it is very comfortable for Indian weather conditions – in summer, monsoon, or winter.

However, I had been subtly conditioned to believe that while the pyjama-kurta combo is acceptable attire for home or traditional gatherings, for formal or informal occasions the correct dress code is trousers and shirt (preferably full sleeves). And of course the standard uniform for bankers around the world is a dark pinstriped suit with a while shirt and a red or yellow tie. Though in India some concession was made in the form of a Safari Suit.

I attended school and college wearing western clothes - shorts (we called it half-pants) and half sleeved shirts till say Class 5 and after that trousers and half sleeved shirts. Full sleeved shirts were reserved for very formal occasions or winters. T shirts were expensive and a rarity. As such, whenever I went out of the house, I changed from kurta-pyjama to trousers and shirt. This was normal part and parcel of conventional wisdom to which one never gave a second thought.

For my rural assignment in State Bank of India, I was posted to Kursela, a village in north Bihar, sometime in February 1988. The weather was lovely, and for about a month, I commuted daily to Kursela from Purnea, a small town which was about 50 kms away. The travelling was irksome and time consuming and, to fulfil the spirit of rural assignments, I decided to shift base to Kursela in about a month’s time. By April the weather started getting quite warm and it was also very humid. Electric supply used to be very erratic and not something one could rely on. And without fans in that kind of prickly heat conditions, life started becoming a nightmare. By mid April the thought of changing from a kurta-pyjama to trousers and shirt to go to office everyday became extremely hurtful. But I had no option and kept torturing myself into wearing trousers and shirt to go to office. While plain simple common sense kept on telling me that I should wear a kurta-pyjama to office, the 25 years of brain-washing prevented me from following my common sense. No wonder, common sense is said to be very uncommonly found sense!

After wresting with this profound dilemma for nearly two weeks, I decided to go to office in a pyjama-kurta because of the simple reason that even the thought of changing into trousers and shirt was killing.  It was a Wednesday, which was non-public working day (no customers – only internal housekeeping work), so I psyched myself that I was not really breaching time honoured traditions. And what a relief it was! I could think and work comfortably in office all day long, and no one, repeat no one, gave me even a second glance. For the next one-and-a- half years I attended office nearly every day in hand-washed, unironed khadi pyjama-kurta and felt immensely glad that I had made this transition.

On being transferred to Patna after completing my rural and semi-urban assignments I once mentioned to my boss my inclination of wearing a pyjama-kurta to office. With an extremely withering look he told me, “You can come to office, but you are not entering it”!

Dress codes in every society are essentially a function of local living conditions and available material for making apparel. I fail to understand as to why we, in India, still keep worshiping European apparel standards.

When I moved to the Middle East to earn my living in 2006, one of the first things that struck me was that wearing the local dress (Thobe – the flowing white gown worn by men) to office and at other formal occasions was accepted practice. Some of these men were very senior executives with degrees from some of the best universities in the world. They controlled large banks and trading houses and were quite sophisticated in the views and mannerisms. On reflecting on this culture, I realised that our dress codes in India had more to do with our mental slavery on account of 150 odd years of imperial rule and continued mind set of aping the west, than due to any rational thought processes.

2 Comments:

  • At 4:57 AM , Anonymous vikas said...

    Sushil, on this count I would say Pakistanis are ahead of us. They treat the Shalwar Kameez as their national dress. It is everywhere including in office. Great leveler too.

     
  • At 5:07 AM , Anonymous Mohan Gupta said...

    Much appreciated.

     

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