A few weeks ago as I was getting off the Delhi train at the Chennai railway station in my white dhoti (called as `veshti` in Tamil Nadu) with a light yellow border when two young men generously and forthrightly complimented me for supporting the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa. Little did I realize that it was that very morning she had passed a law in the State Assembly seeking to remove restrictions imposed by recreation clubs, hotels and other entities on wearing the dhoti. The young men mistook me for a north Indian and cheered me for having put that morning`s new-born law into immediate practice!!
In essence, the dhoti is fully out of the closet to become formal attire now and no one can object to wearing it as long as it is worn in a decent manner. By passing such a law the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister popularly known as `Amma` (Mother) has proudly liberated the dhoti, the Appa`s, Anna`s and Thambi`s ( meaning `father, elder and younger brother`) and `potential dhoti-ites` from the pseudo-western or highly pro-western individuals and organizations that one finds in every section of society. Well, just 12 years ago even I was exactly one of them!! I was sometimes more western than the westerners themselves. To add to it some knowledge of French to boast about. High on western lifestyle and attitudes that were distinctly shaped by a strict English school education or should I simply say `convent education`.
Things changed very much for me in the summer of 2002 in Germany when I first met Sri Sri RaviShankar the world renowned spiritual leader. Looking really cool and simply elegant in his sparkling white dhoti and angavastram (accompanying long shawl that is placed hanging down the shoulder), His powerful spiritual energy spread around very easily, like a rose swirling in joy and splashing her perfumed petals. It somewhere struck me that moment that perhaps there could be a secret in wearing light and loose fitting clothes like the dhoti and angavastram.
Sri Sri`s amazing presence, wisdom and secrets to meditation impressed me the most and became a permanent inspiration for me. However it was also his distinct style of wearing the dhoti; now held great appeal to my English-educated, convent attitude.
It then came to my mind that during my salad days, those lovely school and college days, I may have unknowingly been less appreciative of our very own rich Indian tradition and culture, wherein one specific day was set aside for students every year to wear traditional Indian ethnic attire, as though it were something foreign to us! Aping the west was the in-thing then and so `ethnic-wear day` became a rare celebratory exception. Was I sacrificing our values, customs and traditions for a western lifestyle in the name of being `modern`, `progressive` and `forward` ?
On seeing Sri Sri RaviShankar wear our traditional Indian attire even in the German summer made me think twice on my very own dress-sense. My western mindset started searching for logic. My own Google search had begun. It suddenly ran through me that perhaps body- hugging tight clothes do constrict or reduce energy flow. Perhaps the constant wearing of those tight jeans and t-shirts does make me more restricted yet exhibitionist! Somewhere it also occurred to me that perhaps body-hugging clothes were deliberately designed to accentuate and exhibit bodily parts.
I decided to make a conscious choice on that particular day, to at least try out and experiment with the dhoti vis-à-vis the jeans-t-shirt combination, to test my own concept and attitude towards it. More importantly I boldly embarked on an exercise to directly feel and experience the joy and secret of wearing a dhoti and precisely loose – fitting clothes. Thus began an experiment.
My dhoti experiment! The first few days were a little hilarious. My first brush or rather `crush` on the dhoti! I slipped with it. Gingerly ran with it. At times my dhoti would be at `flood level` (i.e. tied so high as though waiting for an upcoming water flood). I`d also sashay the dhoti`s fall and drape like a confident handsome hunk on a fashion ramp. I sat on the floor with it looking around if anyone was watching me settle into it. Sometimes it looked like I was going for a sack race.
A few weeks down the line I was lightly liberated…almost… as the English expression goes `hook, line and sinker` (an idiomatic expression to describe a situation where a person or group accepts wholesale and uncritically an idea or set of beliefs)! I say `almost` because I went through it without much wholesale acceptance of the idea and it was on an experimental basis only.
Our students and youth should particularly take note of this. My first `dhoti experiment` was a near-success. It made me feel much lighter, confident and carry the good vibrant energy. It is my personal experience that the dhoti does ensure a positive, free-flow of energies around the body without any restriction or stagnation at points.
It is the best for our Indian weather and it did make me personally feel much more traditional. It did not stop me from thinking or being modern. Wearing the dhoti did not make me feel old-fashioned fuddy-duddy. Whereas the `tight fitting-body hugging` clothes had failed me, perhaps culturally, morally and in terms of energy levels.
In that year 2002, i came to a near-conclusion that there`s nothing like the dhoti. Freedom guaranteed. The Tamil Nadu government may just love to hear this. Should I then begin a `I love dhoti` campaign?
Well, it must be noted that countries in the Middle East permit their citizens to wear the traditional attire and national dress to the place of work too.
Now let me pause a little to give a clear thumbs – up to the Tamil Nadu Government`s pro-active legislation on the dhoti which reads thus:
The Tamil Nadu Entry into Public Places (removal of restriction on dress) Act, 2014 says: “No person, wearing a veshti (dhoti) reflecting Tamil culture or any other Indian traditional dress, shall be denied entry into any public place, by reason only of his dress, provided that the dress shall be worn in a decent manner.” The Bill proposes to cancel licenses of clubs and organizations having ‘no-dhoti rule’ in their bylaws. Whoever violates the new law can be punished with imprisonment up to one year, besides being fined up to Rs 25,000.
The Act sought to declare as null and void any regulation or bylaw made by any recreation club, association, trust, company or society denying entry to a person wearing a veshti (dhoti) or any other Indian traditional dress.
The Act says the imposition of restriction on persons on the ground that their dress did not conform to western culture would amount to continuation of the colonial imperialistic attitude. No dress code restrictions can be imposed in public places, and such other places, as may be notified by the government, where people congregate in connection with any function, event, entertainment, sports or other activity.
Will Corporates in Tamil Nadu now allow employees to reach office in dhotis? Why not? The new `Act` is here to stay. For the un-initiated, potential dhoti-ites, now get your dhoti act together. Because there is simply nothing like the dhoti!