CLOTHES MAKETH THE MAN

In the late forties, a new style in men’s wear made its debut in Saligão. It was the “bush shirt”.

The bush shirt had short sleeves, a flat collar, and a straight hem that reached down to the hips.  It hung over ones trousers instead of being tucked under the waistband, as was the norm. Men who wore the bush shirt were looked upon as being avant-garde and quite stylish until the other men felt bold enough to break with tradition.

Meanwhile, fashion didn’t affect us as youngsters; our main dress was the khaki school uniform that we wore at all times on weekdays. Apart from my khaki outfit, my wardrobe comprised two longsleeved shirts (one white, one blue), a white pair of shorts, and a grey woolen pair. The white shirt and khaki shorts were worn to church on Sundays, while the white shirt and white shorts were worn to church during Lent or at funerals. The blue shirt and grey woolen shorts, with a neat tie, were reserved for feast days and weddings.

As soon as we graduated from high school, the khaki uniforms were discarded. Now, as adolescents, we switched to white cotton trousers and a white or coloured shirt. The trousers were laundered, starched and ironed by the village dhobi, the laundryman, and sported a sharp crease. We were very proud of that crease, and we’d try desperately not to break it up at the knees whenever we sat on a chair.

Catholics and Hindus dressed differently. Most of the older Catholic men wore light coloured cotton suits over a shirt with an open collar. Ties were mainly worn to church and formal occasions. Hindu males wore the dhoti instead of trousers. The dhoti is a kneelength white loin cloth wrapped around the waist, pleated in the front,and with some of the pleats pulled back and tucked into the waist band in the back.

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But the most utilitarian attire worn by almost every male labourer was the kashti. The kashti comprised a cord tied around a man’s waist, with a length of red coloured fabric – six to eight inches wide slung from the cord under the belly to the cord above the buttocks, forming a comfortable hammock for those possessions so prized by men.

The kashti was the ideal outfit for all labourers, be they farmers working in soggy paddy fields, toddy tappers climbing up coconut trees, or fishermen launching their large outriggers into the pounding surf along Goa’s beautiful beaches. To wear a kashti in the tropics was “cool” in every sense of the word.

And I’m sure that the women, too, found the kashti “cool”. All they had to do was pull a few strings to get results!