I was in my lungi and singlet with a hand towel thrown over my shoulder. For those of my readers who do not know what that would like like, here is a picture of a model, which is not me, with exactly the kind of clothes that I was wearing.
It was a humid morning and I was perspiring from all the work of the morning. I was cooking lunch when the door bell rang.
It was the enumerator for the latest Census exercise of India.
He took one look at me and asked “Saheb ghar mein hain kya?” translated, “is the head of the household at home?” Not one to miss the opportunity, I asked him in Hindi, yes he is and who should I say is calling on him? When he said that he was the census enumerator and produced his identity card, I invited him inside, made him sit at the dining table, switched on the fan and asked him if he would like to have some water or cool drink. He gratefully asked for a glass of water but added that I should call the Sahib quickly as he had to visit a number of households for the census.
I gave him the glass of water and went upstairs, had a quick wash, put on a kurta and my glasses and came down and sat down at the dining table next to him and said let us start. At that point of time, this is how I looked but with a pair of very professorial looking glasses on too.
He knocked over the chair on which he was sitting, in his hurry to stand up and apologize for mistaking me for the domestic servant! I laughed, made him laugh too and made him comfortable again.
Having concluded the census interview, he started to apologize again and I stopped him and told him the story of Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar and his clothes. “Ishwar Chandra stuck to the traditional Indian attire of his home-spun cotton Dhoti-Kurta, woven by his mother. He was once denied entry into a club by the gatekeeper as he was not dressed according to the dress code of the club. He then went back home, changed into a suit and was promptly given admission by the same gatekeeper who refused to recognize him before. At the dinner in the club, he kept on talking to his clothes and prodded them to have food. The host and the other guests at the party were bewildered and then he explained the incident with the gatekeeper. He elaborated that respect is increasingly being accorded to sartorial affairs, rather than cerebral affairs.”
The much enlightened man told me that he had never heard of Iswarchandra Vidyasagar, thanked me profusely for the story and for not taking offense at his gaffe and went on his way.