When the British finally left India, all those years ago, their luggage bursting at the seams with the Kohinoor, the sword of Tipu, the Golden Throne and other valuables; they were forced to leave behind their quintessential raiment – the suit, the boot and the tie!
Today we may bend over backwards trying to erase the British connection by renaming streets and roads and stations and what have you; but this “Power Dress” for men has firmly entrenched itself in the Indian man’s wardrobe. While our traditional wear is undoubtedly a symbol of grace and ethnicity; the suit is also unarguably a symbol of formal sartorial elegance. A well-suited-booted person exudes a suave, sophisticated, cool confidence; never mind if the chap is sweating nervously and profusely beneath it!
I have fond memories of my dad, then the HOD of the Department of Medicine in Goa Medical College, getting ready for work every morning – a full-sleeved formal shirt, dark trousers and unfailingly, come rain or shine, a perfectly knotted tie. And, it was a pleasant surprise to discover on a recent visit to Goa, that his past students and some old patients too, still had similar memories of him thus attired. His formal dark blue suit would make its appearance for official functions, Conferences and the occasional High Tea at the Governor’s Palace. We three children would occupy ring-side seats and watch as mother ceremoniously brushed down the coat with a special coat brush; and dad then wore it with a flourish!
And now, it’s my son’s turn, as he comes home for semester vacations and informs us that he needs a suit for next term. It’s time for batch photographs, he tells us. Excited at this new phase in our son’s life, we make the rounds of the garment outlets in India to buy him his first suit.
“Bespoke suits” proclaims one shop. “Suits made to order” advertises a second. “A guide to the well-dressed man” announces a third. We are slightly intimidated by the varieties on display inside the shop – Single-breasted, double-breasted, lounge suits, zoot suits, tuxedos, dinner suits, business suits…….. And it certainly doesn’t help when we run up against life-size cut outs of Bond 007, in his signature dress-to-kill suits, placed strategically around the show room. Every time I put out a hand to inspect any item from a rack, I instinctively steal a look at this ultimate fashion icon, dressed effortlessly and impeccably in the latest style and I seem to sense a mild disapproval at my selection (or is it just my imagination?) !!! So we are secretly relieved when a shop attendant, himself clad in a discreet suit, takes us under his wings and educates us on the various intricacies involving a well-cut suit. He talks knowledgeably and lengthily about drape and cut and seam and so forth; and we nod our heads trying to keep pace with him. My almost girlish excitement at having to select a suit for my young son doesn’t seem to affect him. He has, after all, on many occasions, helped parents select a suit for their child’s kindergarten Convocation Ceremony!! So he has this indulgent but amused look on his face as he takes us around the show room and helps us make the final selection.
As we leave the shop, my attention is drawn to the adjacent building, which happens to be a court. Several aspiring lawyers and established advocates mill around busily. Most are clad in their trademark black coats while some have them draped on one arm, with the other arm holding thick bulging files. They look smart and reassuring and capable of interpreting whatever those files contain – a bail plea maybe, or affidavits in triplicate or subpoenas……. all probably beginning with the words “Here to fore…….” and “notwithstanding…..” and “whereas the plaintiff…..”!!
As we cross the black-coated area and make our way back home, I am reminded of a late uncle, a popular practitioner of Alternative Medicine, who would invariably be ensconced in a thick black coat over a spotless white dhoti, while he and his faithful compounder dispensed rainbow colored potions from little bottles. It used to be quite a sight, believe me, as, on rare occasions, this tall figure in black and white cycled majestically up the country path to attend a house call which was not easily accessible in his 4 wheeler!
Later in the day, I watch as my son tries on his new suit. I look at his suited-booted reflection in the mirror and realise that he looks all grown up, all of a sudden, and I typically and predictably, go misty-eyed. I wonder where the years between his diaper days to his suit days have raced by ! When I get my mobile phone out and make preparations to take his picture, he tries to resist at first; but then sensing my disappointment, he gives in and with a resigned look he strikes a pose, telling me “Ok fine…… suit yourself!”