Men in Skirts or How I Long for a Lungi

Laborers with Hiked Up Lungis

Laborers with Hiked Up Lungis

My love and admiration for the lungi, Indian male version of the sarong, was immediate and all-encompassing and I started to wear it at home as lounge-wear . From its comfort and simplicity, versatility and multifunction to its unique designs, I fell in love with this traditional Indian menswear staple.

When I began to search for information about its history, I didn’t come up with much. This must have to do with its universality and simplicity. Every culture under the sun must have had something that resembles a lungi because it is only a rectangular piece of cloth. The differences are in the details: the dimensions, the textile design and the way it gets tied, wrapped and worn.

I did learn from my research that the lungi is also worn by women but I have never seen a woman in India wearing one, though in Southeast Asia it is common. Today, women wear this garment mostly for ceremonies and rituals.

There are two basic lungi styles: the open rectangle that wraps around the waist like a bath towel and the rectangle that gets stitched closed into a tube. My observation is that the Muslim men favor the closed tube style, usually in plaid patterns with a preference for blues. The Hindus prefer solid colors but not exclusively and their lungis usually have a hand-woven border at the bottom and top. Fishermen like prints and bold weaves.

Lungis are more prevalent in South India because of the extreme heat and the impracticability of trousers. Laborers in particular favor wearing lungis while they work, though they are often seen re-wrapping and adjusting them and shortening the length by folding it at the hem and tucking the remaining fabric into the waist, revealing a miniskirt of sorts, usually with boxer shorts worn underneath.

Plaid Lungi

Check  Lungi

Plaid Lungi

Plaid Lungi

Adjusting the Lungi

Adjusting the Open Style Lungi

Temple Priests in Training

Temple Priests in Training

 

Merchant with Mundu

Merchant with Mundu

The mundu is in a class above the lungi. It is white or cream-colored and always has a border that varies in width, color and intricacy of weave and is more costly than the lungi.

Mundu with Wide Border

Mundu with Wide Border

In South India most temples require that men enter bare-chested and dressed in a lungi. Priests usually wear lungis too.

Jain Priest

Jain Priest

Though the lungi is a male garment, I have adopted it with enthusiasm but I rarely venture outside dressed in one. It is so comfortable for lounging and is so forgiving, accommodating any change in size! I have also made my own stylistic versions, tying it at chest level to create a dress. I can sleep in it, lounge in it, wear it as a beach cover-up, wear it as a scarf and use it as an impromptu sheet, just to name a few of its endless possibilities. Whether at home in the city or on the road, I long for my lungi. It comforts me.

 

 

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The Thali at the Annapurna Restaurant in Kutch

The Menu Board

The Menu Board

In India, the word hotel is synonymous with an eatery and it doesn’t have to include accommodation. As with so many names and expressions in India this is very confusing at first but after a while it becomes just another term. Almost every city in India has at least two to three names that are all in use. The Hotel Annapurna in Bhuj is both a hotel and an eatery and a very memorable restaurant, indeed.

The state of Gujarat, home to the Annapurna is a very conservative state, predominately Hindu, largely vegetarian and a dry state as well. But don’t let that put you off. The region is famous for its cuisine. The renown cookbook author and actress, Madhur Jaffrey, once said that the vegetarian cuisine of Gujarat is the vegetarian haute cuisine of  all India. And the Annapurna does not disappoint.

It has two rooms. One serves North Indian food which is good but it is the other room where they serve the Kutchi specialties that I lust after. There is no decor to speak of and no pretensions whatsoever. The food makes up for the lack of ambiance. This is where the colorful locals come to eat. And the food is cheap.

The Annapurna has a unique system of serving. A thali is usually a stainless steel circular tray that holds a number of small cups filled with all kinds of dishes. The waiter brings you the thali loaded with all of the options of the day. He also places an empty tray in front of you. You then select the dishes that you want. The waiter removes the rejects.

My Selection

My Selection

In the photograph, you can see the feet of the waiter, waiting for me to decide. It’s always a struggle because I want everything. The locals only take one or two dishes and fill up with the rotis, like they do in Mexico with tortillas. Not me. I ordered a rotla which hasn’t been served yet. Rotla is a rustic flat bread typically from the villages and made from millet. It is heavy, healthy, delicious and filling.  I always have a hard time photographing food. I can’t contain myself. I usually want to take a bite before I even get near the shutter.

It is standard fare to wash all this down with chaas which is like buttermilk. In Gujarat, the drinking of milk is almost a religious ritual. No meal is ever served without chaas. At first I couldn’t get used to it but it complements and neutralizes all the complex flavors of the thali perfectly. You can see the chaas in the steel tumbler.

Indians who haven’t visited Gujarat tend to turn their noses up when you mention the food there. It has the reputation for being sweet. Yes, many of the dishes have sugar or jaggery added which only enhance the taste when it is well done.

