My mother is an incredibly beautiful, stylish woman. My whole life, therefore, I’ve had to listen to people exclaim, with great pity, that I don’t look like her at all, and had to mumble weakly that I take after my father — weakly, because his looks worked a lot better on him than on me. I bet nobody told him that he had “a sort of, well, robust something”.
One of the results of being the underwhelming offspring of two smashers is that you give up on the looks department early on. While my friends were busy experimenting with hair and clothes and make-up, I went to school with my hair pulled back in a greasy ponytail and a pair of bottle-thick spectacles. I wore ill-fitting hand-me-down T-shirts and shorts or jeans, and resisted all attempts to spruce me up. At some point, in desperation, my mother got me a “Cleopatra cut”, a bob with bangs cut dead across the eyebrows. It was supposed to be chic, but I retreated behind this hairy curtain for so many years, trimming the fringe to nose level with my Swiss army knife, that she finally regretted it. Perhaps out of self-preservation, I avoided looking in the mirror.
All of this is to say that I was never socialised to get with fashion, and am therefore hardly in a position to make style judgements. People are forever saying incomprehensible things about how blue brings out their shoulders or whatever, and I just nod along. But while I still wear jeans and T-shirts, now I can at least tell when some item of clothing is an out and out disaster.
It is impossible, in the electronic age, to have missed that photograph of Union minister Nitin Gadkari, clad in his Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) outfit, sitting legs crossed in a chair. The internet immediately paired this retina-destroying image with one of Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct, neatly capturing everything that is wrong with his clothes, and everything that is right with the internet.
There are many, many reasons to make fun of the RSS. The poor lads have all kinds of complexes related to power, domination and all the sex they’re not having. They inspire repeated references to robots and nazis. But the worst — the very worst — is the uniform.
Just think about it compassionately for a second. To be obsessed with cows and cow pee-pee; to fetishise flagpoles (wink, wink) even as you object to the flag; to be frantic about India even as you oppress Indians; to see a sinister conspiracy behind every pimply grad student; to jump up and down because someone didn’t say “Bharat mata ki jai”; to admire the Manusmriti; to rely on the lizard bits of your brain; to do all of this, and to do it while wearing flared shorts cinched at the waist, even though you are a full-grown, unfit, hairy dude — well, it’s all just so awful that you have to admire the courage it takes to walk around the world looking like that.
But it seems that its own lack of coolness has finally gotten to the RSS, or maybe they’re tired of pretending to be celibate out of choice. After a brief 10-year think about it, the organisation has decided to replace the shorts with trousers. This is a body blow to the convenient terms “knickerwallah” and “chaddiwallah”, and we can never unsee Nitin Gadkari, but the move might help save millions of innocent retinas in the future. That’s what I call working for the good of society — who knew they would do it by dropping their knickers? Ladies and gentlemen, a big hand for the RSS.
Now there’s a sentence I never thought I’d say.