The Flip-Flop Flop

He looked at my feet and was aghast. ‘What is this that you are wearing?

Um, it’s just flip-flops, papa! What’s so shocking?’ I asked, knowing fully-well what he meant. Each toe was wiggling cozy inside a differently coloured toe in the rainbow socks. In white flip-flops. Just for Rs. 50 from Lajpat Nagar. I was a new student in New Delhi and back home on my first vacation. And it showed.

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It looks very funny. And to think you are wearing this to the Masonic family dinner?’ this time the aghast was with a capital A. I wasn’t planning to defile their ‘Temple’ or some such with my informality, but neither was I planning on further defending my dressy socks against his shocks. There was no point. Because I had been his little one growing up in the same house, once upon a time …

And for all 17 years that I was home, my parents made sure that the thin line between comfortable dressing and shabbiness was never crossed. Also, that we children looked as proper as the occasion demanded.

In class 5, I was taught how to iron my school shirts to perfection (including those elusive spots just below the collars and under the arms), tie the right school tie knot and polish my shoes till they shone like stars. I cribbed because my brother’s pants were so much easier to maintain and here I was, every night, ironing my 20 pleats of worsted cotton skirt, the length of which, thanks to my mother, was maintained a good inch or two above the knees. (It looks smart, if you know how to sit and get up, she would say!)

Being in a girls Convent for most part of my schooling and a co-ed Patrician Brother school for the “better” remaining half, clipped nails, no earrings, socks pulled-up and hair tied neatly were just givens. (Sometimes I wondered if my parents having studied in the same schools as me, together, had anything to do with this idée fixation with keeping ourselves prim-and-proper. Perhaps, this shared passion made them fall in love?) I never gave it a second thought, and truth be told, did frown at the ignominy of fellow-students who did not know how to respect their uniforms or tap the Cherry Blossom just right on the ‘open’ dent and use it.

Back home from school, and it was a different story. No one cared a t if it was a whole tee or a hole-y one we wore up to the mango tree. With a home housing 12, including 6 children, every renovation meant mounds of sand to play in and white-wash brushes to steal. July was about trees laden with lichis to peel and eat, and December a month of home-made tandoori rotis in the day and bonfires in the evening, with a stock of wood saved in the kothari for over a year. Some hand-me-downs and a handful of downtrodden rags for clothes did just fine.

However, the moment we had to step out of the house, we would be hurried to get cleaned up and presentable – from top to toe. My parents had a remarkable zeal to get us looking like new, even if it was about going to the subzi mandi. The families staying in the valley for generations knew each other too well. What if we bump into someone we know? was the best papa could muster to make us go from rags to respectable. My mother had second hand knowledge of ‘clothes maketh a man’ kind of phrases from her Judge father who supped with the British so used better, more intimidating, phraseology.

At a time when I was all of 9, I remember papa looking at my feet and going similarly aghast when I wore my new and clean Relaxo chappal with a brown frock, ready to go to the club on a night when, mercy from heaven, kids were allowed to enter instead of waving goodbye to their parents going for a Ball Dance night. I had changed into frills to dress for the occasion, but my flip-flops had flopped. I wasn’t disappointed. Because I did not comprehend. I do now, and cannot thank him enough for that flop. Years later, when I heard my college professor once announce all impressed – ‘You don’t look like a hosteller at all. You don’t come to class in slippers and your clothes are always immaculately ironed. Not bad!’ I knew it was more than genes that were to be thanked for making me stand out from the crowd. It was just what I had been taught.

Today, in planes I see people, especially men, who seemed to have rolled out of bed and into a flight totally against their wishes. The stubble and the bags under the eyes agreeing with me, even as the drawstrings of the hosiery shorts try to bob cheerfully. I see pictures all over social networking sites announcing the contradiction of a new cocktail dress on the lady and a crumpled ‘Rockstar’ tee on the man, ready to go party.

I see running shoes with bow-ties, gym socks driving to office. I see school skirts anything but ironed, yellowing socks peeping out of dusty shoes and girls’ nails and boys’ hair competing for length in classrooms. The ties hang loosely around the necks and the pants dangerously low, showing a fake CK or D&G peeping on a band. And formal dress-codes? A blue-moon, happily replaced with shinier costumes for theme-parties. Why, even the clubs are giving up, what with political kurta-pajamas walking in for drinks and dinner after a day of feeling important, wrinkles, warts and all.

