When our very own humble lungi made it onto the pages of the acclaimed street fashion photography blog The Sartorialist a few weeks ago, I was thrilled to bits. Cultural misappropriation and decontextualization? Oh pshaw. That Caucasian guy rocked that indigo lungi the way indigo lungis are meant to be rocked: by men with serious balls, metaphorical and otherwise.
Needless to say, I’ve been trying for awhile to get men out of their pants. And into their lungis.
Veshtis are too formal, kilts just trying too hard, regular skirts too evocative of transvestites (and if you’ve been following this column, you’d realise that would mean all amorous hopes will summarily be squashed but we could be BFFs). But the lungi – ah, how I would love to be taken to a fancy dinner by a man masculine enough to wear an indigo lungi with a white button-down shirt.
Of course, this takes quite some coaxing. I once made a guy come to college in a miniskirt (ah, the perks of being a slightly scary chick with a college magazine editorship!). He refused to take his track pants off from under the red wraparound, but not only did he very sportingly attend lectures and go out to lunch and let himself be photographed that way, he loved it. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that he’s graduated to the liberating lounge-cum-luxury wear that is the lungi by now.
Then there was Lungi-Man, the superhero who fought cultural imperialism and mental colonization – and thankfully didn’t go commando as he bounded over traffic and tall buildings. Our intrepid crusader was invented for a friend who is quite severely desi-challenged (you know the type). Lungi-Man’s partner was the über-feminist Pavadai-Chatta Girl (yeah, she liked ironic statements). If I ever get tired of writing dysphoric verse and self-indulgent columns, I’ll do a graphic novel starring the two of them. Installment one: it’s laundry day, the wife’s on strike, and Lungi-Man is forced to wear the attire of his archnemesis, Veshtimeister. Things climax with Lungi-Man and Veshtimeister glowering at one other in a showdown, tweaking their own moustaches and striking dramatic poses, while Pavadai-Chatta Girl unties herself from the train tracks in her sheer boredom, then spits paan onto the both of them, staining their garments irreparably.
I guess you could say my lungi fascination started early. Some of the most fun I recall from my childhood was something called “the aeroplane game”, the key components of which are one lungi, one person to wear it, and one very small and easily amused child (two if the lungi-wearer has long legs). My father, in lungi of course, would sit down with his legs up on an adjacent chair. His lungi would fall in such a way as to create a sort of hammock-cradle, in which I could sit and swing around. I always thought I had discovered this by accident until I met a girl in my teens who had played the exact same “aeroplane game”. My guess is it may have been a common thing in Indian households until people started getting paranoid about the perceived ickiness factor of a kid being so close to the family jewels.
Some time last year, it was reported that a UK distributor had put in an order for 11,000 lungis from Kurunjipadi. No news since about what happened or is in store for what could very well be biggest fashion invasion of Europe since jodhpurs. Take heed, men of India! You can pre-empt the fashion capitals of the world starting today.
And trust me, the girls will love it.
An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express. “The Venus Flytrap” is my weekly column in the Zeitgeist supplement. Previous columns can be found here.