Sunday, April 28, 2013

Lungi: The Story Continues.


This is part fiction and part darn non-fiction
Image Courtesy: Google
“Don’t you dare, poke a staff in the eye of an angry mammoth!” An outrageous Mohanlal shouts at the villains in the Malayalam movie, Narasimham (2000). As part of the accompanying gesticulations, he slops his right shoulder down at an angle and raises the left leg and tags the white dhoti up, folding it around his waste, ready to attack the baddies.

“What shall I do sir? My father asks me to wear a lungi at home. A full NO to Bermuda shorts!” The student asks over the phone. I stand puzzled.

Then I try saying; “The white dhoti, “mundu” is the traditional male clothing in Kerala. It’s part of the formal dressing style and is used for most of the auspicious occasions such as festivities in temples and marriages, you know. Even kings wrap a dhoti in order to show their affluence and importance. The informal version of dhoti is ‘lungi’. Look at the variety of colours that are available for lungi. In most of the households, male members of the family wrap lungi at home. It’s a leisurely dress, and no need to be ashamed of putting it on. Mundu or lungi is not as complex as the Highland outfit of the Scots. You just wrap it around you waist and it’s comfortable, very.”

“Sir, I have seen women wear it too, surely taking on an attempt to lure the opposite sex. Seen it in old movies of the eighties!” The boy says.
Image Courtesy: Google

Ample examples, where lungi or mundu becomes a crucial motif in movies, show the affluence of this traditional wear in the mind of Keralites, even at a time when most of the youth prefers wearing a Bermuda shorts or half pants or shorts at home. To feel at home, I would rather say. Perhaps, lungi it is very air-allowing and easy to wear. Kerala is a hot place, and, of course, this justifies the choice of lungi or mundu as the traditional dress.

“Look, a white mundu is such a proud wear.” I try to convince him. The informal lungi can be a very convenient trial tool to learn how to wrap mundu on more formal occasions. 

I wait.

For a moment, my student on the other end of the phone is silent. Then he speaks; “Sir, most often when people fold the lungi up their knee, they look like standing with a barrel attached to your waist. Of course, then there is no pointing in hiding what lies beneath, with a large opening. No stitching to cover the groin. If you stand on a neatly polished surface, with lungi folded or mundu this is a guarantee that you could not hide your secrets from a nearby person!”
Image Courtesy: Google

The boy is very open in his concerns and he is right too.

“Why such a vulgarity is hailed the traditional dress is out of my logic.” He barks to no one other end.

It is my turn, now. So I say; “The question here is not which dress is the best, but how can we put an end to this problem by making your father happy and not making you much uncomfortable.”
“Hmm…”
“You should take inspiration from movies. That was what I did, when the similar problems surfaced. Then I was doing my twelfth.” I say, proud.
“What did you do then, sir?”
“I was asked to wear lungi when I was at home. Shorts were prohibited. And my parents were really strict those days. So I looked up at Mohanlal and Mammooty for inspiration. All those great actors preferred mundu in their movies, as their clothing. They were stylish and masculine. The movie Narasimham is one example. Then there is Vallyettan, Sphatikam, and many others.”

The boy seems to think for some seconds. Then says; “In movies, the more there is mundu or lungi, the more there would be vulgarities and obscenities, considered by directors, scriptwriters, fans and the actors themselves as a sign of masculinity. Sir, do you remember that fight scene in Narasimham?” the boy asked.
“Yea,” I say.
“The hero’s mundu goes up and down, revealing his innerwear and thighs in the nastiest manner possible. And every one in the theatre claps and shouts at the sight of this manliness. And…and…sir, even cinema, these days has shown signs of changing its outfits and style!”
 
Image Courtesy: Google
He is right. So I just hang up. But before I did, I had told him this; “Those who pay, order. You have one choice and one option; obey.”
And before hanging up my student had asked me; “Is this, what tradition is all about?”   

“Yes, sadly!” I say.
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