On Saturday, Rook and I had ventured into Dharavi. Our quest? To find a nice leather purse for Rook’s mom who recently turned 75. Because if you STILL haven’t read my second book, Dharavi is home to a pretty large leather industry, that churns off Hidesign and Mulberry knock-offs as well as some stellar original designs in handbags, jackets, wallets and so on.
The neighbourhood has also provided gritty scenery to the poverty-porn extravaganza that was Slumdog Millionaire and more recently to Zoya Akhtar’s feel-good 8 Mile rip-off, Gully Boy. And I’ll say this for the place, it’s got attitude. There were spray painted murals high up on the walls of dingy apartment buildings. There was a sense of… you know what, never mind, you’ve seen it in the movies. This post isn’t about the edgy scenery.
It’s about style.
Because as we were leaving, our cab laden with our purchases (note the plural: I dare you to walk into those leather boutiques and buy just ONE thing, no, no, go on, I’ll wait here with this knowing smirk on my face) we saw a sight so incongruous, so out of place, it made us laugh in delight.
Well, I laughed in delight, Rook just snickered.
There was a man standing in the middle of the traffic snarl of Dharavi, wearing a brown, three-piece suit. It was a flashy suit and no mistake. The fabric wasn’t your dull, board-room variety, designed to blend in to the background when the boss talks. It had sheen. The buttons – on the cuffs, the jacket, the waistcoat – were golden. He wore large aviator-styled spectacles with golden rims and there was a golden lapel pin in the shape of an airplane pinned to his jacket. He looked every inch the dandy, as he stood there nonchalantly, wheelie suitcase by his side, nut brown skin shining with perspiration. It was an unabashedly flamboyant look and he was carrying it off with elan.
And it worked because this was the last place in Mumbai you’d expect to see a man dressed like this. Like something out of a fashion shoot, where they place crazily dressed models against a grungy urban setting so that all the vanilla people behind act as a backdrop, throwing the model into sharp relief.
We guessed that the gentleman – and that outfit earns him that epithet – was waiting for a cab to take him to the airport. Dubai probably. Which is where my glee doubled. Because think about it. Airport fashion. All those starlets clicked getting on and off planes. All those boring-ass legging-hoodie-sneaker trifectas. And here comes Gentleman Jim. Wiping the floor with those athleisure-clad dummies.
Oh, people may laugh at him. This is India, of course, where dressing up for non-wedding occasions seems to require a good, solid reason. Oh, sorry I’m looking so sharp, I have a meeting later. Sorry, I’ve dressed like a fashionista, I have a date. No reason? Ha, ha, ha, what are you some kind of maniac who likes to look good in general? Hah. As if.
No. The Man in the Brown Suit is an example to us all. A beacon of style that asks ‘How long will you hide behind pinstripes and dull colours?’ How long will you wear things, not because you like them, but because “that’s how we dress in this office?” Or, to put it more succinctly, like that Bombay Times ad said, ‘Style maara toh darna kya?’