Traditional Indian clothes are rather complicated. We have yards of fabrics that have to be draped around the body, tucked in and kept there firmly! We women are luckier than men in this as the saree during the course of its evolution developed for itself the need for an underskirt which keeps the pleats firmly in place.
Not so with men! The veshti/ mundu/ dhoti continues to be in its original primitive state- a long length of fabric and that’s it!!! So they are rather tricky items of clothing to say the least.
There are number of horror stories that I have heard about veshtis and mundus which suddenly developed a mind of their own and decided that they did not want to be where they were…. i.e on the waist of the wearer..!
Only this morning, my husband was narrating to me the story about how fifteen years ago he decided to wear a silk “veshti” to his wedding. The garment- a beautiful off white piece of cloth with a thin gold border was purchased and admired by all in the family. But unfortunately, he had no previous experience in wearing it. Not something that bothered him- obviously because… after all what is so difficult about tying a piece of cloth around your middle? But as the bridegroom started to get ready for the ceremony, he suddenly found that tying a piece of cloth was not as easy as he thought it would be. Silk as we know is a very slippery material and so what he tucked into place refused to stay in place…! His uncles who were veterans in Mundu / veshti tying thought he was making a big hue and cry about nothing. “Just let it be there. Don’t fiddle with it” said one of his uncles from Kottayam. Finally in an act of sheer desperation he took a belt and tied it around the veshti hoping it would stay in place as he gingerly made his way to the bride’s place. Thankfully the cloth stayed in place and did not disgrace him during or after the ceremony.
But not so during a friend’s wedding when hubby dearest suddenly had the yearning to again wear a veshti. Unfortunately, this time the wedding was in Trichy and he had forgotten to pack a belt. Silk began misbehaving again and he had to literally hold on his modesty!
Life however poses a lot of challenges….! We had this fancy new digital camera those days which he was holding in his other hand. Each time someone saw the camera they wanted a picture. Now, as we all know taking a picture holding a camera with one hand is not very easy. Since I did not know how this electronic gizmo operated he had to perform the feat.. so what we had were a series of photos that looked like crime scene pictures and a groups of women giggling every time my harassed husband passed them by…! Finally, taking pity on his condition, I took the camera and put it into my bag. The veshti continued to threaten but after a quick lunch we rushed out of the marriage hall before any female guest could complain of indecent exposure!
Nothing however can beat this very entertaining account that I have heard about a relative of mine. Let us call him Mr. X. Apparently this gentleman who was also not very familiar to the veshti/ mundu wore it to a wedding. This was the 1970s when most men’s underwear used to have draw strings. Well, Mr. X while trying to manage the knot of his veshti/ mundu suddenly realized that he had another more serious problem at hand- the draw string of his underwear had loosened and was on the verge of becoming undone!!!!! Meanwhile, he saw from afar an old friend who was advancing towards him with a smile on his face and calling out his name!! He had to quickly decide how he was going to greet his friend. Shaking hands or folding them together by way of greeting was clearly out of question. So he decided he would keep his greeting verbal. Just as he was getting ready to say “Hello” his wife who was by his side suddenly tugged at his arm to pull him to a side to meet a relative of hers. This action from that quarter was totally unexpected. Mr. X had to make a choice about how he was going to save his modesty. In an attempt to keep the veshti in place he had to sacrifice his hold on the underwear which was now clearly going to give itself up ( or down?).
As his underwear slipped down he stood riveted to the spot in the hope that it would be unobserved. But people had other plans for him..! His friend of many years after exchanging pleasantries suddenly started pushing him by the elbow to meet another friend who was spotted some distance away. Mr. X considered standing there and smiling at the other friend but his wife frowned at him said “Why are you standing here like this – go and say hello to him”.
So what did he do ? Like the brave man that he was he stepped over his chaddis and walked towards friend no 2.
But did the story end there? Of course not ! Some nosy kids from behind suddenly picked up the fallen underwear and asked loudly – “Whose underwear is this”?
“I don’t know. Ask Aunty” said Mr. X as he glided his way to greet his friend!!!
So goes the story of veshtis and mundus in my family- a truly simple garb until it decides to ditch you…!!!