Precious Hand Me Downs

Clothes and accessories were shared, as precious hand-me-downs.

Clothes 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.

There were no departmental stores with a fancy millinery or a haberdashery.   Knickers and panties had not reached Kodukulanji. The younger kids and boys wore shorts they called underwear. Sometimes, the older girls, wore a rather innovative substitute for knickers and panties. The soft, tulle like lining of the banana stem, would be stripped off and tied as a disposable 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.  This was 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.

The mundus, unlike their colourful, printed counterparts, the sarongs and lungis 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 end that covered their slim derrieres. The typical Malayalee lady is a V-shape with broad shoulders tapering down to a slim behind.

The chatta and mundu when worn well, flatters this shape. Usually, the C & M,  are worn at home, with a towel slung over the top. When worn in public, the towel is replaced, by a lace trimmed embroidered 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.

The siblings had a precious heirloom, an expensive white and gold saree that came out of the trunk it was stored in, when one of the elder sisters became a bride. They  were draped in the white and gold saree and walked down to the church to get married.

At the wedding ceremony, during the Minnuket, the Groom would tie the Minnu or Thali around the Bride’s neck. The Minnu or Thali is a pendant that is strung on a chain made from 21 intertwining threads of the Manthrakodi saree. The 7 threads stood for both the parents of the Bride and Groom, the Bride and Groom and the Church.

The Manthrakodi is the first gift, the first saree that the Groom gives his Bride. After the Minnuket, they are officially Man and Wife . The Bridesmaid, usually a younger sister of the Bride or a cousin, who had stood beside the Bride till the Minnuket , would step down and  the Groom’s mother or sister would step up to take her place, by the side of the bride after the Minnuket.

With a preremptory  swish, the Groom’s mother or sister  would drape the Manthrakodi saree over the Bride’s head. This was  an extremely significant gesture.  It was an announcement to the congregation that the bride belonged to her husband’s family from that moment on.  When the ceremony was over , the Manthrakodi would be folded and draped over the Bride’s left arm as she walked down the aisle, as her husband’s new wife.

When they reached home after the service in church,  the bride would change from the white and gold bridal saree and leave for her new home with her husband and in-laws in her new manthrakodi. The wedding saree would be folded carefully and kept away till it was needed for the next bride. It looked miraculously different everytime it was worn, as each bride bought her own ESP to enhance the beauty of the saree.

This precious hand-me-down tradition spilled over to Christening frocks. My Mum was working  in Cuddalore when I was christened and my Aunt Esther stitched  a beautiful christening frock with a piece of white silk and lace, a rarity just after the war. When we went to Singapore, the christening dress sailed with us and it was used as a precious heirloom by all of the 14 cousins who were born in Singapore, by my own kids and my grandkids during their christening.

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 the school in Chengannur to pass out as a class topper.

I say this with pride, humbled that she was my Mum.

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