When I became aware of fashion trends Elvis was the reigning king. My eldest brother Babs was the trendsetter for my brother and me. Being the first born he had the privilege of clothes by yard and stiched to measure by one tailor whom we knew by name. What’s more my father made it a matter of family honor to accompany him to shop. Afterall Babs was going to study medicine. He could parade the thoroughbred for the punters to bet on. A doctor made every Marwari, Bihari or arami sit up and notice. It was thus my brother set out to be fashion plate.
At home my brother and I waited to see the outcome. That evening my eldest brother came home very agitated. he had seen himself as a buck in the swim of things among young bucks as he. He swore a father who didn’t know Elvis or what he stood for was a disgrace. Babs confided later in the evening, all he had mentioned drain pipes when the tailor took the measure. It seems my father put his foot down emphatically and said, ‘No way!’ The tailor said helpfully it was the trend. My Father seemed to have said, ‘devil take the trend’ Of course it was he who paid, so tailor was sure drainpipe style was a flash in the pan. From my brother’s angst I became aware of fashion as one’s visiting card to the world.
The world took measure of you in the way you presented yourself. Period.
When my turn came I was sure I would say no as emphatically as my father had expressed, to drainpipes. Unfortunately it didn’tcome to that. My brothers were already in far corners of the earth and their discards were in the shelf. My father examined them and they were more mothballs than fabric in them. For once he and I were in accord. He said in my earshot to my mother,’I hate to see Benny in them.’ I felt proud that he placed me rightly as the youngest in the family. ‘No drainpipes, No discards for one as privileged as I’, saidI.
In 1964 when I first went to Chennai (Madras then) I found among list of my wardrobe written in my mothers rounded handwriting most of fathers woollen pants neatly packed. Only then I appreciated Joseph’s coat of many colors. Every color that graced on the backs of Ruben Levi, Naphthali and Simon must have found in the patchwork. Wily old Jacob! wily old father who knew how far the hand-me-down should stretch!
Even now I shudder as I write these ,’what madness came over me to wear my fathers clothes?’.
Under the sweltering Madras summer 40 degree heat my woollen pants took a terible beating. While my friends and I were chilling out at Buharis on the Mount Road, I was feeling the heat that stuck to my calves.
The pants of my father was designed to hang sportingly on a gargantuan midriff but I always had that lean and hungry look in those days. Of course I hungred after a slice of fashion but to tell the truth the belt tightened around the middle belied that lean and hungry look.
At an age of drainpipes I was sporting bellbottoms! Now I have a sneaking suspicion I set the trend of bell bottom that came only a decade later. Did some Mexican tourists copy my style or what?
Once or twice my friends noticed my woollen pants and asked in a friendly concern,’Wouldn’t you find it terribly hot, ben?”
“Oh no In fact I love them!” How humiliating to think of it!
Having brazenly weathered under discards, hand-me- downs I don’t care too hoots for fashion.
Only two prayers I have in my old age:
O God let me have fresh clean toilet roll for my bottom and a clean handkerchief to blow my nose in. For the rest I don’t care.’