April 18, 2010
Can you imagine wearing Lungi, which is perhaps the undeclared official attire for men in Kerala – widely known as God’s Own Country – or the Mundu/Dhoti that enjoys similar status in Tamil Nadu and even Sri Lanka, being considered indecent?
Well, that is exactly what is happening in Sharjah, one of the seven among the United Arab Emirates (UAE) – barely an hour’s drive away from the internationally famous business and trade centre of Dubai in the Middle-East. Of course, men found wearing Lungis and strolling in the public (and not in their private homes) are being arrested by the Sharjah police.
It is quite surprising that the ubiquitous lungi, mundu, doti or its equivalent garments used mostly by men but also by women in some states and countries should be targeted as an indecent dress, when skimpy and revealing dresses are considered quite fashionable. Incidentally, the lungi and equivalent garments are being singled out after the ban on burkha by France and many other European countries.
Newspaper readers must have read reports and articles about Sharjah police launching a crackdown of men found wearing Lungis or its equivalent wraparound dress for men like Mundus and strolling in the public. Indians, particularly Malayalis and others as well as Tamilians from Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka, who have been at the receiving end of the Sharjah police are understably quite peeved and incensed.
"Wear your lungi or mundu, if you like. But in your home and not in public,” is the message that comes out in Sharjah. The issue gained so much public attention that many newspapers in the Gulf as well as in India, including the financial daily, The Economic Times, did carry several news reports and articles on the issue.
Senior police officials of Sharjah, according to newspaper reports, contended that wearing indecent and revealing clothes in public is not allowed. They, however, have not explicitly stated whether wearing Lungis in public is banned. ``There is a decency law in place for over a decade in Sharjah and all people are expected to wear decent clothes in public,’’ is a police officer’s comment, which had been published in Gulf News.
But then, there is no official word as yet. However, male passengers flying on the Kozhikode-Sharjah flight are being privately advised that they better change into pants before disembarking in Sharjah.
The move has already caused consternation among Indians, mainly Malayalees, Tamilians and Telugus, who are fond of slipping into the most traditional and convenient lungi or mundu working in the Gulf countries as soon as they reach home after a day’s hard work. The lungi is plain white cloth is generally known as mundu, which sometimes comes with a colour or golden border.
While it is doubtful whether there can be any legal recourse, even if the Sharjah authorities come out with some sort of ban against the wearing of lungi or mundu, the online community and some newspapers in Kerala and Tamil Nadu have already started a low-key campaign trying to build pressure on union minister of state for external affairs Shashi Tharoor and union defence minister A K Antony as well as union home minister P Chidambaram and others who always were the traditional dress should do something even take up the issue with the Sharjah authorities through the UAE government as after all, what happens in one of the Gulf could conveniently be repeated in other parts as well.
Lungi is a piece of brightly coloured silk or cotton cloth that is wrapped and tried around the waist. It covers the knees and even is allowed to flow till the ankles. It is worn in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Sri Lank, Indonesia, Malaysia, Indonesia and other South Asian countries but with different names. It is worn by men and/or women. In India too, apart from Kerala, Tamil Nadu or Andhra Pradesh, lungi or mundu or its equivalent garments are quite popular in Gujarat, Rajasthan, West Bengal and many other states.
They are tied or fastened in various ways and can be used in different cultural activities, ranging from normal daily life to elaborate wedding ceremonies. For daily purposes, a simple ``double twist knot’’ is most popular, where two points in the upper edge of lungi are brought together and twisted around twice, with the ends tucked in at the waist. However, it is also common for wearers to simply tie a double ``pretzel knot” from two points on the upper border, which produces a more secure knot. The lungi's length can also be adjusted, for example, by tucking in the lungi at the waist to make it resemble a short skirt.
Unlike dhotis or Sarong, which are linear like sheets, lungis are often sewn into a tube-like shape and worn like a skirt by men. The upper edge of the lungi are often tied at its upper edge and tied around the waist. In Mayanmar, lungi is called longyi in Burmese while in Somalia the garment is generally referred as a macawis and is commonly worn by Somali men as casual wear.
Incidentally, in Tamil Nadu, mundu or the equivalent of lungi is mostly worn in a different fashion than in Kerala. The garment is known as Kalli or Saaram/Chaaram in southern Tamil Nadu. It is generally tied at the right side, Tamilians tie it on the left. Even some Muslim communities in Kerala are known to wearing mundu on the right. In Yemen, the garment is known as Futah and is generally worn by men of all ages, it is known as Izaar in Oman.
There are cotton, batik or silk lungis, which are used as a convenient garment for daily usage or even fashionably worn on ceremonial occasions at home. In Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh or Sri Lanka, Mayanmar or Pakistan and Bangladesh men as well as women also wear the lungi or mundu indoors and sometimes even outdoors, while engaged in manual labour. It can be worn any time of the day and even while sleeping. In some places, people are known use the lungi or mundu as bedsheets while sleeping. Well, the lungi is really universal in appeal and convenience.
While men in most Western countries and even former colonies of British or French generally prefer pants and other western garments, lungis, mundus or other skirt-type of garments are quite popular in many Asian countries for work, play and formal as well as casual occasions. They have the advantage as being quite cool in hot climates and are considered convenient and non-constricting.
Of course, there are several jokes floating around about people wearing lungi, mundu or dhotis and equivalent garments. But then such jokes are quite common and normal and still popular among most Mangaloreans.
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