Believes life is one long learning...

Vinay Kamath

Me and my lungi

| Updated on September 01, 2013


I must confess, I’m a closet lungi wearer at home. Ever since the wife, when she was my fiancee years ago, reacted in horror, “You! You wear a lungi, eh?” A lungi is a perfectly decent garment, I had reasoned with her; it wasn’t like I was cavorting around in some langoti.

But, aha, now, the humble lungi is being celebrated in a raucous Lungi dance in Chennai Express, that parody of south Indians. And then I saw this tweet from Anand Mahindra, who studied at Lawrence school, Lovedale: “Worn lungi at home since Ooty school days. Kids called me a Scotsman with an oversized kilt. Thanks >@rohitshettyfilm for making the #lungicool.”

So, now, suddenly I’m wearing a cool and with-it garment and there’s reason enough to write about it. My initial lungi wearing days weren’t easy. It began at my grandfather’s sprawling old mansion and farm in Kasargod, in northern Kerala. Kasargod in the ’70s could best be described as semi-urban, a town where time stood still.

A short walk and you were out of the town where one could see the long, serpentine backwaters, their banks thick with coconut trees and lush green as far as the eye could see. Eating farm fresh mangoes, pedas that grandmum made from fresh milk from cows on the farm, lazy afternoons reading Enid Blytons and Hardy Boys books, all made for that idyllic summer.

In Kasargod of the ’70s, almost everyone wore either a mundu or a lungi. My mama (mum’s brother) would smoothly shift between a lungi at home to quickly slip on a veshti when we headed to town for a walk, and perhaps to eat a masala dosa in the town’s sole large restaurant. I recall being envious of his comfort and decided to drop my shorts for the lungi.

Of course, the initial lungi-wearing experience wasn’t easy. For one, I discovered it's an art to keep it on the waist without belt, buckle or button. So, one would wander off in the long corridors of grandad’s home and realise in horror that the lungi wasn’t on and I was roaming around almost in the buff! Thankfully, the penalty for that, as a young boy, was derisive laughter while the lungi was hastily retrieved from wherever it had dropped off.

The initiation wasn’t easy. One tried wearing a belt over the lungi or made sure one wore it over shorts to save yourself the blushes. Gradually I began to get used to the whims of a lungi, mastering the art of it keeping it around the waist without the danger of it dropping off at unexpected moments.

Over the years I’ve transitioned through lungis of all kinds — batik prints, gaudy prints, large checks, small checks, why even a silk lungi. Along the way you realise how versatile the garment, apart from the obvious advantage of it being able to come off in a whisk for … err… whatever, or on a cool night, when you realise you don’t have a bedsheet to cover yourself; you can improvise with your lungi. Hitched up, it’s informal, covering your legs and with a shirt on, it can be reasonably formal.

I remember my uncle, my father’s brother, who went to study advanced medicine in the UK in the ’70s and stayed on to become a top anaesthetist, would buy lungis in bulk whenever he visited India. Sometimes as many as ten lungis would go into his suitcase. He was most comfortable in his lungi, only, he reasoned, it was too cold to step outside home in a lungi … and, of course, the neighbours would stare!

Now that the lungi’s coolness has been resurrected, a neighbour of ours recently had a lungi party at home, where everybody had to, of course, be in a lungi and dance to the raucous Chennai Express number. Lungi dance anyone?

Published on September 01, 2013

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