Precious Hand Me Downs

Clothes were shared, as precious hand-me-downs. They were darned, if necessary and mended to last a long time. They did not have a huge wardrobe, by any standards, but there was enough to go around, because no one stayed the same shape or size too long.

Sometimes, the soft, tulle like lining of the banana stem, would be stripped off and tied as a loin cloth, a protective inner garment, covering the anatomy like a modern day “Thong”.

The home sewn, unimaginative version of the brassiere was an unflattering bodice, referred to shyly as a “bowdy”. It was not worn to enhance or entice. It was worn as part of “operation modesty”, an attempt to squish everything out of sight and lecherous mind. It was in reality, a sleeveless squash-in-place that was worn under the chatta, a loose fitting half sleeve V-neck shirt top, that women wore over their mundus or lungis.

These, unlike their colourful, printed counterparts, the sarongs of the Far East, were thick, white, cotton cloth, wound around the lower part of the body. It was knotted at the waist, with a pleated fan-like part, that covered their slim derrieres. The typical malayalee female is a V-shape with broad shoulders tapering down to a slim behind. The chatta and mundu when worn well, flatters this shape. Usually, these are worn at home, with a towel slung over the top. When worn outside, the towel is replaced, by a lace trimmed shawl that is tucked in at the waist and pinned to the left shoulder with a brooch. This shawl, was used to cover the head in church. The sophisticated 6 yard sari, was worn by the city folk, that had left the villages.

Shoes never posed a problem, as the siblings scaled the countryside, barefoot most of the time. Many of the elder siblings, got their first pair of shoes or sandals, when they went to College or earned their own salaries. My Mum walked barefoot from her home in Kodukulanji to Chengannur, every day to study and pass out as a class topper. I say this with pride, humbled that she was my Mum.

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