This article in the Guardian led me to reminisce about my two and a half years in what we called the last outpost of the British Empire in India. I was working for a British company then and posted to our mill location which was in Kerala in the South of India. The mill was set up immediately after independence and we still had British managers coming over to manage the unit from there rather than from a metropolis.
Since Kerala is hot and humid throughout the year, the British managers would wear white shorts and shirts without ties to work and some of the Indian managers and workers also did the same. My mentor Alastair would also wear knee length white stockings and I too did the same. Unfortunately, I am unable to locate any photographs from those days with me in shorts.
I was among those that wore shorts whenever I was in the mill location, which also included a residential area inside the compound. I was in Marketing and had to leave on sales tours frequently and would wear trousers and shirts while away from the compound but once inside, would be in shorts.
I understand that Australians do wear shorts to work in the summer and I request Jim to confirm whether this is true even now.
I think that it is a very sensible attire for hot climates and would really like to see this trend, if it can be called that yet, catch on. I would however be surprised if this became a fashion even in India where the summers can be very hot and humid.
My regular readers will be familiar with my preferred dress at home, the lungi. In fact, off blog and on blog, enough comments and responses have been exchanged on the subject, including one regular reader/commentator speculating whether I wore something under the lungi or not, for me to elaborate. For those who have not read my posts, you can read about my lungi habit here and here.
The following, highly amusing piece of writing has been sent to me by a bemused sister who is likely to be quite surprised at my posting about it again. Just some explanations for the uninitiated; Mallu is for Malayali, a resident of the state of Kerala, in the South West of our country. Bandh days are those days when various political parties of Kerala call for total closure of all shops, establishments, institutions and life more or less comes to standstill on. Bandh is also called Hartal in some other parts of our glorious country, particularly Bengal, which shares the honour with Kerala of maximum number of Bandh and Hartal days per year. I have always wondered if these two states are prone to such action because both relish rice and fish dishes besides the ubiquitous coconuts.
Here is a pictorial depiction of two gentlemen of Kerala wearing the white equivalent of the lungi, called Mundu in Kerala.
A toddy shop is a drinking establishment common in parts of India (particularly Kerala) where palm toddy, a mildly alcoholic beverage made from the sap of palm trees, is served along with food.
“The Legendary Lungi.
Just as the national bird of Kerala is Mosquito, her national dress is ‘Lungi’. Pronounced as ‘Lu’ as in loo and ‘ngi ‘ as in ‘mongey’, a lungi can be identified by its floral or window-curtain pattern. ‘Mundu’ is the white variation of lungi and is worn on special occasions like hartal or bandh days, weddings and Onam.
Lungi is simple and ‘down to earth’ like the mallu wearing it. Lungi is the beginning and the end of evolution in its category. Wearing something on the top half of your body is optional when you are wearing a lungi. Lungi is a strategic dress. It’s like a one-size-fits-all bottoms for Keralites.
The technique of wearing a lungi/mundu is passed on from generation to generation through word of mouth like the British Constitution. If you think it is an easy task wearing it, just try it once! It requires techniques like breath control and yoga that is a notch higher than sudarshan kriya of AOL. A lungi/mundu when perfectly worn won’t come off even in a quake of 8 on the richter scale. A lungi is not attached to the waist using duct tape, staple, rope or velcro. It’s a bit of mallu magic whose formula is a closely guarded secret like the Coca Cola chemicals.
A lungi can be worn ‘Full Mast’ or ‘Half Mast’ like a national flag. A ‘Full Mast’ lungi is when you are showing respect to an elderly or the dead. Wearing it at full mast has lots of disadvantages. A major disadvantage is when a dog runs after you. When you are wearing a lungi/mundu at full mast, the advantage is mainly for the female onlookers who are spared the ordeal of swooning at the sight of hairy legs.
Wearing a lungi ‘Half Mast’ is when you wear it exposing yourself like those C grade movie starlets. A mallu can play cricket, football or simply run when the lungi is worn at half mast. A mallu can even climb a coconut tree wearing lungi in half mast. “It’s not good manners, especially for ladies from decent families, to look up at a mallu climbing a coconut tree”- Confucius (or is it Abdul Kalam?)
Most mallus do the traditional dance kudiyattam. Kudi means drinking alcohol and yattam, spelled as aattam, means random movement of the male body. Note that ‘y’ is silent. When you are drinking, you drink, there is no ‘y’. Any alcohol related “festival” can be enjoyed to the maximum when you are topless with lungi and a towel tied around the head. “Half mast lungi makes it easy to dance and shake legs” says Candelaria Amaranto, a Salsa teacher from Spain after watching ‘kudiyaattam’ .
The ‘Lungi Wearing Mallu Union’ [LUWMU, pronounced LOVE MU], an NGO (Non Government Organisation) which works towards the ‘upliftment’ of the lungi, strongly disapproves of the GenNext tendency of wearing Bermudas under the lungi. Bermudas under the lungi is a conspiracy by the CIA. It’s a disgrace to see a person wearing burmuda with corporate logos under his lungi. What they don’t know is how much these corporates are limiting their freedom of movement and expression.
A mallu wears lungi round the year, all weather, all season. A mallu celebrates winter by wearing a colourful lungi with a floral pattern. Lungi provides good ventilation and brings down the heat between legs. A mallu is scared of global warming more than anyone else in the world.
A lungi/mundu can be worn any time of the day/night. It doubles as blanket at night. It also doubles up as a swing, swimwear, sleeping bag, parachute, facemask while entering/exiting toddy shops, shopping basket and water filter while fishing in ponds and rivers. It also has recreational uses like in ‘Lungi/mundu pulling’, a pastime in households having more than one male member. Lungi pulling competitions are held outside toddyshops all over Kerala during Onam and Vishu. When these lungis are decommissioned from service, they become table cloths. Thus the humble lungi is a cradle to grave appendage.”
(An anonymous piece)
It is a pity that this wonderful piece has come to me as having been written by someone who wishes to be anonymous. I salute the person for a highly entertaining piece of writing.
About fifty percent of the population of Dubai would be Indians. The locals account for only about 18%. A left wing politico from Kerala, the state from which the maximum number of Indians go to Dubai, has claimed that since the real estate boom’s collapse, over 100,000 Malayalis have returned to the state! Remember the Malayalis? I had posted about them!
There are other states also affected but the Indian financial sector claims that it is not directly affected though some remittances will stop. Be that as it may, one cannot but feel sad for the returnees and their families.
Not however, as sad as one feels about this local dignitary.
Mayo, after all the snow, you might like to consider buying some property in Dubai for now. Some great bargains are available and I believe that a lot of extras are thrown in free.
One of India’s 28 states is Kerala. Kerala is the most literate state in India and is a classic example of a remittance/ money order economy. Local industry is almost nil as Kerala has a militant trade union movement strongly supported by the ruling left front. The left front consists of communists and socialists of various hues. Most Keralites, also known as Malayalis leave Kerala to work elsewhere in India, the Middle East and send back money for the family. You can read about Kerala here.
Kerala’s preferred beverage is Tea and its grown up in the mountains around the head waters of a river called Moonar meaning three rivers. The British Tea Planters called it Munnar and made the tea famous for its unique flavour.
People from Kerala speak a language called Malayalam. They are therefore affectionately called Malayalis or Mallus for short. They have a very high sense of humour and are delightful conversationalists. They are also known for thier sangfroid. I have intimate connections with this wonderful state due to my mother having come from there and our own posting there for a few years.
In the picture below, you can see the Malayali sense of humour, their sangfroid and the local favourite beverage being vended from a mobile tea shop atop a bicycle, with aplomb.