No ties with ties, please

No ties with ties, please


 no tie 

It’s rather odd but true. I can tie a knot, even a reef knot, but for the life of me, I still can’t knot a tie. It may be child’s play for tie wearers, but I usually end up tying my neck in knots — quite literally. So I prudently stick to pre-knotted ties to avoid ‘strangulating’ myself at the eleventh hour while rushing off to attend a function where a full suit or jacket & tie is the dress code.

At school in Tiruchi in the 1950s, I admired my smartly turned out teachers — messrs. Rethinasamy, Rao and Thomas, who looked elegant in their well-tailored full suits and ties. In fact, Mr Rethinasamy used to sport a waistcoat as well, making him the most dapper of the trio. And when he bicycled into school sitting ramrod straight on his Raleigh, he did make heads turn. The epithet ‘dowdy’ never could be applied to him.

How Mr Rethinasamy and his two suited colleagues stayed as cool as cucumbers in those sweltering summer months in Tiruchi remains an unsolved mystery. If anything, all that ‘armour’ they wore only seemed to insulate them against the scorching heat, while I would sweat profusely even while wearing a wafer-thin cotton shirt without a vest. Indeed, I always felt the trio deserved individual citations for their stoical endurance of Tiruchi’s oppressive heat, not to mention their students’ stupidity!

Later, working for a British-owned tea conglomerate in Munnar in the 1970s, I was surprised to find some of my senior colleagues turning out for work fully suited and booted while even our British bosses came casually attired. Perhaps they liked to flaunt their sartorial tastes or were trying to impress the Brits who seemed pleased with their dress sense. Isn’t imitation the sincerest form of flattery?

These brown sahibs, of course, stood out among the other employees who were informally dressed, usually in bush shirt and trousers — the latter baggy enough to accommodate not one but two pairs of legs, for it was the era of bell-bottoms! One brown sahib in particular won our unstinted admiration. Come rain or sunshine, he was always impeccably accoutred whether at the office, recreation club or market — full suit, waistcoat, tie and polished shoes. True, with his lean frame, he did look like a trussed-up chicken, but he epitomised dignity — and a breed that was fast disappearing then.

The Brits, of course, were sticklers for dress codes. A newly recruited young British assistant manager was once invited to dinner by his estate manager, a crusty old Scottish bachelor. Having been told that one always wore a jacket and tie when dining with planters, the youngster attired himself accordingly, only to find his host lounging in front of the fireplace in pyjamas. Interestingly, such hangovers from the Raj still find acceptance in local planters’ clubs where gents are, even now, required to wear a jacket and tie on Saturday evenings and a lounge suit on formal occasions. Old customs die hard. As for me, knotting a tie still remains a knotty problem.

Indeed, I prefer to have no ties with ties.

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