Recently, one “important-looking (restaurant) manager type“ at the elite Bangalore Club dared to speak above his pay grade and confront the president of the Editors Guild of India regarding a dress code violation. Pained by the indignity, senior “journalist sir” aptly responded with an op-ed bemoaning the colonial hangover at elite country clubs and highlighting a national crisis of “traditional Indian attire” being belittled in favor of “western attire”.
While defending the humble, overpriced FabIndia handloom kurtas, journalist sir did not hold back any punches aimed at letting the insignificant restaurant manager know his place! To be honest, the restaurant manager had it coming. First, he failed to recognize the presence of a Padma Bhushan recipient journalist, and then he goes on to talk back? What was he even thinking! Just because he finally made enough moolah to buy “a seriously ill-fitting uniform”, did he forget that he was a mere employee of the clubhouse?
Being fully aware of his stature as journalist par excellence and founder/Editor-in-Chief of an online news site, for a moment journalist sir even “pretended to look contrite” hoping that his magnanimous gesture will take care of the situation. When that did not work, he invoked the holy “national dress” argument! Sure, who and what defines the national dress of a culturally diverse country like ours maybe unclear, but the imbecile of a manager should have figured the gravitas of the situation when he heard the word “national”! And such brazen attacks on the fragile egos of the rich powerful men of this country cannot go unpunished!
The experience was soo traumatic that it brought back memories of every other time when journalist sir’s privilege was even remotely challenged. It was a sum total of three experiences, which was already three more than anything a man of journalist sir’s reputation can tolerate. Of course, when the incidents happened in White man’s universe, journalist sir obliged and followed the prescribed dress code. But that is no reason to cast aspersions on the integrity of his arguments on dress code/elitism in India. After all, journalist sir knows the caste hierarchy all too well – White man, followed by caste/class privileged Indian Savarnas, and then the rest of the world. So when the staff of a storied Mumbai restaurant took on journalist sir for a dress code violation, he immediately resorted to a “friendly argument” which quickly reestablished the world order. It is safe to assume that the “friendly argument” is the bourgeoisie’s eloquent English version of “tu jaanta hai mera baap kaun hai?”
In between showing his contempt for the restaurant manager and exalting the understated fashion sense represented by FabIndia kurtas, journalist sir does take time to slide in a product placement for a designer friend. Makes sense! If you are taking time and energy to critically mock a country club employee’s uniform which looks like – “something (you) had bought from (your) kid brother (employed) in a shaadi waala band”, why not use the opportunity to advertise another elite friend’s Rs.75,000 and upwards bandh-galas. For keeping up the tradition of India’s historically privileged castes/classes helping their likes to profit from the misery of the disenfranchised, journalist sir deserves a hat tip!
While we are at it, some unsolicited advice for country club employees across the nation – Stop showing up to work in ill-fitted/borrowed uniforms. Your illustrious guests expect to be serviced by staff dressed in bespoke! And learn that, for some rich people coming across as humble is really important. This will be confusing for you, but just keep in mind that rich folk who want to feel Indian and poor will wear FabIndia kurtas. Facts that FabIndia was started by an American and that their kurtas are overpriced are secondary.
As expected, when the op-ed hit the Twittersphere, journalist sir’s peers from the fraternity joined in speaking up about the bitter experiences their kurtas had faced in the past. The tales were brave and the solidarity endearing. It was not a complete lovefest though. Right wing twitter handles hate tweeting journalist sir’s liberal credentials and emphasizing on the “follow the rules” argument were popping up. But despite the negativity, journalist sir and the op-ed emerged victorious. And why wouldn’t they! It was high time the country’s upper middle class and its newly minted liberal wokes heard their dilemmas articulated for them. With the right-wing taking it upon themselves to put Dalits, Adivasis, Muslims and all other minorities in their place, someone from the left/liberal/center had to step up and deliver a master class on how to conduct less obvious but very similar behaviors at country clubs, cocktail parties, housing societies, and MNC offices.
Journalist sir proved that not all superheroes wear capes, some wear kurtas!
Wait, in the brouhaha, we are forgetting the important looking restaurant manager. Perhaps, he was only enforcing the rules set by his employer, the kind of rules he might have cared less for and which were most likely framed without considering his opinion anyways! Maybe he was just responding to the complaints of “other (equally entitled) guests objecting to (journalist sir’s) attire”. Because at the end of the day, most plebeians like the restaurant manager want to follow the orders given to them by the bosses, keep the job, and take home a paycheck needed to put food on their family table (or floor). We are also a nation with a rich heritage of privileged classes/castes strictly enforcing their sense of superiority over the subaltern, in their just fight to preserve the established social hierarchy. In that context, the poor restaurant manager should have better thought through the consequences of interfering in the complex power dynamics of the elites.
Considering the reaction the op-ed generated, let’s hope the restaurant manager did not get fired. And if he is still at the job, he better learn the lesson that when one elite country club member/guest needs to make a point against the ideas/ideologies of other elite country club members, it will be at the expense of lesser mortals like him! But of course, all this lesson learning business is only after he promptly apologizes to journalist sir, gets chastised by the country club management for creating a national spectacle, and is further reduced to a funny meme for the pleasure of journalist sir and his elite friends.
Also, belated Happy Labor Day “important-looking manager type”! The progressive elites of this country are with you in spirit, only in spirit though!
Benson Neethipudi is an aspiring social commentator. In a previous life, he had been a management consultant and a project manager. His point of view is shaped by his understanding of his Dalit identity and how it plays into everyday affairs.