City Style – The Classy Delhiwalla, Bazaar Sitaram
Searching for the stylish.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The Delhi Walla saw this man in Bazaar Sitaram, a grocery and vegetable market in the Old Quarter. He was wearing a black cap, white kurta, white dhoti and black leather shoes. His glasses were perched high on the nose, partially hiding his wiry eyebrows. Light-brown sandalwood paste was lightly smeared at the center of his forehead. His hair was grey, his moustache was trimmed and his skin was wrinkled. There was no one dressed like him.
The man’s casually crumpled kurta reached his knees. The round collar bordered his neck; folds of his aging skin gracefully emerging out of it. The white dhoti was striking.
An unstitched piece of cloth wrapped around the legs, dhoti is knotted at the waist; its two ends are pulled up between the legs. Once the daily wear of Mahatma Gandhi that Churchill dismissed as a loincloth, the garment is rarely sighted in Delhi. This man, wearing his dhoti so casually, exudes a vacuum-sealed minimalism that has withstood the fickleness of fashion. His style is frugal, traditional and permanent.
The sandalwood smear on the man’s forehead is the tilak, a Hindu caste mark. He could be a Brahmin, the top of the four caste groups.
For thousands of years, the caste system has stolen lives out of the living. Denied the right of being individuals, Indians had to choose a life according to the caste they were born into. Today, the caste divide is starker. The upper caste people, snugly padded in the privilege that has been theirs for generations, patronizingly talk of a world free of discrimination – as long as the status quo is not disturbed. They run the big business and operate the corporate media. But the low caste people – they are more in numbers – demand discrimination. They have been exploited, they want affirmative action. The sins of several centuries must be amended in a single century. And no thanks, the world won’t be doing a favor.
Like Mahatma Gandhi, an extremely casteist Hindu, there are many who struggle to transcend the caste. This man perhaps belongs to the same class. After I finished taking his photos, he affectionately patted me on the shoulder. Perhaps I’m an untouchable. The man didn’t ask. He simply touched me, as if it was no big deal.
Spotting the stylish
Mark the caste
His noble years
A rare style