I came across a tweet today from a person who calls themselves a corporate leadership coach – a photo of someone in their pyjamas at breakfast in a ‘business’ hotel, with a narrative of how there are etiquettes on what to wear to breakfast at a business hotel, in the business lounge where there are numerous others having breakfast meetings in their business suits. Someone else responded to it with how a woman comes in pyjamas to the lake where they go for a run, and they feel like having a chat with them about the attire.
Got me thinking.
I was born and brought up in super conservative and traditional Chennai. But, somehow, for all the rules and discipline my parents enforced upon me, they never really thought much about what was appropriate for me to wear. I myself was not (still am not) super comfortable with my body, large made as I was (am), so I ended up dressing in clothes that covered me up, if not in the traditional sense. That is to say, I didn’t own even a single 'pavadai thavani', but I did own a lot of nice long skirts and pretty tops, even super cool long dresses.
So, this was early adolescence, and I was on a roll as far as the Veena playing was concerned. My teacher believed I was going to go places* (hey, it’s ok to brag sometimes) and my parents (who thought the world of my teacher, easily the best Veena teacher in town) lapped up her words instantly. Chennai being Chennai had multitudes of music competitions across the city, and my parents would take me to contest in them, whenever I could. Which wasn’t too many times, because, it had to be a Sunday, no tests / exams the next day, daughter shouldn’t be looking ill else it will tire her out etc etc. So, some limited competitions I attended. And always in dresses I liked to wear. Which would inevitably be my ‘lucky’ dress, the one I wore when I won the first prize in a competition for the first time. Anyway, this one time, I think it was in a competition conducted by the Tambras Foundation, the organizers had a problem with my attire. “Why isn’t she in traditional wear? How can we let her go up in this?”, they said. Incidentally, I was wearing a salwar suit that day (my lucky dress having gone through significant wear and tear). Dress codes hadn't been mentioned in the rules and regulations, so after a bit of back and forth dialogue, I eventually played in the competition. But, I didn’t win. I have wondered forever whether it was because all the others were in traditional wear while I wasn’t.
It was a strange moment for me, this whole dressing-up-in-a-certain-way-for-a-certain-thing thing. My parents had never told me that. They had only told me to practice well and perform on stage, they had never told me there was a costume code. They, of course, didn’t know. Anyway, that incident made me mighty defiant, and to this date, I have tried not to wear something traditional when am doing something traditional, like playing the Veena (whether playing the Veena is just a traditional affair is fodder for another post). Today, when I look back, I have more clarity about why I was and am in the right. I had gone to play the Veena, and I went dressed in something that would give me comfort, so I could give ‘playing Veena’ my best shot. I wasn’t there to give my best shot at role playing a traditional sweet looking girl posing for a photo op with the Veena in hand.
Coming back to the tweets I read today, I would apply the same logic. The person who came for breakfast didn’t come for a business meeting. He/she was just having breakfast. So what if it’s a business hotel. As long as the hotel didn’t enforce any strict rules on what to wear to the spaces outside the rooms, it didn’t matter. If people were getting distracted from their breakfast meetings to look at the person wearing pyjamas and clicking a pic to post to Twitter (which is a bigger and graver mistake than wearing pyjamas to breakfast in a business lounge), I would wonder how focused these attendees were on their own meetings. And as to the person jogging by the lake, if we could only focus on our running and jogging, we wouldn’t really notice or bother even if the rest of the world is taking a naked sunbath by the lake. Jogging in a public space is no private moment, so our dressing sensibilities cannot be imposed upon others.
*Cheap insert: I have resumed Veena playing after a long time. You can listen to some Filmi music on my Youtube channel