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The Days of Desi - Part 2

Lakshmi Palecanda Nov 19 2017, 2:35 IST
Illustration by Kavitha Mandana

Illustration by Kavitha Mandana

"Don't ever mock a trend, because it will come back to bite you," said a wise person, and was she ever right! Granted that the wise person in question was me, but was I absolutely on the money or what!

The occasion was a shopping trip with my elder daughter. We wanted to buy a jazzy dress for a wedding. I was oohing and aahing over some Western dresses, when my daughter told me what she wanted – a half-sari. I was broken-hearted. See, I had spent the whole of my teen years fighting the imposition of the half-sari on me by my traditional South Indian family. And now my daughter wanted to wear one! Ye Gods, had all the progress of the globalisation years been undone?

The influencer

No, it had not. What happened was that a very popular actor, with a figure to die for, wore the extremely iconic South Indian costume in a movie that became one of India's all-time blockbusters. Granted, the costume was used in a loose interpretation, okay, a very loose interpretation, but it became a hit with young girls. Who could have guessed?

In this same way, there are other things desi that are also making a grand comeback. Been to a wedding recently? It is like walking into the durbar of a maharajah of the old days. Or, on to the sets of Mughal-e-Azam. Those Anarkali dress sets, the lehenga-cholis and saris in cotton, silk, velvet, chiffon and georgette with chikan work, gota work, kasuti, kantha, mukesh, zardozi, toda, phulkari work… the list goes on and on!

And don't get me started on men's costumes. Earlier, women would wear colourful outfits, and men would be the perfect foil for them, with their plain shirts and pants or dhotis. But these days, they are walking around like courtiers in the Middle Ages, sporting sherwanis, bandhgalas, kurta-pajamas, jodhpuris and the like. These aren't plain either. The prints and the embroidery that are available would make women

drool with envy. Yes, these days, it is hard for women to out-desi the desi men. And, that is not all. Even the simple dhoti has suddenly become fashionable. And since a knot that will not slip and embarrass the wearer is not easily achieved, now there are velcro dhotis, and even dhotis with pockets. So now men can also step out in desi style.

Nowadays, there are the so-called ethnic days when people can dress in desi style to their hearts content. So, even if there isn't a wedding or another kind of grand occasion in sight, people can indulge in their traditional Indian costumes.

And what about jewellery? This is another aspect where we've gone back to our roots. Gone are the days of the tasteful simple necklaces and slim bracelets. Okay, not completely gone, because there are still those of us who can't afford to go chunky with precious metals.

But go to any jewellery store and you'll see heavy waist-length necklaces with pendants which are two inches or more in diameter. Big, multi-tiered jhumkas for the ears and little bits and pieces which march up the outer part of the lobes - these are the ones which are in fashion.

Again, men are also wearing jewellery like in the old days. Bracelets, finger rings, ear rings, brooches, pins, necklaces and even bangles have become necessary for those who want to appear desi.

As for wedding customs also, we are going back to the past. Once, we tried to pare down our three-day weddings to one-day affairs. But now, we are actually adding events to our weddings, like the old-fashioned sangeet and mehendi. After all, marriages may be made or unmade, but a chance to dress up and strut your stuff is impossible to pass up.

Back on the menu

Even some types of traditional Indian foods are becoming very popular. Use of the traditional Indian spice, turmeric, has become very popular these days, thanks to its flavour and medicinal properties. Bisi Bele bath, gulab jamun and burfis are good old favourites that are back in the limelight. And, as for dal kichdi, it is an old favourite that is all set to become India's national food.

And of course, let's not forget the ultimate Indian export - yoga. Developed in the ancient times, it existed in obscurity, until it was discovered by the West. Now yoga is hot stuff. Not only is it being openly practised by even the most fashion-conscious of Indians, it has also become the workout of the rich and famous.

There is a lesson here, and it is that people tend to return to old ideas and practices periodically. If it works and has the feel-good factor, it becomes popular. Wonder what the next trending desi idea will be …

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