Dress sense – Common sense
Do as the Romans do
Rajiva Shanker Shresta
It was during his successful visit to three countries recently Prime Minister Narendra Modi was seen in the outfit akin to a section of the community here in Sikkim that made some interesting comment though in lighter vein while sharing the picture on Facebook from Narendra Modi – With Kanthaka, a gift from Mongolia on Facebook - A Perfect Denzongpa! He could have been the perfect Prime Minister of the Sovereign Kingdom of Sikkim in 1975! – just a jest ! Most of our readers must have seen the picture Dhan Subba shared even if they might have missed one that morning in the news-dailies or Facebook which recaptures this Amul Topical PM’s historic visit as Mongolyatra. Earlier this week second edition of Amul’s India was launched with tagline First among Sequels, while the first edition based on 50 years of Amul advertising came to market in 2012. As early as 1973, we IA&AS Probationers had visited the Amul plant at Anand as a part of our study tour to hear from the founder now a legend Dr. Verghese Kurien* his experiences soon becoming a success story with the Gujarat in the Kheda District Co-operative Milk Producer’s Federation. We had stayed in their guest house to see the day break with milk coming from different corners to collection centres (having seen the production process the previous day) and have the fresh taste of utterly butterly delicious Amul butter on the breakfast table. By that time we were familiar with the lassie seen in their first display that presented the missy praying by her bedside that said Give us this day our daily bread: with Amul Butter and I remember those days it came packed in dark blue stripes and white. It is really a long journey thereafter all these years where it has become a household name not only in the country but beyond as well – Amul’s India or India’s Amul whichever way you like.
As far as my knowledge goes, donning this attire here first person from outside was Dewan N. K. Rustomji* always seen in cream-white Bakhu. The British might have worn the Bakkhu but in disguise to stealthily enter the Shagrila Tibet as we read in the books giving account of those historical days. I do not recollect whether Rustomji’s predecessor J. S. Lal and successors Sidlon I. S. Chopra ever used it but Baleshwar Prasad and Principal Administrative Officer R. N. Haldipur were often seen in this dress. Please correct me if I am wrong here as none of the local Nepali officers ever wore the Bakhu except Bharat Singh Chettri* as he was ADC in the Private Secretariat where Purna Kumar Pradhan* was the Secretary for a long time. I remember him for his Austin car when his residence used to be Happy Cottage just a few steps ahead of my present residence in Development Area. We had moved from Dak Bunglow (now All India Radio Station) to a government quarter (near now Munshi Colony) before coming to Happy Valley after our Kaila Bajey Rai Saheb Bhim Bahadur Pradhan* on retirement as the Forest Manager went to his newly constructed house Atma Niketan. Purna Kumar Mama also later constructed and shifted his own house Anand Bhavan next to Sonam Building on the way to where Sir Tashi Namgyal Senior Secondary School is located now. When I returned after my two year’s course in 1974, I stayed in this building before moving to the newly constructed Eight Unit Quarter by the mid-November that year. Before this I was with my Sanu Mama Mohan Pratap Pradhan*whenever in Gangtok since my school days except for once or twice stayed with Bidhan Mama near Denzong Cinema Hall. The Eight-Unit Building took long to complete as if waiting for me to complete my training and come back to Gangtok. Even while we shifted here, doors except the main one were yet to be fixed but the office-order allotting us a unit there made way and eased our entry before the building was formally handed over to the Department headed by our historic figure C. D. Rai.
The other person who is often well-known for his fondness to wearing this robe was my senior in school as well as in the service Lal Bahadur Chettri. It might perhaps be due to this acumen in him that Dayaram Bhattarai of Tadong wrote in a local news-daily Samay Dainik while describing one of the recipients of Sikkim State Civilian Award Taga Khampa, whom he knew from his MD SITCO days and as L. B. Chettri’s friend. As per him while L. B. Chettri too tried to be Khampa wearing Bakkhu whereas Taga Khampa never tried to be the other way round - Chettri. (Sri Taga Khampa – SITCOma emdee bhyedekhi chindchhu. Elbee Chhetriko saathi. Elbee Chhetri pani Khampa hunchhu bhaner Bakkhu lagai hindthe tar Taga Khama – Chhettri hune kosis kahilye garenan.) This reminds me of the popular Nepali adage we used to read while in school – Desh gunako Vesh, Kapal gunako Kes, i.e. Do/dress in Rome as the Romans do/dress. This might have prompted us also to have one stitched as one* of my brilliant batch-mates as fellow probationers in the Royal Sikkim Civil Service during our National Academy of Administration at Mussoorie days suggested us this to show unique identity of the Himalayan Kingdom. It was black Bakkhu with bright red Patuka like the one we see some people wearing this as a ceremonial dress in marriages and certain occasions here. As for the shirt to go with it, we had the usual white one. I do not remember whether we ever used it at all and when we were back here the situation was something different. During the last lap of our training when in Calcutta doing six-months attachment with the office of the Accountant General (Central), I had tough time getting our salary from Gangtok in deep trouble then. With help of the seniors Deb and Saha there, I could get it but not before remittances from my home occasionally tiding over the situation.
