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It’s way hip now to be square

columns Updated: Apr 25, 2009 19:09 IST
Renuka Narayanan

The Taliban may be stupid enough to want non-Muslims in Swat to wear yellow bands like the Nazis made the Jews wear yellow stars. But since 2009 began, there’s been a silent fashion statement appearing in Delhi as a putdown of hate ideologies. It’s the kaffiyeh (yashmarg/yashmak in Turkish), that square, checked Arab headcloth that’s now draped around young Indian necks, picking up on the international trend. Musicians (see VH1), models (right), journalist-models (extreme right).

Of course, America and Europe did it first and have had a hand in the game since almost 30 years. Those three decades were our get-used-to-terrorism years in India. And now, after the enormity of 26/11, we seem to have transcended into a realm of artistry/fashion statement that positively exudes ‘Gandhigiri’ and also works at many other levels.

It’s got solidarity with all the good guys and gals in the ummah who have got a bad name for no fault of theirs. It showcases the trickledown into the subconscious of the biggest buzz worldwide: ‘Islamist terrorism’ and its most visible identifier but takes away their big symbol from them, turning it into a gentle personal fashion statement. It recognizes the kaffiyeh for its intrinsic coolth and attitude. It celebrates… oh, everything! Being young, being alive, having attitude, having a neck, having Rs 70, in Delhi’s case, to pick up a kaffiyeh from either the Jama Masjid area or Sarojini Nagar Market (Delhi’s equivalent of Mumbai’s Fashion Street). Sarojini Nagar Market is also where the bombs went off not too long ago. It’s also how some Delhiites, men and women, show their insouciance.

It’s all of a piece with enduring icons like Che – this week I spotted Che’s face six times on bags, tees, badges, posters and more tees. Don’t know about you, but I feel very comforted that the world is proceeding as it ought if people are still putting Che out on their persona and spaces.

Some day when it all settles down, as it must, we’ll be glad about those kaffiyehs, glad they were worn as personal statements and silent shows of friendship and goodwill (and even by left-wing Israelis in Berkeley!). It’s rather like how Madonna made wearing a cross chic.

What about the colour saffron? Perfectly nice people shied away from wearing it but today Hindus have gotten over the taint and have taken their colour back though a counter-culture fashion statement is still awaited. Saffron-wearers have to get over their earnestness and passive-aggressiveness first before saffron can get cool.

But, if you’re too shy to wear a kaffiyeh, here’s some dope on it...

The plain white square is called a gutrah and worn in the Gulf States and in Saudi Arabia. They wear a ‘taqiah’ (pillow) under it some times.

The red-and-white checked square with jolly bobbles edging it is pan-Arab and of Jordanian origin (Jordanian men in Amman and Petra are quite a festive sight striding by with kaffiyehs draped grandly around their heads).

The black and white check, worn by Palestinian peasants, became a symbol of the Arab struggle in the 1930s and Yasser Arafat of the PLO made it the international symbol of the Intifada.

Check it out.