Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Art of Tying a Lungi

Today’s walk in CBD Belapur’s Nature Park was glorious, as being a Sunday I could sleep late and dawdle a bit before the walk, and indulge in some frippery. The sun was up as I climbed the steep gradient that led to the park, the birds chirping high above me in the boughs of the trees lining the walk. There were only a few walkers now, as most of them are early risers and would be home by now.

I walk a steady pace, neither fast nor slow, since Henry my walking partner, is not with me today. He is a fast walker and usually I have to struggle to keep up with him. So I took it a bit easy, walking, breathing steadily, swinging my arms, and enjoying the bird sounds. The sun filters through the trees, and the walk is deserted except for a few regulars, seemingly retired people, having a leisurely walk. One man sits on a parapet wall above a dry rivulet and is talking to his wife in low tones.

Then I see this man in a checked lungi, walking his dog. I couldn’t but admire the way he was wearing his lungi and managing his dog’s leash. There’s great skill involved in just keeping the lungi around your waist, honest! I had tried wrapping a lungi around me and had failed to keep it safely tethered to my waist. (I was brought up in Bombay, so actually I wasn’t initiated into the ritual of wrapping a lungi, something I regret.) I wonder how C Chidambaram and AK Anthony both ministers in the Indian government can manage their ministries so effortlessly wearing the mundu, the formal version of the lungi. Actually it’s their skill in holding on to the mundu that makes them such expert managers and negotiators.

It takes great skill, will power, and individuality is all I can say. Try it. Try keeping a lungi wrapped around you, you will find it slipping within a few seconds. If you have a belly then it’s even harder, because the laws of physics militate against it. The knot won’t stay put. But for a Keralite and the South Indian, the lungi is an attire of great comfort. It offers complete three-hundred-and-sixty-degree mobility. Convenient, when it comes to scampering up a coconut tree, or, descending into a deep well. Well, try climbing a coconut tree in trousers, a sure disaster, I have tried.

So, this man was walking his dog and the lungi stayed firmly on his waist. And that is a miracle of training, skill, and will power. Makes me wonder if it is why we Keralites are known for our well-rounded personalities and our will power. Because when it comes to sheer determination and grit, Malayalis are on top everywhere. See any corporate ladder and there will be more than a fair share of the Nairs, Menons, and Gopinathans. Attribute it to their skill in delicately keeping the lungi wrapped around their waist, the absolute zen and will power of keeping things anchored, the will to see that the lungi will not come off even when you are managing a frisky dog on a leash.

That’s what I saw the man doing today, something that I could identify with, something that I could take pride in. After all, my father wore mundus at home and my brother can manage one. So what if I prefer the loose track suit pants at home, I can always count on my fellow Malayalis to teach me how to wear a mundu, and the delicate art of throwing one end up, catching the tip with the other, and wrapping it folded around the waist. I hear that scores are settled in this fashion in Kerala. If the adversary nears, you just have to fold your lungi thusly, a little above so that your knees show, and you are ready for battle, if at all. Mostly, if you do it confidently enough, the enemy will take off in the other direction. Practice it watching Mammooty and Mohanlal doing it on screen and you will surely become an expert. All I need now is a lungi and some Mammooty and Mohanlal movie DVDs.

“Chetta, can I borrow some Mammooty DVDs and some lungi-tying expertise from you?” I ask the abovementioned dog-walking wearer of the lungi in Malayalam, my voice trembling at the prospect of this great giver of wisdom denying my request.

“What for?” He asks suspiciously eyeing my track suit pants.

“I want to learn to tie the lungi like you.”

“Than poyi thante karyam nokkado.” Hey you, go and attend to your work.

Didn’t I tell you about Malayalis having great will power and individuality attributable to the tying of the lungi? Well that secret is not to be shared easily with those who do not have the basic skill of being a Malayali, i.e., the art of tying a lungi.

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