It leads me to our Kashmir visit that autumn after watching ‘first day first show’ of Raj Kapoor’s Bobby that attracted us to see the scenic beauty of the valley and I had a good company of Raja Shekhara Rayalu, fellow probationer from Guntur in Andhra Pradesh. We were there everywhere from Shankaracharya Temple to Shalimar Bag, Nishat Bag, Gulmarg to see places where Rishi Kapoor – Dimple Kapadia lost their key and in Pahalgam while enjoying a horse-ride and taking a shot with Vinod Mehra shooting a song sequence on the river bank for his film Sabse Bada Rupaiya. I cannot imagine the plight of this ‘heaven on the earth’ after that devastating flood last year. It was nice meeting Rayalu to recollect the memories well treasured of this wonderful trip together there and our Yarrow-days in Shimla enjoying the snowfall that winter when he was in Gangtok as some official work brought him here in 2013. We had met after four decades to share wits/joys of the visit there we treasured all our life. My brother-in-law B. K. Pradhan in Finance could help him to connect/meet me but somehow he could not see the other batch-mate, when I checked with Norbu Dadul Chingapa while we were together in a social function here recently.
When we talk of the Bakkhu, can the other popular dress Daura-Suruwal be far behind as we find many people taking out theirs once for an annual function each year. It had gained a huge popularity after the party diktat for the dress code that festive season of Dashain-Tihar some years ago in the neighbouring Darjeeling hills. So much was the fear or the frenzy that there was shortage not only of tailors to stitch it but also of the dress material and black Bhatgaunle Topi for quite some time even in the mainland Nepal. Otherwise, the hand-crafted industry for Bhatgaunle Topi was once threatened to the verge of extinction facing a stiff competition from the cheap printed power-loom colourful cotton cap flooding the market in spite of it being a part of the official head gear for the parliamentarians, officials and even the Nepal Army personnel there. Though we Newars have a different one often taken as this dress that we see in the old picture showing Taksari Chandrabir Newar* with Rhenock Kazi* with J.A.H. Louis standing next to them and many other civilians at Rhenock bazar following a truce brought after the violent protest resulting in some sort of battle rather war though many historians termed them as mere skirmishes teething in the initial power struggle rather than settlement for the betterment of the land and the society in the kingdom as a whole. Many of my contemporaries might be remembering the lesson on Chandrabir we read in the textbook Nepali Sahitya by the pioneer educationist Dr. Paras Mani Pradhan* while in the school. As Keshab Mama was narrating us how he procured a copy of this picture for his memoirs The Life and Times of a Plantsman in the Sikkim Himalayas (2008)from The Gates of Thiibet (1894) by J.A.H. Louis to take us down the memory lane to the Chogyal days in pre-merger era of Sikkim and to share some of the untold stories he himself was witness to as he was sharing some portions from the yet to be released in India book Sikkim – Requiem for A Himalayan Kingdom by Andrew Duff he read downloaded from Amazon.com over three hours at a stretch. That being not enough we all present there were prodding and urging him to spare some time, 15 days at least to record his experiences for us to have some more but more for the benefit of the posterity. (to be concluded)
This is author’s personal account of memories updated to cherish and treasure often on a detour here and there en route to share the joy of the journey called life. Some names (*asterisk for those no more), places and events mentioned are just to connect with and no malice whatsoever intended. He can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 9434022677 / 03592-202677 and at Rachna, opposite Manan Bhavan, Development Area, Gangtok 737 101 Sikkim India.