I often bristle when people in the West criticize the Arabs for 'forcing' their women to dress in burkhas. And I imagine that the West, no less than male-dominated Arab society, wants less the freedom of the women, than control of how they choose to dress themselves.
In Kerala, the chatta and mundu had long ago, given way to the sari in my mother's generation, just as the sari has yielded to the churidhar kurta or salwaar kameez in my generation, and kurtas and kameezes to the universal jeans, mini skirts, and probably tailored business suits in the call-centers and software consulting companies of today. And while each old Oommamma (or Ammoomma) who rebelled against her chatta wearing chedathis thought she was on the leading edge of change and revolution, little did she realize that all she was doing was forsaking her unique mores and customs in favor of a more uniform, homogenized way of living; one that could be reduced to small, medium, large sizes of kurtas and skirts and slip easily out of those chinese sewing machines outsourced by those fashion czars sitting in Madison Avenue or Malabar Hills.
We get kolhapuri look-alikes made in china (not Kolhapur) from Payless shoes for $10, and chickan cutwork skirts made in china (not Kutch, Gujarat) from Kohl's for $25 -
Perhaps the problem is me? I am happy for the kohlapuri look-alikes sitting in DC - anything for resurrecting my nostalgic past, remembering frantic shopping trips to Bandra, or Gandhi Market hunting in that sweltering heat, or rain, or whatever weather for the exact size and shape and feel of a rugged looking kohlapuri...
I am reminded of something I once read, of how sometimes we are the particle and sometimes the wave! We think our needs, wants, behavior is unique and won't matter in the larger scheme of things, but a 1,000 of us collectively needing, wanting, behaving the same way marks a trend that for good or for ill, could become irreversible.
Another thing I am constantly surprised by is how vast and diverse the US marketplace seems - when all the items sold revolve around the same exact three specs whether they be shoes, or bed frames, or overcoats, or computer briefcases - small, medium, large. Ever bought a Queen sized fitted sheet that did not fit a Queen sized mattress whether bought from Macy's, or Hecht's or Strawbridge's or a discount Mattress store? All made in that same little Chinese city but branded by Macy's, Hecht's or whatever, I suppose. The scary thing is, the chinese probably know that! No, not through datamining or fancy business intelligence that keeps US businesses busy - just sharing family jokes during the village and family get-togethers...Hey Lao Zhao, no need to print those Strawbridge's labels this year, they've gone bankrupt, just double the Macy's labels they've gone and bought out May's and Hecht's.. then dust your hands and go back to making those mattresses..