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Tied down by a tie... - Deccan Herald
Tied down by a tie...
Sumit Paul,
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There’s some heartening news that Brits are fast doing away with tie as the most restrictive item of apparel, or "a perfect means of self-strangulation,” to quote English poet laureate Sir Ted Hughes. This is laudable.

Somerset Maugham used to say that Great Britain gave three things to the world: English language, ghost of colonialism, and tie to tie a person down like a pet. It’s a sign of colonial hangover rather than being a mark of sartorial smartness and suavity.

One wonders... wherever Brits ruled and whichever country they colonised, their subjects slavishly lapped up English and a tie. Be it Barbados, Trinidad, Jamaica, erstwhile Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), India, to name but a few, the English sartorial idiosyncrasies were never questioned by the subjects of these terribly hot and tropical countries.

In India, tie is de rigueur for corporate mandarins and students of public and 'English medium’ schools. How a tie enhances a man’s personality and makes him different from a non-tie man is a question that has always been on the minds of rebels.

George De Clauss wrote in his magnum opus English Dressing Legacies that "the history of tie is the history of dressing despotism because Brits didn’t allow a man of a colonised country to wear a tie until he reached a certain level of social and governmental hierarchy.”

Bankim Chandra Chatterjee, who penned 'Vande Mataram’, was a magistrate during the British Raj and even hobnobbed with high-ranking British officers, but he was not allowed to wear a tie for 14 years. Only when he became a district magistrate (he was a town magistrate before that) did he get a chance to wear it.

Sir Jagadish Chandra Bose was strictly instructed by the English vice chancellor of Calcutta University never to wear a tie.

That he defied the order and wore it is an altogether different story. He disliked ties but wore them to assert that he was on a par with the white Englishmen teaching at the famed varsity.

Fabric historian Allan Molieux wrote in his book The Politics of a Tie that Brits wore tie with a view to make people aware that this can be fastened around their necks! There’s an interesting piece of history to it. The Vikings and English pirates wore a flattened rope around their necks with which they’d openly strangle those who dared to rebel or question their authority. The present-day Englishmen are their descendants.

The phrase 'hanging by neck’ has its root in this gory piece of history. M K Gandhi called it kanth langot and never wore it once he completely dispensed with the English attire. In a letter to young Jawaharlal Nehru, Gandhi ji wrote, "You studied at Trinity, Cambridge and wore suit, boot and tie like me. I realised how oppressive that was and did away with it. I expect the same realisation will soon dawn on you.”

In 1967, a group of 50 young men in Barbados, once a British colony, refused to wear ties during the convocation ceremony. They attended the ceremony in black trousers and white half-sleeve shirts, earlier known as bush-shirts. Their point was, why should they continue with a British dressing legacy in a hot country like theirs?

Alas, the anglophile Indians have never dared to question this, and our mandarins and bada sahibs wear ties and flaunt them. When I see young boys and girls of English medium schools lousily wearing ties, I feel sad for them. We talk about nationalism and patriotism but don’t ever think that there are still many slavish colonial hangovers we carry, and will continue to carry, like a cross on our backs.