Thursday, November 18, 2004

Handkerchief: the Indian accessory

Ever entered a bus or a train in India and spotted an empty window tantalisingly close to you? You move ahead in excitement, with a mix of joy and trepidation, pushing through people just enough to still be on the right side of politeness, with starry eyes dreaming of a great time staring into the world outside. You overcome your obstacles, gather yourself for the final step, hold you head high, survey the vanquished around you and with a solemn sense of pride and responsibility, lower your body to the seat .... when someone shouts out to you, "Arre bhai sahab, woh jagah meri hai". You turn around, half perplexed, half vexed to spot the face that spit out those words. But the face is nowhere to be spotted. It was if God had spoken. Oddly enough, God seems to be speaking to me from outside the confines of the bus. In fact, from right outside the window. I spotted the face of God and it was triumphant. Annoyed like a little child, I asked God insolently, "Yahan pehle main aaya tha!". "Haan", continued God, "par maine apna rumaal rakh diya tha". There it was, irrefutable, non-disputable logic. God had extended his kingdom with a piece of cloth. Rumaal Rules!!

That, of course, is one among the many uses of the handkerchief, which I am convinced, is solely an Indian phenomenon. Not for us masses the tissues that everyone uses in the US. We want our handkerchiefs and we want them the way we like them: different sizes, different colors, embroidered with the man's initial, dark in colour to make dirt look part of the makeup, white in colour so that you could wipe your brow and comment "My God, this place is so polluted", qualified enough to be gifted in a pack of six, and used in the household for many purposes.

Oh, that Indian handkerchief. How else would a typical Bollywood scene come through where the 35 something hero chases a 18 something girl with a handkerchief to ask her "Excuse me miss, aapka rumaal shaayad gir gaya tha"

Oh, that Indian handkerchief. How would people on two-wheelers in Ahmedabad cover their faces in blistering summer heat and still not pass off as terrorists? How would I have passed those evenings in Saki Naka (the most polluted square in the world) where the bus would take 40 minutes to cross a traffic signal without covering my mouth? How much more would have we sweaty Indians reeked without it?

I don't know how the rest of the world survives without it. They must have tried and given up, unable to cope up with the cultural might of the handkerchief. Maybe they threw in the towel early, and waved, what else, the white handkerchief.


Manjusha said...

Hilarious! :)

A gentleman picking up & returning a lady's handkerchief had been considered an act of chivalry...of course a lot of women started dropping their hankies on purpose in front poor unsuspecting men...but that's a different story.

In fact it's gone through overkill with TV ads flooding the media with the girl-guy-rumaal concept.

Miss J said...

I wasnt aware that the humble hanky is an Indian concept. Probably it was replaced by tissues years ago in other places while we stick to our traditions. But even that is changing nowadays, with the wet tissues, paper towels etc catching up! While tissues are more hygienic, I shudder at the thought of all the trees being cut down. Someone tell me that its not the case!

Gosh, my comment appears serious and out of place in an otherwise humorous post!!

Avinash said...

I am surprised u forgot one more use of the hanky, one I saw most frequently in Bollywood movies. The hero, or more often the villian, checking that his hanky is loaded with enuf perfume (at least I have convinced myself that, that is the case) before handing it over to a sobbing heroine. :-)

Parth said...

Avinash, I wanted to describe how the image of Pran raising an eyebrow while checking the amount of scent on his kerchief before passing it to the heroine while Shammi passionately rendered 'Dil Ke Jharoke Mein' is completely ensconsed in my mind. But that would be overkill :-)

Jahnvi, I don't know if the handkerchief was invented in India. I just feel it was always meant for India. On the subject of conservation, sample this. Most of us go to do groceries and end up using tons of non-bio-degradable plastic bags. My mom and aunt etc. would simply take a couple of cloth bags to the market and get their vegetables. Smart, efficient and in harmony with nature.

Manjusha, wonder if it happens to women in real life? I know I haven't chased anyone down with a handkerchief :-)

Akruti said...

Hmm,remember Amitab in his first movie with a hanki around his neck chasing aroonairani,wow Parth,i ended my day with laughing like anything,and tomorrow morning before i take a fresh hanki from my cubboard i will remember u r post.niceone{lol}

Sarita said...

Good one !! I did'nt quite realised the hankerchief was so unique to us desis ...up until now. Maybe because I was not much of a 'hanky' girl. I used to feel kind of restricted and felt it gave a very 'behanji' effect!!

phucker said...

I have a deeper question - What came first - the 'Rumaal' (Hanky) or the Rumaali Roti?

Geetanjali said...

The Hanky sure has dwindled to become an Indian phenomenon - infact in Europe, if they see you blowing your nose into a hanky, it's considered highly unhygienic...try as you might, they can not understand that tissue papers are too fragile to blow your nose into; not to mention, they leave my nose feeling bruised and abused!
You write damn well!

Geetanjali said...

And I second what you said about Saki Naka - I've actually taken over an hour at one time, to cross that damned signal! One thing I do not miss about B'bay!