D H I T I

Beauty past compare!

In Culture, India, Places, Random, Travel on October 9, 2011 at 1:19 am

The idea of what is beautiful, as much as scientists like to debate on ratio and proportions, is not universal. Of course, beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder etc. etc. but what I am trying to say is that there is also a cultural aspect to it. I was always surprised how casually people were dressed in France when going out for an evening, with friends or otherwise. For us in India, “going out” meant an occasion to dress up, so what if it was just to the movies or to the restaurant or to the bar? In France, and contrary to popular perceptions of Paris, it is not the place in Europe where the people are the best dressed. After a point of time, a person like me who does not always enjoy dressing up, gets far too easily adapted to this way of life. It is kind of relaxing, you have to admit, to be able to just pop in somewhere for a drink or a snack in your jeans and worn-out top. It is therefore, quite difficult when you travel to places which does not agree with your casual style say for instance, Italy. In Rome, I found that even in not-so-posh restaurants, people were dressed in fine clothes, women wore their jewellery and the men had their ties. There was no way we could quietly blend in, dressed as we were like tourists having been on the road all day. But then, Lonely Planet had warned us so we could not even crib.

In Berlin, on the contrary, I was instantly at ease. Individualism is not just staring at you around every corner, it was fairly crying out loud. The mantra is to be and let be. Wacky, quirky, sober, sedate, posh, all exist side by side. It made me sing with joy to see so much variety and so much tolerance for the out-of-the-ordinary. It was also quite a change from France and particularly Paris which is fairly homogeneous and monotonous when it comes to clothes. Almost everyone seems to be dressed alike and mostly in black and grey, especially during winter.

There is of course, an attire while you are travelling and an attire while you are living your daily life. Well, at least I have one now.  Six years ago, whether I was travelling or not, I would choose the same clothes that I would otherwise be wearing in my daily life..proper clothes, the kind one wears when “going out”, if you know what I mean. Since then, I have moved towards C’s view of life who’s main refrain is, “Huh? You are travelling…so what does it matter what you wear and whether you are looking great or whatever…isn’t it more important to get out and enjoy our holidays?”. How can you argue with that kind of logic? Really? So now I get equally stressed about packing but I am more likely to throw in things I would be comfortable walking around the whole day in. I understand better now the gora visitors in India who I always thought were so unkempt…not that I have reached unkempt levels yet but I can understand letting go when travelling.

I found the refrain of my earlier opinions in some women in Andamans. Since the majority of the population is Bengali and a white guy and an Indian girl travelling together was such a rare sight for most of them, that  everytime we sat down to eat, drink, have tea, we were suddenly surrounded by curious bystanders who wanted to know more about our lives, how we met, how life beyond India was etc. etc. During one such encounter when we were travelling with some other white people in a group, I was accosted by some local women on all of the above questions plus one more. They wanted to know why these white women, who were so pretty otherwise, did not “take care of themselves” and their hair looked a mess etc.

Ekta clip lagaye na kenoh?” Why don’t they at least use a hair-clip?

Iktu powder-showder lagaley toh bhalo lagbey na?” They would look nice if they apply a bit of face powder.

I could not explain to them that these women had just visited this completely uninhabited island with a forest, white sand and a deserted beach, enjoyed snorkelling for hours and were completely mesmerised by the beauty of the place to bother about their own.

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  1. Since it is winter in Delhi and the cold season is merrily delaying its withdrawl the winter fashion here is in full swing and day by day women dress more and more in boots that remind me of London. Calcutta was the epitome of drab casualness when I lived my teenage life there but Delhi women care for their looks to some degree. Especially South Delhi women (where I inhabit) are prone to dressing fashionably but similarly. They all look the same to me and there seems to be a very strict idea of what is beautiful. Anyway, I think there is space for all kinds here as well. I just wish Delhi made it easier for people to walk so we sample its beauty more often in the streets rather than inside malls.

  2. Also when I went traveling to Agra with my white South African friend Emma, half my work was to keep prying tourists away from her. She was fair and lean so everyone wanted pictures with her. She really is a colonial beauty and hence people endlessly tormented her for pictures. She tried her best to dress as drab as possible but to no avail. She was never spared.

  3. I think we “dress-up” much more than people here do. When my parents came over for the wedding, my mom was shocked when she saw how plainly everyone was dressed. Hey, we change clothes even when we go out to buy milk! I am sure some of it has to do with the climate. It is so hot in India most of the time, its normal that when at home, we are usually dressed in “phata-purana” clothes which are so much more comfortable and we will of course never think of wearing the same clothes to the market two blocks away.

    But I think its also a cultural difference. Even in a small tea shop in Calcutta, the woman would have taken a shower and put on her ornaments before coming and she will repeat the process in the evening after a hot day outside. It is even truer in case she is young. Of course you can compare it to people in Delhi who are more “chic” but in the end, even if there is a difference in what is intended as the end result, people do take care of what they are wearing. And it goes for all classes. Look at the lower classes in India and the women often have some jewelry on them even when going for work. And for us it is so common a sight that we don’t even consider an ear-ring and a nose-stud as being jewelry worth of notice. Hell, these women wear them everyday and sleep wearing them and don’t even think twice of having them on them.

    A girl in India get her first ear-ring long before her peer in Europe does, I am sure. I can’t remember when I had my first ear-ring, it was so long ago and I have no recollection of when I had my ears pierced, it was even earlier. When I had first wanted to send something for my sister-in-law, at a point where I had not even met her, C told me she did not have pierced ears so I should not be looking at ear-rings! For me it was so unimaginable that a girl of 22/24 would not have had her ears pierced, I think I stared at him blankly for a long time wondering what kind of world he lived in……

    But yes, you can however, definitely leave out bengali men from the category (if not all men in India). In their attempt to become the next generation Tagores, they take care of nothing but their “jhola”!

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