The owner, Vinod Gor, is a caring and kind restaurateur. If you are unknown to him, he will come over to your table and explain the system and all the dishes too.

The Kindly Owner, Vinod

The Kindly Owner, Vinod

All restaurants in India have a public sink. Most Indians eat with their hands. Even if they don’t eat everything with their hands, they do use them to tear off pieces of the flat breads so a sink is essential. You wash your hands before and after a meal. Most Indians routinely carry a cloth handkerchief with them to wipe their hands dry and for other assorted wipes. In the top photo of the Menu Board, you can see the edge of a woman in black. She is at the sink.

The Hotel Annapurna

The Hotel Annapurna

After a most satisfying meal, I wash the remains of my lunch off my hands, smile at myself in front of the mirror, pay my bill and wander out, wondering what will grab my attention next out on the street.

 

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The Ferry Across the River

Loading Motorcycles onto the Ferry

Loading Motorcycles onto the Ferry

The allure of a deserted and isolated beach was all it took to get me and a few friends out of our lethargy and onto a rickety bus out of the small south Indian town where we were spending a few months. The conductor collected our fare; it hadn’t gone up since the year before. As the bus bounced and wobbled down the red dirt road, I looked out the window and a wave of happiness swept over me like one of those waves that I would be diving into soon.

It was morning and the locals were busy with their routines: the kids were on their way to school, their uniforms carefully pressed and the girls’ hair neatly braided and tied with ribbons. Women gathered to get water from a public spigot. The homes we passed reflected many income levels but all were tidy with plants and flower gardens bursting with fuchsia, hot pink, purple and flame lit orange-colored blossoms. We passed a sedate church, next a solemn mosque and lastly a vibrant Hindu temple. Man and nature seemed in harmony here. In an odd and curious way, I fit in too. And this made me happy.

Woman Collecting Water

Woman Collecting Water

The bus let us off about a kilometer away from the small ferry landing, our destination. As we approached we heard the commotion that accompanies the boat’s imminent departure as the motorcycles and other cargo was being loaded. The river isn’t wide but it is the unloading of the cargo that takes so long and there is only one ferry-boat.  If you miss it,  it can feel like an eternity until it returns.

The boat is small with very few places to sit. Most people stand or sit on the gunnels and a slat across the stern. The river crossing only takes about five minutes. With great care and a lot of manpower, the heavy motorcycles are loaded. People jostle a bit into position and very slowly we push-off across the river.

Boarding the Ferry

Boarding the Ferry

Waiting to Take Off

Waiting to Take Off

Landing on the Other Side

Landing on the Other Side

With grace and dexterity we hop off the dilapidated ferry. At the landing there are a few tea stalls and that’s it.  We drink a quick chai, admire the view and follow the paved road until it takes us to the canals where we will turn off.

The View

The View

It’s a sleepy place and not much going on. The locals view us with curiosity and smile.

Smiles We Meet

Smiles We Meet

Mostly people go about their business as we pass.

Collecting Fire Wood

Collecting Fire Wood…with the river behind

After the canals we turn off and continue for about an hour through fields. The landscape turns into cultivated fields and paddies and we pass fewer people until we get closer to the beach.

Walking Through Fields

Walking Through Fields

Out of the clearing a fringe of tall palm trees obscure the view but we know that we are only a few steps away from our destination, the Arabian Sea. Our pace quickens as we descend the slope that will bring us to a beach where few people have ever been.

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Life Outside in India

   Resting  Brahmin

Resting Brahmin

Moment of Leisure

Moment of Leisure

Knotting Fabric for Tie Dye

Knotting Fabric for Tie Dye

It is always such a welcomed change that in most of India, especially small town India, no one is self-conscious about sitting outside and doing whatever they feel like or have to do. For some it is just watching the passing people and for others it is trying to make a sale and for others just conducting the most basic of day-to-day activities. In the west, especially in the cities, we don’t have time for the simple pleasure of watching people pass by and if we do, it can easily be turned into a guilt ridden pleasure. These days there are fewer outdoor sales’ venues as well. For most reserved westerners, the thought of being shaved outdoors and in public makes them uncomfortable along with a host of other acts that we consider private and personal that are enacted daily outside, on the street all over India.

Seated Girl

Seated Girl

Hanging Out

Hanging Out

Public Shave

Public Shave

In India, space is a very precious commodity, especially indoor space and privacy is a western concept. So it all happens on the street. For the keen observer there is a lot to take in. Life outside unfolds in multi- layers like puff pastry as layer after buttery layer melts in your mouth leaving behind a sweet after taste. India never ceases to inspire, delight and above all teach if you can receive her gift. You may just want to do that outside along with everyone else. You will fit right in.

