Wednesday, April 11, 2007

A Kerala Phenom...

How i wish I could pull off some magic and flesh out a post, off nothing. The cupboard is bare, every story begun winds up unfinished, a long list of such broken threads await my review and reworking. Sometime early last year, a resolve that every post on this blog should also give me creative satisfaction surreptitiously crept in, and seems to have influenced my mindset, i began to see myself as something more than a blogger and the opinions, commentaries and observations on daily life and happenings gradually ebbed out. I am tired of my folks and surprisingly even an anonymous reader asking me why nothing new has come out...well the cloud just doesnt lift but here's something for you all to read and forget...a post i wrote a long back, but just didnt find good enough to publish then...well Vishu is almost here, we are planning a sadya, what might just be missing is the mundu.

Move over jeans, khakis, chinos and whatever new fashions yet to come out...the pride of place in my wardrobe is a cream-coloured thin fabric, almost 2 metres long, folded in two, a thin band of gold streaking down its width, a few inches from the edge, All over India, urban dressing has undergone a seachange in the last 20 years. The North India dhoti has become a dress meant to wear only on religious and festive occasions and that too mostly for the tradition-minded. And that is where coming to Kerala brings a smile to my face...for most youngsters wearing a mundu is as much a lifestyle statement as wearing a jeans/t-shirt. The first item on my shopping list when i reached trivandrum last time was to buy a kasavu mundu and i walked into karalkada, a shop that has for decades been the much-vaunted destination for mundu's and set sarees. In place of their old shop which was steeped in traditionalism with kerala architecture in wood and customers sitting on the floor, i found to my dismay a modern shopping arcade, all airconditioned and looking just like any other garment shop in the city. The price-range made my heart sink...all their good mundus came priced in the 800-plus range while real crap stuff came at Rs.200 and with a sinking feeling i wondered how many ordinary folk whose pride and culture would not allow them to settle for cheap stuff could anymore afford this place.

So i got mine from a cooperative khadi store near my house, a really good one at just Rs.300 and proudly put it on and went for onasadyas, cinemas, outings to the bar, wherever possible to my hearts content. Our household help remarked to me, "Mone ithaa cherunnathe, pantum jeansine kaalum". I could just quip, "Enna cheyyaana chechi, kaalam maariyille. Ennum ithitte nadakkandathaayirunnu njanokke". Its not just me...almost all my friends love to wear it as much as possible, i go to any of their houses, from kerala to delhi to new york, and they have a stock of lungis or ottamundus that they keep so that guests can change to, for the night. The first time i wore a lungi was sometime in the 9th, a signal to my parents i had come of age, but like the by-now-beaten-to-death aphorism of malayali productivity being so low coz 90% of time being spent in tying and untying the lungi, the first year continued true to that saying.

I remember in college we even had a strike once coz some evangelist christian management in kerala banned the mundu in their college and suspended students for wearing that, the rage on everyones faces was so real, seeing the unison with which warring student parties chanted their "Vidyarthi Aikyam Zindabad" slogans made us laugh our heart out. And when I look at college snaps I noticed, not without a slight tinge of envy how one of my classmates, Kannan, an sfi leader, was always to be seen in a mundu unlike us sayyips. Once chanced to read a tamilian blogger, pretty much parochial in a lot what he wrote, yet grudgingly admit Kerala happens to be the only state in the south where traditional attire still holds sway among the youth. Had a debate with a bengali friend who mocked me for wearing a lungi, and i responded saying he was jealous coz the bengali dhoti was unfashionable. He took offence and said for them its very much in fashion, but coz its a little cumbersome they have readymade ones available in the market, but as a result the art of learning to tie it would soon get forgotten. But victory was mine as he admitted it had gone out of everyday usage by youth.

