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NEBULOUS CONCEPT `Revealing' is a relative term that can be debated forever
NEBULOUS CONCEPT `Revealing' is a relative term that can be debated forever

C.K. MEENA

You thought full-grown adults were capable of picking their own clothes? College administrations think otherwise

There is a nonsensical code, a code that goes against my deep-seated personal beliefs, and it isn't the Da Vinci. Although it doesn't directly affect me, the dress code in local colleges is beginning to irk me like a fly trapped in a car with the windows rolled up. You open the windows and it still buzzes about your face instead of darting outside and settling on a sugarcane juice cart like all self-respecting flies should.Let's catch this fly, then, and fling it out into the open.The code. You would think it was fiction or a joke at best, but the persistent fly has refused to go away. Worse, it's been dispersing its germs among a wider population. A couple of colleges had brought in the salwar-kameez rule some years ago and one ignored them as minor infections, but as the disease spread, one began to get perturbed. No slogans on T-shirts. No short and tight tops. Streaked hair not allowed. Boys must not have long hair.If ignored it might turn into an epidemic since tuition centres, too, are beginning to invent dress codes. A boy attending a coaching class was told that pants with front and back pockets were forbidden. "Only side-pockets," said a teacher while leading the jeans-clad lad (by the ear, no less) towards the exit. The tuition centre must have been inspired by a well-known degree college which prohibits "pants with many pockets".Our youngsters' minds are snapping under pressure but the most pressing issue on our hands is - pockets. Not to mention girls in "revealing" clothes and boys with long hair-pur-le-ease! Those bogeys were buried in the 1970s. Let's not fight our old battles over again.Nobody's fighting, though. That's why as a member of an earlier and arguably more rebellious generation I'd like to offer a few snappy suggestions. Can't grow your hair or wear T-shirts with slogans? Tattoo a slogan on your shaven head. "College sucks" would be appropriate. If western fashions are frowned upon, boys can don a traditional African robe with aplomb or go bare-chest in a dhoti. Girls, make a statement with a nine-yard sari wrapped around the thighs and tucked into the back.A girls' college tried to ban sleeveless garments but found that its lecturers were wearing them! In a face-saving attempt, it amended the rule to proscribe figure-hugging clothes but went on to foist a saris-only rule on the lecturers. From telling students what not to wear, the college took the logical next step: telling teachers what to wear. Pinch me hard for I must be dreaming. Or maybe I've stepped into 1906, as Bangalore University temporarily did when it considered a demented proposal to impose a dress code on its post-graduate students and have separate seats for men and women.Full-grown adults don't need to have their wardrobes picked out for them. Most of them abide by an unwritten dress code anyway. What they wear to work, to a formal occasion or on vacation matches their sense of propriety. They would hesitate to visit a shrine in their Bermudas or dive into a village pond in a bikini. Although adherence to the code is voluntary, the majority sticks to it. But they accept the few who do not. It's a free country.When it comes to young adults, however, everybody has an opinion on how they should comfort themselves. Worried mothers tell one another:"It is too-oo much, what youngsters are wearing these days." (When they say "too much", they mean "too little".)"We also had fashions, but there is a limit."I would like to remind our urban amma how she, too, had tested the limits when she was young. Didn't she sneakily get the tailor to cut the back of the sari-blouse a little deeper and make the kurta a bit more "fitting"? I agree that fashions of the past did not involve quite such a show of skin, but "revealing" is a relative term that can be debated forever. And some fashions were so atrocious they should have been banned for purely aesthetic reasons. In Kerala, for instance, there was once a craze among women for the batik lungi with three-fourth-sleeve top. Hindsight tells me it must have been a sarong. Anyway, the feminine lungi met with strong parental approval because it covered the body from neck to toe, and for a while Malayali girls went around looking like Malaysian Airlines airhostess-rejects.Of course, fashion can itself function like a dress code. It can coerce teenagers into spending large sums of money (especially nowadays) on what they're supposed to wear.Coercion, whatever form it takes, is undesirable, which is why regressive college authorities should stop behaving like hidebound grandparents. One of their absurd reasons for the code is that it will prevent "distraction". Let me guess what this means. A girl in a short top will render a boy so stupefied that he'll be unable to concentrate in class. And a boy wearing pants with many pockets will presumably drive a girl wild with desire.That's a big relief. I used to think that what drove college-goers to distraction were the semester system, competition, and a gnawing fear of the future. Now I know better.Send your feedback to ckmeena@gmail.com

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