Friday, January 23, 2009

Gone Native



Everyone has had that dream. You know the one. You have a big important speech to make in front of a large crowd, and when you get up to make it, a wave of laughter ripples through the crowd. You look down, and only then you realize that you're not wearing pants.

The day started off well. For a few weeks now, I have been trying to master the art of wearing a lunghi. The lunghi is what most men in Southern India wear instead of pants. It's basically a sheet of cloth, and it covers a gent from the waist down. It can be worn in either the long form, where the cloth border grazes your toes, or the short form, where the fold is above the knee. It's the South Indian form of shorts.

When I first got here, I must confess it was a bit disconcerting to see men walking down the street together holding hands, and sporting these long flowing dresses. Then I got to thinking that they thought I was the strange one for sticking, and I do mean sticking, to the Eddie Bauer canvas shorts and Joe Boxer briefs. My way of thinking began to change a little. Then, on a warm and romantic evening, my landlord, Stanley, clasped my hand and held it for much much longer than a Canadian guy is normally comfortable with. If I had a predilection for steam baths and Judy Garland, perhaps it would be different. Laurel was on Stanley's roof with us, and she caught my discomfort immediately. She smiled a smile that said "don't you dare offend this man by letting go of his hand". She who must be obeyed. So I went with it. It was much the same feeling as the first time I ate sushi 25 years ago. A real battle between intellectual curiosity and years of conditioning. I fought the impulse to withdraw my hand, fake a yawn, and make an excuse to leave immediately. Stanley eventually let go of my hand, and when he failed to ask me to spend the summer with him on a Greek island, I realized that this was actually kind of cool. I'm good with this.

So next comes the lunghi. I bought two of them. Then I had to figure out how to tie one. This was no easy task. Thank god for YouTube. I found out that Christians and Hindus wear theirs with the seam to the right side, and Muslims wear it to the left. I'm living in a mostly Christian neighbourhood, so I dressed right. I practiced for a while and started to wear one around the house. After a few days of this, I felt a little more comfy. I must admit that on a hot day, there's nothing like the feeling of some fresh air circulating around the old twig and berries. I got bolder. I decided to wear one outside and go shopping. To the strains of "Thus Spake Zarathustra", I opened the gate and walked out into the street. It was pretty hard to shake the feeling of self consciousness. I was convinced that I was wearing it wrong, and that every passing person was staring and quietly clucking and sucking air through their teeth. The men here make it look so easy. For all I knew there was this secret subtle code in the way the thing was tied or folded, the infinite variations of which indicated your caste, sexual orientation, IQ, and yearly income. For all I knew, my lunghi boldly announced to the world that I was a retarded asexual with very little money in the bank. At least one of those statements is true. Still, I soldiered on in a mix of blissful ignorance and abject fear. I made it home with groceries and a beer, and it had not fallen off. Life was good.

Yesterday, I had a breakthrough in folding the damn thing. I found a way to do it that let the lunghi stay on for the entire day without having to be re-tied every 15 minutes. My confidence rose, and my inner soundtrack went from "Thus Spake" to "The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly". I positively swaggered down the street, feeling fairly invincible with my new tying technique. I was a baddass in a strip of cloth. I had been invited down to the office of Rajesh and Gee in the afternoon, and when I arrived, there were high fives and "looking good man!" comments. I listened hard for that hint of mocking, but there was was none. Then I sat in one of the office chairs and nearly did a pretty spot on Sharon Stone impersonation. However, it would seem that I had gotten over the barrier. I was comfy in a lunghi. Then we went out for dinner.

The whole family returned to the North Indian place off Broadway for more of the Aloo Parotta. The proprietor was thrilled that the boys were capable of eating chilis, and treated them both to a complimentary lassi. We ate and ate and ate. Then, as I got up to wash my hands, I felt the lunghi give around the waist. Horrified, I sat back down to contemplate just how I was going to re-tie this thing in a crowded restaurant. While still seated, I ended up accidentally tying one bottom corner to the waist, and I became hopeless tangled. Gandhi in a homespun mobius strip. Eventually, I got it sorted, but not before turning several shades of red in the process. We paid the bill and left, and in the privacy of a darkened narrow lane, I readjusted for the rickshaw ride home.

No matter. I had fought the lunghi... and won.

4 comments:

Tapas and Dim Sum said...

Good on you Robert! Baby steps...next comes the manscaping?

svenj said...

Feel the fear...and hold hands anyways...Couldn't help but hear the strains of Dan Hill's "Sometimes When We Touch..." was it the right hand??

Rob Bailey said...

My right.... his left

jcree said...

Twigs and berries?
Gee, I would have taken you for a 'sausage and beans' kinda guy.

:)