The mundu continues to hold a high place in kerala's popular culture too. Without a doubt, an actor of Mohanlal's standing has boosted the continued sexiness and comeliness of the mundu in malayali men's eyes through countless popular films like Sphadikam, Aaraam Thampuran, Narasimham, etc, etc. The trend continues to the next generation too with Prithviraj donning the mundu with elan in the recent blockbuster, Classmates and the critically acclaimed, Vasthavam. Even some women continue to be partial to it as i found out recently...we were talking about the recent sherwani rage in malalayali weddings and my sis threatened to show me the door if i came wearing something like that to her or my marriage! I have been digging around for topics close to the heart that still remain unsaid, to keep this blog ticking, until a friend phoned and amidst our conversation he remarked his idea of giving a set saree as a gift to his gori mem fizzled out as his cousin reminded him that it was an act akin to pudava-kodukkals! Poor poor mallu boys...maybe i should write a post soon on continuing traditions in multi-cultural setups!

P.S - More of these discarded write-ups should be coming out now from their folder close to the recycle bin. From now on i will use them to intersperse the dry periods. Hope everyone had a good easter...wish you all a Happy Vishu! Here is one of the best ever posts i have seen in blogosphere. Its written by an ABCD mallu...am not much of a fan of the american way of writing but this one was different and sucked me right in.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

Been checking in the blog often wondering when the next update will be. What you say is so true and it's great that an entire state and not just some villages are carrying on the traditional dressings of the past. Even Kamalhassan, in an interview about 10 years back, had quoted that a Keralite youth might be walking with the latest brand sunglass and brand shirt, singing some english song but you will see that he will be walking with a mundu on:-)

ursjina said...

hey..u bk wit a vengeance i can see..:)amazingly touching post...that too coming from someone who has travelled whole of globe makes it all the more worthwhile...

mathew said...

nice to see u back...yeah i never noticed this..Apparently we take pride in wearing mundu...Sphadikam style..oru jeans ittu stunt cheeyunnei kaallum style alle!!

btw i love wearing Mundu at home..doubles up as a pothappu more often!! ;-P

Thanu said...

Husband never got into the whole lungi thing, but he loves his cream mundu with a thin gold kasavu...

I think he goes to the same Khadi shop u mentioned in TVM.

silverine said...

The 'mundu' will go on! :P
Great to hear that the mundu is still considered cool by the Kerala youth. I thought the Bermudas would have replaced it by now. Great post Jiby, give us some more like these!

Hariz said...

excellent blog jiby !!! i'm still in the process of reading ur old posts.. especially the movies section.. :)

keep up the gud work..

Jiby said...

anon, what kamalhassan said 10 years back sure continues to hold true...i dont think this trend will change coz i saw farewell fotos of the 10th/12th at my alma mater and the boys continue to wear mundus for the function just like we did 10 years back and our seniors 20 years back.

jina, these are some things u dont notice when ur in kerala...for me it is when i went out that i really discovered kerala.

matt, same here...my mom wud often scold me in the mornings with a "ayalkaare koode kaanikkano, curtain ittoode"!!

thanu, yeah a lot of ppl prefer bermudas to lungis at home, in school we used to have so many debates on which was more comfortable.

silverine, i think the mundu-wearing is one tradition that the newer generations like to continue from the old. i think i actually wear it more than my dad who wears that only for weddings at his native place...the same holds true for a lot of my friends too.

hariz, nice to see you here buddy, u shud start a blog too and see where it goes.

Biby Cletus said...

Nice post, its a really cool blog that you have here, keep up the good work, will be back.

Warm Regards

Biby Cletus - Happy Vishu

alakananda said...

true about the mundu. among my husband's friends here in the US too, there is such a sense of pride and belonging when they are in a mundu. like u said, whatever the tam might say about his pride in his language etc, i don't think any one other than mallus take so much pride in their 'own' costume. pinne lalettante mundu style athu onnu vere thanne. and i guess to some extent that did bring back/retain pride in the mundu.

and i agree with the karalkada thing too. it was kind of a shock seeing the new fangled showroom. my sis lives near the place and the old karalkada was always a heartwarming landmark on the way to her house. getting into an auto from my hostel, it always used to be,"perunthanni ponam, karalkada vazhi..."