An old saying — Gujarati perhaps— goes thus: The Maya of money makes you do everything, even flash the Codenani or grandmother of all codes.
Neither Thakurmar Jhuli Grandmother’s Tales nor Panchatantra or Jataka Tales touched the towel, probably because they weren’t aware those days that the rustic ‘gamchha’ — allegedly the stork’s favourite for delivering babies in — had an urbane avatar. English writer Douglas Noel Adams did, in his cult series The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
Adams waxed eloquent on the versatility of the towel, which is ‘about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have’. He underscored the drying-wiping piece of cotton or rayon fabric’s (let’s cut the paper towels out) great practical value during asteroid, satellite or planet-hopping.
For instance, you can use it as a shawl for warmth across the cold moons of Jaglan Beta or lie on it on the beaches of Santraginus V or use it as a blanket to sleep under on arid planet Kafrakoon. You can also turn it into a sail to navigate River Moth on a mini-raft, or gloves for hand-to-hand combat, or a face mask as protection from noxious fumes.
The towel has immense psychological value too, more so for a strag or non-hitchhiker. A typical strag, Adams said, thinks a man is to be reckoned with if he can thumb a lift across the galaxy, win against terrible odds and still know where his towel is.
The towel can be waved in emergencies as a distress signal too. Adams forgot to tell us about a different kind of signalling, maybe because he didn’t consider cricket an emergency.
It is improbable that an Englishman was not familiar with a 22-yard space and balls sent into orbit. But cricket during Adams’ hitchhiking days was more about lever-aging the ball with Vaseline than swinging an over by tucking in a towel.
And it was an era when a towel either carried a barcode or post-purchase, a solitary code in boxing — to be thrown in as a token of defeat from the corner of the chap who couldn’t take it anymore.
In a country where ‘ghoos’ invariably takes the sting out of a ‘ghoosa’, space travel is often restricted to a universe called cricket field filled with a galaxy of stars. And bookies are hitchhikers adept in towel tantra.
One of those stars had in the 1994 film Eena Meena Deeka stepped out in a towel for Rishi Kapoor to lip-sync ‘Towel me baahar jaogi toh halla mach jayega...’
As a hitchhiker of the interstellar kind grounded for good — spot-fixed, if you may — I could do without the halla bol that has apparently Rajastunned the royals.
So I tuned in to another station on the Sree-band radio. Papa Kapoor gave way to Ranbir as the radio sighed Sawaariyaaaah...
Towel dance on Towel Day (May 25)? Adams won’t signal no-ball, you can bet on it.