By Ishaa Srivastava
The noted British historian, E P Thomson, had once remarked that India was not an important country, but perhaps the most important country for the future of the world.
All the convergent influences of the world run through this society. There is not a thought, he wrote, that has been thought in the West or in the East, that is not active in some Indian mind.
With its roots entrenched firmly in cultural pluralism, India is a land of baffling contrasts, the alpha and omega of contradictions. This overwhelming attribute of India’s pluralist lifestyle denies the assertion of any singular ‘Indian’ identity. Colonial tenets and practises, some even acquired from the American end of the globe, may be ingrained in our secular setup, but more often than not are fodder for directionless chaos.
In July, 2014 for instance Justice D Hariparanthaman’s choice of attire stirred up a controversy when he was denied entry into the Tamil Nadu Cricket Association Club.
While the club’s dress code only allowed for ‘full trousers, shirts, or T shirts with collars’, the Madras High Court Judge alighted from his official car to the book release, wearing a dhoti. Ms Jayalalithaa Jayaram was outraged, and called the incident an ‘insult to Tamil civilisation and culture.’
Gymkhanas require their members to be ‘prim and proper’, and legitimately hold the right to obnoxiously refuse to entertain anybody who flouts dress code. Membership is stringent and exclusivity is boasted of. However, the matter cannot end here; if clubs hold the right to have strict dress codes, they also cannot host public events like a book release and expect non members to follow suit.
Lawyers’ attire on the other hand, also is an outcome of one such stereotype of being British. History suggests that apart from being sombre, black robes were a symbolic of a mourning period after the demise of Charles II in 1685. For no particular reason, the tradition has prevailed for longer than expected.
Now these instances of course are remnants of a colonial past. The English Sahibs left, but forcibly perpetuated colonial ethos. Macaulay put it in his Minute on Education (1835), ‘Indian in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals, and in intellect.’ Without a national language, and English as our passport for upward social mobility, we are (a label used with much derision). This western affectation however, has not reconciled with the orthodoxy of social structure. Dress codes which are not suited to our weather or bodies, rules that aren’t hand in glove with our cultural myriad, and a lifestyle that escapes the greater number of our population.