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Dressed to pray

Men will object to the dress ritual imposed in places of worship, but will strictly adhere to the rules at their work places, writes Dilip Raote.

india Updated: Aug 08, 2007 04:56 IST

There is a demand to impose a dress code on women visiting the Tirupati temple. Nothing startling about that. Places of worship of all religions have a dress code for devotees. The Tirupati temple management may give in to this demand, and will be dismissed by secularists as a decadent orthodox lot.

In a way, the secularists are right. The rules of places of worship are indeed stuck in the ancient past. Because people wore a certain dress at the time of the founding of the religion, it is made the rule. No advances in fashion and technology are allowed.

But, these shrines adopt the latest technologies where necessary. If only ancient practices were acceptable, then there should be no piped water supply, no electricity, no airconditioning, no sound and TV systems, no computers, and no computerised ticketing for deity darshan.

The Tirupati controversy reminds me of my experience in Kerala many years ago. I was dressed in shorts and T-shirt and wandering in a village. I saw a nice temple and entered the compound. I got hostile looks. I was given prasad but told that shorts are not allowed. Inside I saw a couple of fellows in double-decker lungi (or veshti). Later, I told my hosts that shorts were an advanced version of the veshti. It did not slip, it had pockets, and when you sat you did not display your underwear. The hosts laughed, but said my ideas were too advanced.

The dress code business is funny. People, men in particular, will object to the dress ritual imposed in places of worship, but will strictly adhere to the rules at their work places. So, all working men look uniformly dull. In urban areas they wear dark trousers or jeans and shirts. Those in senior posts or with upwardly mobile ambitions display necktie nooses. Others show off ID tags around their necks — like bar-coded goods in a mall.

But women have the freedom to wear anything —short skirts, long skirts, shorts, jeans and T-shirts, salwar-kameez, six-yard saree, nine-yard saree, burqa, or whatever. And these dresses are in all kinds of colours. Imagine offices without women. How dull, how colourless, how like a military camp they would be! Men do not object to the dress code imposed on them. They don’t have the imagination to demand the same right to the freedom of attire that women have. It just shows that men can be easily tamed into linear thinking.

Fortunately, I did not go through this orthodoxy phase. When I left school I took a vow that I would never work for an organisation where I had to wear a tie. I became a journalist and went to work in shorts and T-shirt, pajama-kurta, Pathan dress, coloured/ white lungi and kurta. No boss objected. No security guard stopped me. Perhaps journalists were not social climbers in those days. Irreverence was encouraged. Ah, how time flies!