Of lungis and national pride
Nazim Farhan Choudhury

“Choli ke piche kya hai? (What’s behind the blouse?)” was a song that sent India into a tailspin in the early 90s. The moral brigade termed it vulgar. A lot of us sniggered at the provocative innuendo. I think what was forgotten was the following line that answered: the heart is behind.
I wonder if the members of the Baridhara Society (appropriately BS) ever heard that song.

Their version must be wondering what’s under the lungi? Hmm. Actually, what does the lungi connote? Why did it send a section of the Bangladeshi social media scene into a tizzy? What was so harmful that it required police in riot gear and shotguns to stop a group of lungi clad youngsters from going to Baridhara? But most importantly, why did BS think it was not up to snuff to be worn in their neighbourhood?

I initially thought the ban was so ridiculous that it must have been a publicity stunt by a lungi manufacturer who recently launched a television commercial where it showed Bangladeshis marching with pride in their national dress. Is it our national dress?

I will argue it is the most popular dress. Well, maybe after the sari. But somewhere in our desire to move up the social standing we seem to have abandoned it. So, the higher one goes up the ladder, the more “western” the attire. I find it absurd that in the heat of the summer I have salesmen making calls in full business attire.

I myself did that when I first joined the work force. Matter of fact, I had quite an enviable tie collection. In the initial days I found that if I wore it to a new office, I was ushered into the inside meeting rooms rather than waiting unceremoniously at the common reception waiting area. Within a few years I found myself outside again. It was then that I noticed other salesmen wearing the tie and I was no exception. So I abandoned it in favour of an open collar shirt and jacket.

Back I was in the board room. That’s when it struck me that in corporate Bangladesh, clothes did make the man!

I was introduced to the lungi when I was 12 by my father. I wore it for a few years before going off to boarding school and subsequently university where I moved to pajamas and boxers. I rediscovered the lungi after a trip to Cox’s Bazar where I picked up a few from the Burmese market. Over the last 18-20 years it has been what I slip into as soon as I reach home. Aaahh! As another television commercial said: “Nothing more Aaram!”

I have thought of wearing the garment out in public a few times, but actually never had the guts to. I often wondered to myself why. I still remember seeing a particular celebrity chef who I saw wearing one at a wedding, and thought to myself how well he carried it off. During my high school days in Tamilnadu, it used to be the formal dress. A compulsory attire for weddings and such. But here we rather wear a suit or at best a “punjabi.”

So what is our national dress? Our founding father popularised the sleeveless coat. President Zia the safari suit. President Ershad the achkan. But none are practical for the Bangladeshi weather. The punjabi, as the name suggests isn’t some thing what was invented here. Matter of fact another popular outfit is the Arab robe that is common amongst mostly religious men. Interestingly the Arabs also wear a lungi like garment called the izaar. The lungi can and should therefore be the prime candidate for the position.

Now if that is the case, should we not see a full adoption of it in our everyday work and social life? This is clearly not the case. We have lost our sense of pride and identity, and we have a misguided belief that everything international is “modern.” This is sad - because if “dil” (heart) was behind the choli (blouse) surely our national pride is beneath our lungis! 

Nazim Farhan Choudhury is Managing Director, ADCOMM Ltd.
 

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Nazim Farhan Choudhury

Nazim Farhan Choudhury is Managing Director, Adcomm Limited.