Turban tales

My admiration for the ceremonial headgears that Narendra Modi sports may stem from my boyhood association with turbans the lawyers of Poonamallee wore in back those days. Unlike Modi’s, those turbans were not multi-coloured but milk-white – reminiscent of Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan and M Visvesvaraya.

Many of the lawyers were tufted and hence appeared in the court wearing a dhoti, black coat and turban. However, the turban rule exempted non-tufted younger lawyers who donned full pants in Western style.

One of the duties assigned to me was to organise the turban for my father. For reasons inexplicable, he could not tie a turban himself even looking at a mirror. Consequently, I had to rush to his junior who lived one street away from us with the folded mull. This gentleman had a head that shared its circumference with that of my father.

At the sight of me with the turban material, he would smile or grunt depending on his mood swings. On the days when he was happy, he would grab the material from me with a broad smile and plant himself in the centre of the hall so his ‘turban-tying’ act could be witnessed by the gods and goddesses and his dead and departed elders from inside the framed pictures and sepia photographs mounted on the wall.

Though the end product would look perfect, he would most certainly uncoil it for a re-do if he had as much as detected a glance of disapproval on the scowling face of his ancestor from the photograph above.

However artistic, no man is a hero to his valet. More so to his wife. While he would be taking his time to perform the turban act, watched by the Gods and his elders (and me), his grumpy wife –  from behind the kitchen door – would repeatedly throw at him vitriolic glances as his elaborate act would mean an adjournment in cutting the vegetables, a morning chore dumped on him.

My duty, thereafter, was to ferry the turban taken off from his head to my house with the reverence of a rajaguru carrying a crown on a silver salver before a coronation ceremony.

For this service, my grandfather, the resident matron, motivator and censor, would give me a handful of tangy orange peppermints. Once, I asked him with asperity. “Why can’t appa learn to tie the turban himself? Dorai mama invariably grumbles. And, his wife scowls at me.”

My grandfather tousled my hair. “You should know, a turban is only a visible showpiece on the head. For a good lawyer, it is the grey matter that lies underneath that counts.” That remark went over my head.

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