Last night, the flip-flops were back to trigger this jog down the memory lane. A guest walked in in Hilfiger shorts and Puma chappals for a formal dinner in a fine-dine restaurant. (I know they were a fine brand, but they are chappals.) I wondered if my polished pumps were ill-suited for the company. As I looked at the fading glories adorning his feet, I realized mine weren’t out of place at all. It’s the flip-flops that flopped again! And my parents’ idea, and mine, won yet again!

What my son learns to wear and likes to wear only time will tell. I picked a lesson that I liked and I am doing my best to teach him ‘Look your best!’ The homely chappals lovingly called flip-flops, in the meantime, are staying exactly where the occasion demands then to be – at home.

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But that’s only my side of the story. What’s yours?

Sakshi Nanda went from studying Literature to serving the print media and finally settling with two publishing houses who called her editor for a couple of hard-bounds, no more! She writes as a work-from-home mother to realize herself as well as to be read, both – with her 2-year-old boy and her sarkari babu beau as the greatest source of ideas and inspiration. She believes eating baby food is therapeutic and that the pen is man’s best invention, after diapers that is! Meet her at: sakshinanda.blogspot.in

  • And my parents thought expensive Dr. Scholls were flip flops too. I often find myself judging people by the footwear … and I had thought it was a professional thing, I work for a footwear company. Now I know, it was my upbringing 😛

    • 😀 It was your upbringing indeed, and I am sure I did not have to tell you that. And you work for a footwear company? And you still have time to write, and publish and be a mom? When will you stop making me go ‘Wow!’ ? 😀 @phoenixritu:disqus ma’am thanks for reading! 🙂

      • Blushing and trying to look modest.

        • Don’t need to. In a certain section of humankind, Pride is well-deserved and not a sin. 🙂

  • Abhijit Ray

    Very nicely written. Eternal conflict between discipline vs. bohemian attitude. Although, what we think freedom and noncoformity, can be total laziness and lack of idea. It is, in my view, important to have discipline first. Then one can go beyond discipline at a later age, if they are capable of deciding for themselves if they want to be nonconformist. Most people do not understand the value of discipline. That is why we have anarchy. Some one said, if we cannot respect ourselves, we should not expect that others should respect us.

    • Discipline in my view too is important. We can have varying degrees of it at various ages and stages, but we need to have it. Being a non-conformist is not necessarily being indisciplined, so surely we can go boho when we please. However, an underlying stream of discipline and a foundation to stand on in mob anarchy helps you identify home from elsewhere. Thanks a lot for your comment, @abhijitray:disqus 🙂

  • Loved this, Sakshi. I’m not sure what people try to prove by dressing in a slovenly manner! I see kids going to college these days, and wonder if they even stopped to brush their teeth as their clothes tell me they slept in them! We needn’t dress expensive – but neat and clean get a lot of marks from me! 😉 I must me tell you about the lady who turned up at the Club in the late ’60s in her ‘foreign’ quilted dressing gown! She didn’t know better, of course!

    • Haha, that quilted lady perhaps thought it’s the other club members who know no better. Little did the poor soul realise there is you sitting there. 😀 I agree, we needn’t dress expensive but looking and being washed and clean takes nothing. Of course, a lot of expensive dressing is shabby. But where money talks, reason takes a bow out. 🙂 Thanks for stopping by, Corinne.

  • Sid Balachandran

    @sakshinanda:disqus – Another classic post from the one and only. Ah, those were the days – the days of neat, ironed clothes, with polished footwear. Today – I’m no longer sure if hoisery and other “intimate-wear” are inner wear or outer wear. It’s quite ironic if you think about it – kids today definitely spend a lot more time and money on cosmetic items and branded clothes than we ever did; though the basic ideologies of ironing, polishing, matching footwear, and sometimes even combing are lost on them. Another observation that strikes me as very strange (since my return to India) is that “we” as a nation seem a lot more receptive to a foreigner walking around town in their “jammies and chappals”; I absolutely do not condone that particular dressing sense, but I find our general attitudes towards this quite amusing to say the least – Of course, their parenting style might have something to do with it;

    • Interesting observation there, @iwrotethose:disqus. Perhaps, it takes one to be foreign-return to notice that. Very interesting, actually!
      Good to know you wore/wear polished shoes. You are suddenly one of my favourites around with just that bit in place. And did you just call me ‘one and only’? Look at me smile 😀 😀 😀
      Thanks a lot for reading!

      • Sid Balachandran

        Haha! “Foreign – return” – love it; Might even consider that as a unique username the next time one of those umpteen sites ask me to register before posting; and yes….I still stick to that “One & only” 🙂 Glad to have made you smile.

