Thursday, 10 May 2012

Looking the part

Last time I did a concert with my choir, I cheated a bit on the outfit. Maybe I hadn't quite got the confidence up yet, but I took advantage of the black colour scheme to take a decidedly half-hearted option: long black kurta over ordinary black trousers and a pair of suitably unobtrusive shoes. I felt like a bit of a fraud to be honest. So when I was told that the colour scheme for the spring concerts was off-white with blue or gold, I decided this was my cue to make amends.

Off-white doesn't give you much to hide behind. The closest thing I had in my wardrobe was a pair of beige slacks, which would stand out a mile with everyone else in full Indian get up. So there was no choice for it: not just a new kurta (yes, I now have two) but pyjama and juttis too.

In case anyone's confused at this point, I'm not talking about the pyjamas your mum used to put you in before bed. This is the original pyjama, and the whole reason why the word is familiar to English speakers at all (it entered the language during the colonial period). It's a curious, lightweight leg garment that is very baggy at the waist, tapering to a tight tube around the calves. The first time I encountered the thing in the changing room at the wonderful FabIndia store) I was genuinely bemused. I'd never seen anything remotely like it and I wasn't entirely sure how it was supposed to match a human body shape:

Just to clarify, that's a 1 litre bottle of mineral water at the bottom. Those legs are very far apart. This is because of the crazy amount of material at the top. When you struggle into the things and pull the drawstring tight you look remarkably like a Tudor gentleman who's decided to combine his doublet and hose into one odd-looking garment. For those of us of the lankier and not-so-young-anymore persuasion, it manages to perfectly show off our spindly legs at the same time as emphasising our incipient middle-age spread. Needless to say I didn't spend a great deal of time admiring myself in the dressing room mirror.

Happily, they're not designed to be worn alone, so I was able to hastily throw my matching kurta over the top and try to erase the image of the pyjama-clad me from my mind (it didn't work, so I'm sharing the pain with all you lucky people). But of course the trickiest thing was footwear. Slipping on a pair of brogues or converses was clearly not going to work with the pyjama. So it was back out to the shops to get my first ever pair of juttis.

Juttis are traditional Indian shoes. They come in two main types: Punjabi (flat) and Rajasthani (which curl up at the toe like the shoes from the illustrations in the copy of the Arabian Nights I read as a kid). I've discovered a number of things about juttis:

  • They are surprisingly difficult to find, especially if you're a bloke
  • When you have found men's juttis, 95% of them will look like they are supposed to be for women, and hard cheese if you're not fond of gold or silver
  • They are possibly the most uncomfortable footwear known to man.
Anyway, after a lengthy search I found a pair that were towards the acceptable end of the gaudiness scale. And here they are:

Yeah, I just can't get away from the fact that they look like they belong in my sister's wardrobe, not mine.

Anyway, despite all my misgivings I have to admit that the sum total of all this finery is actually quite nice to wear and (shoes aside) comfortable. Here's me and fellow chorister Johannes in all our glory:

Not too bad, right? At least I don't feel like a complete idiot as a white guy wearing Indian clothes, which I probably would have if I'd ever gone in for the traditional dress in Korea:

Or, indeed, in Holland (actually now I come to think of it, even juttis are pretty comfortable compared to clogs. Wooden shoes - how was that ever a good idea?).

Anyway, the ladies of the choir assure me that the outfit looks just fine, and it does make a nice change from a suit and tie (it's great to feel like you've dressed up but that you can also breathe). Not sure what I'm going to do with all these things when I leave in India (costume parties? get my theatre society to stage A Passage to India?) but in the meantime: when in Delhi...


Anonymous said...

Loving the clothes. It reminds me of the international days that we have at school. The children come wearing amazing outfits from all around the world.

I went in Indian clothes a few years back... I remember panicking when trying to get the tight trousers off. They almost cut the blood circulation.

Cloud-Seven said...


Have been following your Blog for a year or so. You write very interesting things which I fail to acknowledge.

You look awesome in Kurta Payjama !!!

Fellow Delhite !!