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Where Water Comes From

Water Lines with River Washing

Water Lines with Soaking Laundry in the River

I kept tripping over the water hoses on the hill that leads down to the village center where I spend many months of every winter in a small, rural “pueblo” in Mexico. The hoses snake all over the hill and lead to our assorted water tanks. Without them we wouldn’t have any running water. If you haven’t spent time in a developing country, you probably haven’t given the source of your water too much thought.

In this village, if you aren’t on the main water line then you are responsible for providing your own water lines. There is no water company and no one pays for water either which adds to the chaos and mounting problems, especially among neighbors. The source of the water comes from two different rivers that originate from waterfalls above the town. The water lines are simple garden hoses, visible near the rivers in assorted configurations.

Hoses I Trip Over

Hoses I Trip Over

Rocks with Water Lines

Rocks with Water Lines

 Water Hoses Held with Rope


Water Line Hoses Held with Rope

More Water Lines

More Water Lines

These hoses are then connected to black plastic tanks placed above the houses in a very make-shift manner.

Water Tank with Oleanders

Water Tank with Oleander

Water Tank with Ladder

Water Tank with Ladder

While I’m there during the winter, the water is plentiful but when spring comes and the water levels in the river nearly dry up, we start rationing the murky water, eagerly awaiting the summer rains.

Village Life

Village Life with Water Hose

Though the day-to-day life in this village, along with its water supply, is more difficult than just turning on the faucet with a reliable and constant stream of hot and cold water than I  experience in NYC, living so closely connected to nature in this village reminds me how dependent we are on the bounty and whims of Mother Nature; a connection that I respect, cherish and miss terribly when I am living in the fast lane.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Arunachalam Muruganantham & his Indian Menstrual Health Revolution

ninagrandiose:

“Menstrual Man” was selected as one of the 100 most influential people by Time Magazine for 2014. He is a true hero of our time. If you haven’t heard about him, I am re-blogging this post about him. Quite a guy!

Originally posted on Mumsnet Suffolk & Norfolk:

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Arunachalam Muruganantham, who has become the unlikely leader of a menstrual health revolution in rural India with his invention of a simple machine to make inexpensive sanitary pads, was recently recognized by Time Magazine as one of the world’s 100 Most Influential People in 2014. Over sixteen years, Muruganantham’s machine has spread to 1,300 villages in 23 states and since most of his clients are NGOs and women’s self-help groups who produce and sell the pads directly in a “by the women, for the women, and to the women” model, the average machine also provides employment for ten women. His success, both at providing women with more hygienic options and creating local economic opportunities for women, is generating interest in his machine in many developing countries.

Muruganantham’s interest in menstrual health began in 1998 when, as a young, newly married man, he saw his wife, Shanthi, hiding the rags she…

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Embracing the Feminine in Kutch

Sari Shopping

Sari Shopping

If you’re a western woman whose penchant runs toward baggy jeans matched with your favorite faded T-shirt, you will feel very out-of-place if you visit the remote district of Kutch, Gujarat where the women there take their dressing to a very high standard and the influence of western fashion hasn’t as yet had much impact.  Every aspect of the female attire is carefully and lovingly considered. There is one meandering lane that I enjoy strolling down that caters to the fashion needs of all women and where the art of dressing is not a dying art.

The Matching Center

The Matching Center

The buyer makes her selection. If the sari doesn’t come with its own “blouse piece,” she then chooses fabric to coordinate with the sari that a tailor will stitch into a short blouse or choli . In the photo above the salesman is helping the woman match the precise color she requires. You can see that he is holding a corner of a sample that the woman needs matched and is indicating a few possibilities to her. Sometimes in addition to the blouse material, lining is even matched up if the outer blouse is sheer.

Piles of Brocades

Piles of Brocades

Wherever you look there are stunning piles of fabrics tempting you to touch them. Though the Indian male tends to dominate in nearly all aspects of life (and that could easily be the subject of a different post) – there is no doubt that you have clearly entered a  world that caters to women on this lane. Sadly because this region is

Petticoat Junction

Petticoat Junction

so remote and conservative, all the sales people are men.

Sari Store

Sari Store

The petticoat is the foundation for the sari. The modern sari gets tucked into and elaborately wrapped around, pleated and tucked into the waistband of this undergarment. Most women buy them ready-made though some have them stitched to order by a tailor. Most saris are sheer and lightweight so the petticoat acts like a lining too. The petticoat has a drawstring waist. Sometimes petticoats have ornamented hemlines. When a woman moves and a flash of her embroidered petticoat shows, it looks very alluring.

Bangles Galore

Bangles Galore

No sari in India is complete without perfectly matched rows of bangle bracelets to complement its color and design.

When I am in India, especially in Kutch, I tend to pay much more attention to my appearance and what I wear than any other place. It is the pleasure and right of being female. A pleasure that perhaps is lost in the west and feels more like a burden but when exercised and embraced is ever so enjoyable as demonstrated by the women of Kutch.

 

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