It’s that time of the year again. The holidays are upon us and 2018 is just round the corner. And me, the most unimaginative, lame husband this side of the BBMP nullah, again plans for a quiet new year at home, having woken up too late in December.
Madhuri gives me the usual smouldering looks. You did it again, you incorrigible house cat. Can’t you EVER get reservation for a new year’s bash in time?
The thing is, I can’t.
When we were in the navy, it was a no-brainer. Just drag yourself into the local Naval Officers’ Institute, drink to your gills, shuffle around on two left feet, blame your sloppy moves on the DJ’s poor choice of music, curse the F&B service, brave the stampede at the bar, and return home after Cinderella hour. Instead of a slipper, maybe lose your patience or temper. Wake up to a bloody headache that makes the rest of the year look easy. 364 days later, repeat.
Now after retirement, things have gotten more complicated. Any mess or institute worth its namkeen has a dress code. The British left us an economy in ruin and an aspirational European wardrobe. The former we trumped. The latter continues to hang around like a necktie.
I have half a dozen club memberships but not one where you can walk in on a whim. So, on a drive back from the weekend retreat if our children say “let’s stop at *KGA for lunch”, I have to do a quick outfit review: “Hmmm, wait a sec…I am wearing jeans, which is good. Oh, but the collarless tee…it’s a NO GO boys”. *(Karnataka Golf Association)
“OK, so let’s do *RSI instead”, they offer. *(Rajendra Sinhji Institute)
Another review follows as the car eats up some more miles into a decision going nowhere: “Hmmm…there jeans are okay, but sneakers are not permitted. Honey, do you have those Woodlands we wanted to give to the watchman in the boot still?”
“No. We threw it when the car went into servicing, remember?” I faintly recollect telling the driver to clear the boot of junk.
“Oh fish. Can we stop at ASTE Mess, pops?”
“No. It’s past 2:30 PM and you won’t find any food there”, I resigned.
Finally, we drive into the welcoming arms of our all-weather friend, Shanti Sagar in Koramangala. Our gourmet plans fizzle into South Indian ‘mini meals’.
What a bother this dress code has become. Last time I stayed at the Wellington Gymkhana Club, the steward from downtown Tirunelveli looked down at my un-tucked Fab India bush shirt and Lee Coopers like I was a stowaway on the Titanic.
Shirts and T-shirts tucked-in please. But when the Bhangra music starts pounding, all hands will be on deck, screwing lightbulbs Daler Mehndi style while the shirt and vest is wrenched out of your Allen Solly trousers. When Indians in formals gyrate to Punjabi folk music or Indipop, our anglicized dress code stands exposed like our belly button. And careful with that chicken tikka, Colonel sa’ab…they are known to get airborne while being picked and prodded with toothpicks.
At the end of the evening comes the most challenging task in ‘club class’ experience – eating butter chicken and butter naan with English cutlery while your lounge suit acts like an expensive napkin for the red gravy. The naan resists your knife attacks with elastic resilience and the bird goes slipping & sliding across the monogrammed crockery as you try to get traction with that blunt knife. Darn it, I should’ve ordered a sandwich instead.
I am convinced. The genius who invented butter chicken never had to contend with going to work on it with a knife and fork while wearing formals. I have seen dead birds fly; and the awkward silence that follows as you try to pretend like it was your neighbour’s mistake.
I was quite at ease with Air Force & Army messes and their user-friendly mess rules and dress regulations. That’s why I took membership of one near my home. I could stroll in from a market visit in my ‘Pavers England’ leather sandals, Levi’s jeans and a tee any time after bar opening. The bartender would gladly pour me a Blender’s Pride without knocking me off my bar stool with the rule book. But of late, it seems naval influence has corrupted even those messes. They are also gravitating towards the ‘dress to kill(joy)’ culture. “PMC sa’ab ne mana kiya hai“, the barman says wickedly, proving that elitism isn’t the Navy’s monopoly.
Never mind the toilets that stink like Indian Railways; never mind good beer that is always in short supply; pardon the steward who cannot even mix a basic cocktail. Our USP is dress code. Wear that insipid regulation combo and get your drink. Anything else, do Shanti Sagar.
It’s time to get ready for New Year’s Eve. I have made some unique plans. This new year’s eve, I am going to sit in protest (at home, not in Jantar Mantar) in my undies, wearing a tie, holding a glass of Glenfiddich, and tear into a plate of butter chicken like it’s going to be banned tomorrow. Dress regulations be damned.
Oops! There walks in Madhuri holding a ‘Permit Two’ pass to the Gala Nite at the local club! Protest deferred to 2018.
Now let me get to work on that darn wardrobe. Hey guys, can you lend me a tie?!
©KP Sanjeev Kumar, 2017. All rights reserved. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Views are personal.