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Home Emdad's Articles The Lungi Legacy?

The Lungi Legacy?

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‘What is the height of fashion? A Lungi with a zip!’

Once upon a time Deshis used to be proud of their ability to wear the clothes of the venerable English gentleman. Outside Desh those who aspired to the same thing were known decisively as ‘booted and suited’ and denied the status of the westernised Deshi babu. These days you receive an invite to a mate's wedding in Sylhet, which is full of Deshi traditional garb. No problem there. The 68,000 dollar question is do you wear a Lungi? You are probably on holiday on a beachy resort in Sylhet being laid back, relaxed and doing what the locals do, which is probably watching Indian films on the Satellite TV. Do you wander round in a Becks-style sarong on your way to the olive grove eaterie? You are a normal sort of bloke so think, would you wear a Lungi on the tube on your way to work? Of course not; you'd be scorned, ridiculed, derided, laughed at, almost as much as if you admitted to owning a Morris Minor, enjoying Big Brother or listening to Kumar Sanu. Even the Reformist Jyoti Basu hates them. He told the Times News Network in September 2002 that he did not like Lungis any more. The quintessential Bengali babu, now feels that India will go to the dogs unless people give up wearing the Lungi. ‘This country will surely be ruined if we do not stop wearing Lungis. How can you travel in a bus or a tram in a Lungi? How can you work?’

Designer Lungis….

Lungis, I would like to say are a great form of clothing. I don’t usually wear them outside, but are great for around the home. However, funny things happen in London, and you do, very occasionally, see a man in the street so attired. But do not forget we are talking about a Deshi in Sylhet here. This is despite dozens of attempts by modern fashion designers - including Jean-Paul Gaultier, famous for his, er, open-minded designs - to prove that a bloke in a skirt can look good. However it should be said that a ‘Moklis Brand’ Lungi does not somehow have the same appeal as a pair of Gucci’s.

Legend has it that once a Chacha caught the gravy train to England. On one of his infrequent jaunts into the city it was noticed that he was wearing a Lungi. An English toff asked him, ‘What is this old chap?’, by catching his Lungi from behind. The Chacha caught the gentleman’s tie and asked him what it was. The Englishman replied, ‘It is a tie’. Chacha replied: ‘This is a back tie’.

A distressing childhood experience….

I can recollect an incident from when I was a young whippersnapper involving one of the hardest blokes in the East End. For my own personal safety I’m going to refer to him as Bhaisaheb. Bhaisaheb was a community role model who also happened to be trained in the ‘finer’ aspects of martial arts instruction. One day a group of my friends and I met him near our local youth club and badgered him endlessly to show us some of his kicking skills. After repeated pleas, Bhaisaheb relented and proceeded to put us all out of our misery. To spice up the story I would like readers to note that those wear the days when Bhaisaheb was a fashion icon with a mullet hairstyle, who dressed in white Farahs, Red Japanese silk shirts, white tennis socks and Dunlop squash trainers. With a war cry (‘Yaaaaleeee’) Bhaisaheb produced a (un)majestic scissor kick as portrayed so well by Guile on the Street Fighter games. (Believe me when I say I’ve seen elephants kick higher) Unfortunately Bhaisaheb’s Farah trousers where a wee bit tight and he ended up splitting them from ear to ear, and guess what (no Chuddis)! Almost twenty years on and me and my homies still haven’t recovered. Despite the years the questions continue to roll. Why did he not wear a Lungi…a Lungi…a Lungi! Hollywood’s screenmake of the book Sleepers involving Brad Pitt and childhood ghosts bought all the memories flooding back.

Dear Bhabiji….

Ancient fashion garments generally used no stitching although Deshis like their Indian counterparts knew about sewing. Most clothes were ready to wear as soon as they left the loom. The Lungi has never really disappeared and continues to be part of Deshi fashion. For Deshi/Brit boys in the UK to admit that they wear a Lungi is a serious coming out and I would like to encourage other men to give it a go. (If you are going to come out don't be shy- talk to Bhabiji or email me for personal, professional and moral support).

This now leads nicely up to the final straight. If the lady of a typical Deshi house wears the trousers what do the blokes do? Wear a Lungi of course! When women wear trousers are they trying to get in touch with their masculine side? Are they pushing the gender boundary? OF COURSE NOT ! So why are these assumptions applied to men wearing Lungis.? Cynics and coconuts should try wearing one in the house at first. Having said that, although a Lungi is male attire, you need to tie it or whatever just to keep it from falling off! And where are all these guys that DO want to wear Lungis? Some of them haven't had the nerve to try it in public yet. Some are guys at the office, and some are here, reading this article. However, there are not enough of us demanding Lungis designed for men to have a big pull on the real drivers of mass production, like GAP, Gucci and River Island. There is some interest on the part of fashion designers who have sent guys down catwalks in skirts, but I feel that the way the Lungi is going to catch on is not from a runway phenomenon-it will evolve from streetwear. When I was in school and becoming image-conscious, I asked my PSHE teacher if it was true that clothes make the man. ‘You're a man on two feet,’ he said, disgusted, rolling his eyes a bit. ‘Man makes the man.’ Back then I had an eye for classic style and got laughed at because of my allegiance to different brands, but I wore ‘fine’ suits that I considered well ahead of the curve, well ahead of my time. Twenty-odd years later, fashion sheep will be loyal to any tag with a name on it, but I am still the urban style iconoclast. This summer, I am bigging up the Lungi almost exclusively.

Fashion comes and goes, but style is timeless. And here I am: well ahead of the curve, well ahead of my time. I'm pretty sure this style won't catch on, but maybe it should. My teacher at school was right: clothes don't make the man (Think about Bhaisaheb). A man can stand on two feet — Lungi and all.

Related link: How to wear lungi >>

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