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Dress Code

When I was visiting Grannymar's blog today, I was amused to learn that in Wales, a woman was prevented from entering a supermarket to buy cigarettes because she was wearing pyjamas.  I commented that one man's pyjamas is another man's designer outfit.  The post started me off on a train of thought.

As my regular readers would know, I am from Ireland, and I live in India.  I live in a combined Indian family along with my husband and our children.  I would say that our family, which lives in city, is as modern as any other family.

But it wasn't always so.

When I got married over fifteen years ago, my father-in-law's elder brother was still alive, and remained so for five more years.  He was highly respected in the family.  He would often arrive, unannounced, and stay for several months. He was called "Taoji" which is a title often given to a father's elder brother in north Indian families.   It was communicated to me, through my sisters-in-law, that as he was the senior father-in-law,  all the daughters-in-law were expected to cover their heads in his presence.  Including my mother-in-law.  I was told that if not wearing a sari, always keep a dupatta/scarf nearby.  There was no need to cover the head unless he was actually in the room.  I also was told that when he was about to enter the room he would give a discreet cough and then hesitate for about thirty seconds to allow the ladies to cover their heads.  I thought that this was a joke.

It wasn't a joke.  Not in the least.  And I was to observe this scene many times.  Did I do it?  Well, sometimes, I'd think, "when in Rome....."  Sometimes it was more a case  of "what the......."  I don't really blame myself for that.  When you come from the west and get into something as different as this, it is sometimes difficult to adapt.  I'm a bit embarrassed to admit this, but once or twice I asked him if he had taken medicine for his cough.....I wasn't  trying to be sarcastic.  I just found the whole charade a bit ridiculous.

Actually, Taoji was a very good person.  A typical north Indian village man who knew no English.  He cared deeply for his family and was loved by them in return.  Yash, my husband, adored him.  As a little boy, Yash lived with his parents, brothers, sisters, cousins,  uncles and grandparents in a large extended family in a village near Delhi in western Uttar Pradesh.  And I know that Taoji's children are as close to Yash as real brothers and sisters.  He never says so, but I've noticed.


  1. What an interesting story... I am tempted to ask a few questions, but I don't wish to offend. I laughed at the cough comment though. I really enjoy reading about these types of experiences in your life there. It always makes me think about different customs and how they impact women.

  2. I laughed at you asking about the cough! I think I would have done the same. I am sure you have many other stories like this to tell. I look forward to reading them.

  3. I remember in Lucknow itself, I was with a friend and he was refused entry to the newly made Sahara Mall in Hazratganj because he was wearing slippers. I had to return with him too.

    In retrospect it seems strange in the heartland of Awadh where slippers has been the footwear of Nawabs for generations. But I guess this is flux..

  4. I do so love these stories...and I just loved the cough comment.

    On the topic of pyjamas, the one thing I love about living in this vllage is being able to wander about in the garden in my pjs because they aren't much different to the shalwar worn by the village women.

    I saw the story about the woman in Wales and can't really understand what all the fuss is about. As long as she was dressed what's the problem? I' ve seen worse than pjs in supermarkets!

  5. So glad you're able to start posting again! It's always interesting to read about your life in India!

  6. He does sound like he was a nice fellow, but I have to admit, I hate hierarchical structures and would not do well in that environment.

  7. PS I do like the fact you took off the captcha! Sorry you had to need to moderate again.

  8. As usual, I love these stories. Thanks for the ride.

  9. gaelikaa, I like your spirit. Rebellion is what propels civilization forward.

    I am sure that uncle was a good man - and a control freak; testing his powers which clearly were
    considerable. That cough - my god. So he had the decency to give the women in the room some seconds' warning for them to be beaten into submission once more. Very generous of him.

    Veils/headgear/burkhas making many a headline in Europe (I believe France being in the process of banning the latter). I myself wouldn't mind covering up big time on some days and I believe people should be allowed to wear what they want.

    I notice one of your commenters wishing to ask questions which - for reasons of delicacy - she didn't.

    One question I'd like to ask: Why are certain cultures so very afraid of a woman's beauty? Why are they so possessive that no one outside the home (or, presumably, the bedroom) is allowed to see a woman for what she is? Mind you, the whole thing totally arbitrary: Eyes being the mirror of one's soul I look into those of women covered up (other than their eyes) and you get the measure of the person.


  10. What an interesting story and situation. I don't know what I would have done. Do we cling our own customs or respect new ones?That's tough...especially considering it was a family matter!

    What did your husband want you to do?

  11. I think he was of an older generation and I think that sometimes it's such a tiny little thing for us to adjust to other religious/cultural customs while for others this means an awful lot... :-) I would have bought him some cough sweets though! ;-)

  12. Elizabeth - I'm glad I was able to share with you what I have experienced.

    Marie - We Irish are all the same.

    Deeptanshu - It's funny, isn't it?

    Lacey - Thank you :)

    Linda - We have a lot in common, you and me

    Judy - Oh thank you, I find your life equally interesting.

    Jean - Sometimes I manage, sometimes I don't.

    Margaret - Thank you.

    Ursula - Patriarchy is at the root of it.

    Jan - He thinks I should try to blend in.

    Daisy - You have to allow for lot of differences.


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