He was so kind to me, the brahmin with a hare-lip. One could hardly make out what he said, yet he talked without apparent embarrassment. He taught me just one thing: I don’t think he needed to worry about my other faults, the one he pointed out was the worst and most important. My family background was pretty rough and occasionally for entertainment, we made fun of people with physical defects or queer mannerisms.
For some reason, I suppose because Mr Subramaniam carried his hare-lip so naturally and with such dignity, I hardly noticed it. He was so helpful to me, an awkward 15 year old, gaining experience as an unpaid typist. He found the office a busy and unfriendly place.
However, someone else amused me, another person who tried to help me, but who, to me, seemed suspect. He was a droll character, with his techno-coloured silk shirts, large moustache and rolling eyes. His eyes and hands seemed to move together in all directions, but definitely in harmony.
Mr Subramaniam must have seen the mocking amusement on my face, but he didn’t say anything until one day I commented on how funny Mr X looked. He didn’t laugh, just looked at me and asked quietly what right I had to make fun of Mr X; he then softened the rebuke by saying that many people made rude fun of others and that it would be a pity if I behaved like them. He then amused me by jotting down shorthand phrases and getting me to read them; they were practice phrases from the Pitman’s Shorthand Instructor.
In any society there are three important and highly conventional forms. These three forms are very basic.
- The getting and eating of food
- The getting and exercise of sex
- The way people dress
Studying these three basic forms will give us some idea of a society’s structure and philosophy.
When looking at the dress of another culture, we must remember we are looking at the end result of a long process. For example, European dress allegedly began with some fig leaves then animal-skin loin cloths which rapidly progressed to bustle skirts for women and smoking jackets for men to some present day cheeky swimming gear for the beach.
Long Indian skirts for women and loose Indian lalchi or jibbah for the men are from ancient Indian sculpture and it would appear that the dress of the early Indians of both sexes was simply jewellery around the neck, waist, wrists and ankles. The next stage seems to have been sarong-like garments of fine material, presumably cotton.
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