YOU should ‘always be well turned out,” this was the jewel of advice for appropriate appearance that my father gave me. Although the idea stuck and pushed me to take great pains at dressing up right, during my tennis career, it often took a toll on my performance!
In time, the jewel was lost, as I felt that repeating a “winning garment” during a tournament —washing only its armpit section— was the true mantra for winning! Many a winning thus rested solely on superstition. For the times it worked, my resolve only became stronger.
Years later, when I graduated to matrimony, my father’s jewel struck again. I was reprimanded often for not appearing as a newly-wed. A crackpot neighbour added fuel to the fire with his comment: “How has she been kept in the family without any jewellery?” It stung my in-laws! I escaped from the caustic remark as the entire neighbourhood considered him a crackpot.
Miscellaneous excuses. Heat, itching, rash etc helped me to shun customary bangles and my only daily accessory remained a watch, till a younger cousin advised how true dress sense plays many a trick. The shopkeeper is attentive, people flock to you, chat more openly…
I took the baggage of “well-turned-out” with me yet again when I entered newspaper reporting. Thus, politician’s interviews were forthcoming. Dignitaries prioritised my query, refreshments arrived as I waited. Undoubtedly, it felt superb. Initially I felt like a hypocrite but later drew myself as an “expert”.
In my enthusiasm to share my good fortune from the jewel, I pushed this advice: “Look your best when you go for an interview”, I told a senior journalist on her assignment to the university.
Elated, she shored her tresses of rubber bands and went all loose-haired, smart in the hottest month of June! A few kilometres further, sweating and panting, her struggle for a lone rubber band proved futile. Fanning herself and holding her hair in a mock knot, a clerk seeing her dishevelled, promptly handed her a stapler: “This is all I have”. Surely cursing me, she stapled with the oddity! Pulling hair over the silver staples, wishing them to be invisible to the interviewee!
At another time, on a reporting assignment in Pakistan, a fellow journalist washed her crinkly hair. In their washed state, I complimented that her hair reminded me of Bollywood actress Kangna Raunaut’s curls. Her thrill to be the actress’s look-alike was only short lived. During the Punjabi “boliyan” session when the Indian jatha jumped into bhangra mode, a cocky devotee sang: “bari barsi khatan gaya si, khat ke liyandi chhoti bhen, , mainu ki pata si oh vichon “niklegi daain” and pulled the “Kangna” to dance the “bhangra”.
The cutting look she gave me stays with me.
The article was first published in The Tribune’s Editorial Page no 8 on October 1,2009
All mails can be posted at Letters@tribuneindia.com— Editor-in-Chief