Why Do We Equate Western Wear And Brand Names With Class In India? – Of Sudha Murthy And Madhoo’s Tales

Two articles in a row ..Few days ago in the Mumbai Mirror, actress Madhoo of Roja fame talked about how she fitted in and became a “townie”. She says to blend into the social circle. “I started travelling and carrying expensive bags. My husband loves to gift me pretty things. This kind of lifestyle doesn’t make anyone less or more; it’s just how things are. It made a huge difference and helped me to adjust here” While she goes on to say these women were more than the outer glitz, I was still bothered that she could probably have befriended them only by looking like one of them.

Yesterday I saw an article where Sudha Murthy had been asked to step away from the business class line and join the economy line at the airport by a fellow traveler in an Indo-Western silk outfit, a Gucci handbag and high heels. When she refused to move, the lady and her friend had even branded her “cattle class”, merely because our icon was wearing a simple salwar kameez!

It bought back hundreds of such moments. I have always enjoyed Indian wear and am a conservative dresser. Inspite of my dozen years spent in the US ,while I wore business suits and formal trousers to work, my outfit of choice has always been the simple, cotton kurtas; my only change has probably been dropping the huge lengths of duppata that I used to meticulously drape. Now back in India, my surroundings certainly have.

Living now in a large complex with high rise buildings, it is often seen as “backward” to dress in simple salwar kameez. A designer label or a sleeveless may make it acceptable yet unless paired with name brand handbags and flamboyant footwear , the  simple salwar kameez clad either is a “bhenji-type or desperately needs to be upgraded.

My friend was rather aghast when I showed in a salwar kameez to meet her at a mall shopping date. She shrieked “You should be switching to dresses now ,atleast a jeans..not that salwar!”And to think I had not even added my standard issue maroon bindi to that! Sarees are now reserved for the few that wear it as a “formal” attire at work or a temple visit or a celebration. Even in our traditional south Indian families now, the big fragrant bunch of white jasmine is gone.

Now my kids also go to a Gandhian school and wear a short crisp khadi kurta with full pants. The fact that this uniform is unisex and extremely comfortable in hot weather and allows girls superb comfort without worrying about their skirts and stuff is completely ignored! “I have heard great things about the school but that uniform..uff!! Really ?The uniform has an influence on the choice of school and not the education?

Why do we associate a choice of dress with class? Why do we look down upon our own Indian wear when it is merely a choice of what one feels comfortable in and fits the occasion?

And the saddest part..I vividly recall the days when my American friends used to appreciate the wealth of fabrics, bright prints and handwork done on my kurtas, when during the last few weeks of my pregnancy days I had finally abandoned the office maternity wear for what I was comfortable in. I actually ended up getting them some Indian Kurtis!

I end with the fitting reply Sudha murthy gave the two women at the airport-‘You refer to the term “cattle class”. Class does not mean possession of a huge amount of money. There are plenty of wrong ways to earn money in this world. You may be rich enough to buy comfort and luxuries, but the same money doesn’t define class or give you the ability to purchase it. Mother Teresa was a classy woman. So is Manjul Bhargava, a great mathematician of Indian origin. The concept that you automatically gain class by acquiring money is an outdated thought process.” (This incident was an excerpt from  Sudha Murty’s book, ‘Three Thousand Stitches: Ordinary People, Extraordinary Lives’)

So have you upgraded /modified your look to fit in somewhere? Do you have a kid who feels pressured to wear certain brands or refuses to wear a kurta or Indian wear? Do share..

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