  • Nischala

    Sakshi – A child picks up a lot from how their parents conduct themselves. I think many parents need to first get their act together, and then check on the kids. With the IT boom in India, casual dressing / western styles have influenced our choices / preferences and ways of living. I speak from experience as I’m part of the IT world – Sometimes the pressures get to you and deadlines will force you to NOT DO many basic things on a daily basis (For e.g: I know of people who don’t shower everyday. Its once a week and other days the deo is just fine :(), Even if your parents were strict, I think people find it easy to un-learn / re-learn stuff once they become financially independent and travel the globe. Once again, thought provoking post. Nischala

    • That’s quite a peek into the IT world’s dressing and perfuming, @nischala:disqus Showering once a week? Hm. If time is money I guess a bath is a waste of 15 minutes. People do find it easy, and often necessary, to unlearn/re-learn. I’m just glad I did not have to, despite being a journalist where chappals did juts fine sitting in wooden cabins. 😛
      Thanks for reading! 🙂

  • Swati Nitin Gupta

    Yes it is pretty easy to unlearn and relearn what your parents taught you, however the one thing that remained from my childhood were my mom’s words — well-ironed clothes and well-combed hair are the mark of successful people so if you want to be successful in life stay prim and proper.

    • Wonderful words from your mom, @swatinitingupta:disqus. And something tells me, you are following them to the ‘tee’ 😉
      Thanks a lot for reading!

  • Jairam Mohan

    This post made me feel extremely guilty as I have consciously unlearnt all that my father taught me in terms of wearing appropriate clothes for appropriate occasions. Blame it on my hostel life for 2 yrs, or laziness in maintaining my clothes or my IT Job which suddenly made Friday Dressing the norm throughout the week, but the kind of clothes and the ensembles that I wear nowadays make me cringe at the thought of it.

    This post just might have made a small difference though. Let me see 🙂

    • I’m happy to see your comment here, Jairam. This is, and always will remain, the ‘Home’ of my writing. 🙂

      Oh lord. While I had no intention of making you feel guilty about the comfortable choices you have made with regards your wardrobe, I am happy yo have set you thinking. Although, it’s a free world and one can do as they please and wear as they deem fit.

      I certainly don’t want you cringing. There is NO reason for that. 😀

  • Seeta

    Nice one! Coming from an IT background I can vouch for the lack of understanding most “IT”ians display when it comes to dress code. Flip flops, wrinkled round neck/sleeveless tees are worn under the business casuals tag! I am sure you can tell this is a topic close to my heart 🙂

    • And I have replied to you already, @disqus_xnmJWkzjaE:disqus. Thank you, again. 🙂

  • Athenas Take

    Loved the flip flops as a kid, have argued with my parents and even worn it outside to parties just to annoy them, when I turn around and think about it now I feel what a little brat I have been. Truly a trip down memory lane for me, with my kids now, flip flops are only for the home and they are not allowed to wear it out anywhere, will have to wait a few more years to hear their version of protests.

    • Ah! So mumma had her way but babies have to know better. 😉 Not bad! 😀 Yes, I too am waiting for those years to come when they will try to stand up for the cause of the flip-flop. Let’s see what that brings. Will surely let you know, @athenastake:disqus 😀

      • Athenas Take

        Will look forward to reading that post as well.

  • I myself have seen most of my classmates wear dangerously low jeans, and no its not just the boy but also the girls. Shabby dressing has become part of their routine. Too bad . I don’t know if its the fault of the parent’s not raising a finger against their children’s dressing or the teens who have trademarked such dressing as fashion ! A little effort from their part would do so much good ! I crib when I see half of my college in wrinkled and shabby dressing. Its an educational centre , where we learn all such things as you mentioned in the post and yet its there where youngsters flaunt there disastrous dress code.
    Everything , I mean everything you have written in this post , I seem to connect with it. Thought provoking post dear !

    • So good to know you know what I mean, @Bohemian_Butterfly:disqus. I do think we follow the crowd rather than what our parents taught us to believe. In many other departments too, actually, and not just what to wear and how to wear it. For me, this is an important aspect of a person’s personality. Thanks for reading. 🙂

  • Nice post Sakshi and a truly needed one considering the fact that people live in extremes, either wearing branded terribly expensive accessories that make them look like a mobile mall or wearing hardly anything (pun intended) and ‘natural look’ that makes them look like they have had a bad day and prefer to ignore the human species apart from them.

    • Haha, @ShailRaghuvanshi:disqus. I should include this comment in the write-up above. You put it so well! 😀
      Thanks a lot for reading! 🙂