This has been a month of festivals here in Kerala. Eid of course, was celebrated all over,but we also have our very own local festival Onam, which actually is a harvest festival, with its own legends associated with it. And there are plenty of marriages taking place as well, all of which have burst upon the place in a deluge of clothes being displayed in the shops, being bought and being worn preenignly with an increasingly competitive sense of “I’ll make sure that my dress is more showy than yours”!!
It’s all glittery and sequined mostly. I’m talking of course, about the dresses and saris the females of all ages are seen wearing these days. The stuff is synthetic and the designs flowing and elaborate, all of which ensures that that the shops selling apparel are raking in money. Nobody seems to mind spending.
It comes across as vulgar really, this change in the sartorial sense from the traditionally simple attire that used to symbolize this part of the country. The gaudiness is now a status symbol and nobody would want to be seen wearing something sobre .
And yet , this trend of opting for what is considered “fashionable” has not added anything to the “comfort” factor for which Man must’ve started wearing clothes in the first place. Kerala is a highly hot and humid place when it is not raining and the white or off-white or light coloured cotton clothes were/are best suited for the climate here. Sadly though, this traditional wisdom of wearing the right clothes has been done away with. They are considered”ethnic” now, only to be worn when there is a formal event or celebration where this then becomes a kind of dress code.
I think it was around the time the Gulf boom hit Kerala that people mstarted wearing more and more of synthetic stuff. I remember the horribly stinky smell of terelene shirt clad males in the local buses in the peak of Summer of the late sixties/early seventies. How could they not catch on to the fact that no female would feel really attracted to a man whose shirt reeked so much of sweat (the theory of perhormones, notwithstanding). Now of course there are any number of deodorants and perfumes to choose from to camouflage the stinkiness. Does that make sense except the commercial, to be first spending money on something that will add to your smelliness and then spending more to mask it?
Same goes for the kind of houses we have been building here for a while now. I still stare with reverence at the old red-tiled houses , mostly with white walls, nestling amidst the green of the coconut palms. So soothing they look, just the kind that would give you immediate relief once you step inside . away from the sweltering heat . For the monsoon months too, those old houses were best designed , allowing the rain to run down the sloping roof instead of seeping through the terraced roofs. I remember reading an article by Laurie Baker years back, about the stupidity of modern architecture where the large glass windows allowed too much sunlight to filter inside the rooms making it then imperative to spend more money on drapes and curtains and air-conditioning.
Since it is we ourselves who attach these symbolic values to the different things we use and set store by , I’m at a loss to fathom why our collective social intelligence couldn’t give a higher notch in the heirarchial rung ,to things which are actually good for us ? Why are we so stupid as to arrange our social status in ways that makes our day to day lives distinctly more uncomfortable ? …. and I don’t mean just clothes and houses .
P.S. I managed to google out nthat interview of Laurie Baker. Here is thelink: