I am convinced that sometime in the past there occurred a war of the sexes in which the so-called weaker sex won a glorious victory! Most other signs of that notable conquest have disappeared but a clear clue remains—women still have the right to wear all kinds of colourful dresses while most men are compelled to stick to the dreariest of colours with the unimaginative pair of trousers and shirt or jacket as the main dress even for fashion shows.
Centuries, perhaps millennia, passed and then some smart man somewhere in India thought of a novel way to bring some colour into the drab lives of men. Innumerable years of subservient behaviour had probably made him smart enough to realise he could not directly go against the women, so he thought of involving his sister and, paying her money or whatever it is they paid in those days, requested her to tie a red thread around his wrist. She obliged and, with the passage of time, the rakhis* became more and more colourful and elaborate. This one day of colour every year continued in the lives of most Indian men, but the sister-less Indians like myself and a majority of men in the rest of the world were deprived of the pleasure.
I still remember the long years at school when I and another guy who didn't have a sister sulked with our bare wrists in class. Occasionally, a cousin took pity or when some maid thought it commercially viable to treat us as a "brother" once a year, for the day of rakshabandhan. Sometimes, we even cajoled our respective mothers to buy a colourful rakhi or two. We would then proudly display our wrists and claim our manliness in front of the other young boys claiming their manliness. More than the show of boyish manliness, it was the beautiful rakhi that actually pleased us. We would keep the best rakhis under our pillows and would secretly look at them till they spoiled. Much more attractive than the girls were their colourful and varied dresses. Still, we never dared admit or even think that it was colour our lives lacked. We had been so conditioned by our 'well-wishers' that lack of courage to think seemed the most natural behaviour.
I never realised this deficiency of colour in the male dress till I was silly sixteen and a penfriend from New Zealand sent me a T-shirt with a bright blue background and thick yellow, red and black stripes. I wondered if she thought I was a girl or a peacock that had lost its plumes, but there it was before me—a T-shirt as bright as a dancing peacock. Perhaps, I eventually concluded, the men in New Zealand were dressed like colourful birds. And, I reasoned, if it was good for the male New Zealander it was good enough for me. Besides, birds did look beautiful. This was the first time, after being checked for being 'girlish' on wearing an orange shirt at age seven, that I had dared to think of wearing such a colourful garment. I simply loved the gay colours.
I suddenly realised what I had missed all those years. I was as excited as I had been when I'd worn the orange shirt but now I was prepared. However, this time I needn't have feared. As all who knew me had already labelled me "crazy", there were no comments—at least within earshot—no one dared criticise me. And if I couldn't hear the criticism I considered it invalid. I started to enjoy my new-found freedom and bought many more T-shirts of different colours, but the one from New Zealand was the most colourful and remained my favourite. I even got my appointment as a college lecturer wearing that same piece of apparel and my favourite pair of Hawaii Chappals (bathroom slippers)—for the interview! More than 24 years after I received it, I still possess that T-shirt and wear it occasionally when I go out for a walk. Though worn out and a bit torn at the armpits, it retains its original brightness of colour and I simply love it even now at age 40.
When some old fossils of my generation criticise the modern male for keeping long hair or wearing an earring I simply smile and remain silent. They do not realise that, at last, the modern young men are breaking away from centuries of subtle suppression. Some film actors have actually started wearing bright yellow and orange shirts with colourful shoes—though they still generally tend to wear the same old drab jeans and trousers—at least a beginning has been made to improve our pallid plight. Maybe the dot.com generation will give us someone as smart as the guy who came up with the idea of rakhi and forever dispense with the dull-coloured suits making us, peacock-like, more beautiful or at least more beautifully dressed than the female of our species… Amen.
*Rakhi is the colourful string along with beads, etc., which a girl ties to the wrist of her brother on Rakshabandhan day. Raksha means protection (the brother is supposed to protect his sister).
Copyright © 2001 Deep Inder. All Rights Reserved.