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Cross-dressing ki jai!

india Updated: Nov 20, 2011 11:43 IST
Hindustan Times
The Pundit

What is it about our worthies that make them infuse everything with utter seriousness? Never mind that Congressman Janardan Dwivedi didn’t need to make the incident of a man (unsuccessfully) throwing a shoe at him anything other than the slapstick comedy that it was.

But what made Mr Dwivedi take a pot shot at Ramdev’s slipping into a salwar kameez while leaving Delhi on Sunday? “Satyagrahis don’t run away wearing women's clothes. They fight,” Mr Dwivedi said.

We’re sure what he meant was that male satyagrahis don’t wear women’s clothes. Coming from a Congressman, we’re doubtful whether he was saying that no satyagrahis wear women’s clothes. But we’ll let that pass.

What we don't feel like letting pass, however, is Mr Dwivedi’s insinuation that cross-dressers are morally dodgy and are fundamentally cowards. We couldn’t find anything from Mahatma Gandhi on the subject, but the Mahabharata — surely not an RSS text — says a few things about men donning women’s clothes.

Arjuna dressed up as a woman to ‘become’ Brihannala during the last year of the Pandavas’ exile. While he was a bit upset — being cursed by the apsara Urvashi after he had rebuffed her advances and was turned into a ‘kliba’ (man who dressed and behaved as a woman) — it was Krishna who told him the advantages of cross-dressing.

The Mahabharata says that Arjuna wearing red silk, long hair and bangles as Brihannala hid his ‘masculine glory’ without eclipsing it “like Ketu covering the full moon”.

Cross-dressing gets its biggest support from Lord Krishna himself, who regularly wore Radha’s earrings, skirt, blouse and shawl — while his belle donned his clothes, peacock-feathered crown and flute included.

Men dressing up like women and women dressing up like men isn’t something restricted to the champagne-sodden decadence of the 1920s Berlin of Marlene Dietrich. I

t’s also traditionally part and parcel of the ‘sakhi-bekhi’ cult of Vaishnavism. Baba Ramdev certainly has many things going against him. But if he decided to play Mama Ramdev for a bit, we certainly won’t fault him that.