Dress sense – Common sense
Do as the Romans do
Rajiva Shanker Shresta
... the story continues/concludes
When the International Day for Biological Diversity was here, could Sikkim let it go without a work dedicated to the Nature which is so generous here that get it included as one of the Biodiversity hot spots of the country/world for its rich and abundant resources. It was possible from none other than the well-known figure here, Keshab C. Pradhan, the author of Plantsman in the Sikkim Himalayas (2008). Despite having seen 80+ summers, he contributed to and made the society, science fraternity and mother nature rich with yet another masterpiece Portraits of Sikkim Himalayan Flowers (ISBN 978-81-906141-6-0 2015) this year. With the book just released he could now perhaps have some time to write one more memoir for the excellent memory he still retains to the details of names of the person, places and even the books besides the year of the events past. In this book he has also paid a tribute to The Chandra Nursery (established 1910) with a picture of Arisaema griffithii var. pradhanii he found 75 years later in July 2009 at its original habitat Zeluk, East Sikkim that Rai Saheb Ratna Bahadur Pradhan*had discovered in 1934 and named after him. It is accompanied by the original illustration from Curtis’s Botanical Magazine, 1936 reproduced with the kind permission of the Director and the Board of Trustees, Royal Botanical Garden, Kew. It was more like restoring the dignity damaged/lost when a copy of the original colour picture that the family used to have flaunt proudly decorating the front wall of their drawing room for years at Rhenock when a photographer-friend* took it away to Gangtok half a century ago in the pretext of taking its shot but was never returned. I was mentioning him of my article on this cobra lily written and published in the hobby magazine YETI we started when in Birgunj Nepal way back in 1968-69. The other article it carried was on Paphiopedilum fairieanum or the lady’s slipper orchid written by Daju Ramesh Kumar Pradhan of Rhenock, the first agriculture graduate, who left the government job to pursue his passion to be the first-ever tissue culturist of Sikkim-Darjeeling Hills. Readers may be finding these lines something out of place and pondering why here in an article on Dress. It is the Nature that dresses up the Mother Earth so generously to beautify our Sikkim making it green and clean to the envy of many evil eyes to plunder to the core – more to meet their greed than to our need! So this book could well be good enough also to welcome The World Environment Day for the awareness about what the endowment bestowed upon us from the Nature in Sikkim to take care of - the theme this year being “Sustainable consumption and production” with the slogan “Seven Billion Dreams. One Planet. Consume with Care” while it is “Our Earth. Our care” for the year 2016.
Coming back to our main subject regarding the dress it was Taksari Chandrabir Newar’s son Rai Saheb Ratna Bahadur Pradhan*who was never seen in a dress other than this with Karchopi Topi (black round embroidered cap) while his brother Durga Shamsher Pradhan* too followed the suit but switching to the English suit, tie and hat as and when situation/occasion demanded. Rai Saheb was the first person from the Nepalese community to be included by the then Maharaja Saheb in his Council of Advisors and also the most brilliant of councilors of his time as some British recollected in his memoir but yet he did not alter his dress sense however dear and close to both the power centers – British and Sikkimese those days. Down the line, I have seen none of their sons and grandsons donning that dress or even his cousin Rai Saheb Bhim Bahadur Pradhan* and his three sons were never found wearing the attire by this author. Dress sense like the Food sense no one can force you down your gut as my Sanu Mama Mohan Pratap Pradhan used to tell us narrating the incidence. He had been to the UK as well but he never accepted beef for food and even the Chogyal knew it well not to suggest or let him be served with its preparations while attending many of the parties in the Palace those days. On the other hand his wife and my Sanu Maiju was once seen in Bakkhu with Kazini, wife of the then chief secretary D. Dadul* as they were close friends to share many a social works and official functions together as also captured in a picture from the days of yore.
We have a proverb in Nepali Dhoti na Topi hunu which means to be left with none of these i.e. bankrupt. So, I must be sharing some thoughts on Dhoti as well which is associated with the people from the plains, Madhisey / Madhesia that form a considerable number here in Sikkim as well some settled generations ago to fetch them the identity by issuing proper documents in support to be at par with other Sikkimese ethnic groups. Before this they have been enjoying voting rights along with representation in the Sikkim Legislative Assembly and other electoral bodies here. While I was in Birgunj in 1960s I found the term Dhoti a term derogatory to that community while they too used Topi for those from the hills. Most of my contemporaries who studied here in Sir Tashi Namgyal High School in 1950’s or earlier must be remembering M. A. Sir B. N. Singh* and Pandit Sir S. N. Mishra* and even Chanawala Bajey* bringing poka (packet of ready-mix) and other snacks during tiffin-break always clad in a dhoti as the weather did not mattered much to them. Other prominent figures I remember always seen wearing Dhoti were Banwari Lal Agrawal*, Tarachand Agrawal* Devi Dutta Agrawal* of Rhenock while Udai Ram Agrawal*, Ridhkaran Thirani*and few others here in Gangtok. It was not a surprise for me while coming back home from town last Monday to find one Dhoti-clad shopkeeper along the Kazi Road even. My Buba Jai Shanker Lall Shresta* used to don it during his Banaras days and some of my family members recollect him in this attire as Jwain Saheb of Rai Saheb Ratna Bahadur Pradhan like the other Jwain Saheb from Calcutta Tulsi Lall Shrestha* of Durga Shamsher Pradhan*both of them got married on the same day same venue (Yagya Mandap) at Rhenock way back in 1941. I never had the opportunity to wear Dhoti except as the mandatory ceremonial dress on the occasion of my Vratbandh in Birgunj when I first visited the place with my Buba that winter of 1961. Many of my readers may agree when I tell of visitors find Birgunj very similar to a city in India whereas Sikkim-Darjeeling Hills quite akin to that of being in Nepal. This is not only due to the dress but environment also that make us believe so for their location, I presume. Like elsewhere much change must have taken place over the years there too and I do not know whether if it is still so - while travelling by train to Nepal those days we had to long for as it was so rare a sight to find the people dressed in pant and shirt and the scene changed somewhat only after reaching there.
A unique case seen during the recently held Lampokhari Tourism Festival 2015 at Aritar, when its Chief Patron, the Area MLA-cum-Chief Whip Bikram Pradhan was seen present in three different dresses of the three ethnic groups of Sikkim on three days of the cultural extravaganza. This appropriately fitted in with the title Dress sense-Common sense – appealing apparel to connect with the common people as well as the visitors there instantly.
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.