India, much like human society elsewhere, always had its own version of the Ton*.
The country had its Maharajas, Maharanis, Rajkumars*, Rajkumaris*, Mantris*, Zamindars*, et.al.
Collectively, the Indian ton had its own distinctive rules for haut living, encompassing customs for housing and dining to fabric, apparel and refined manners… specifically prescribed for the Indian aristocracy.
It was a magnificent, charmed way of life.
India’s first airline Air India, established in 1930, recognized the potential appeal and immortalised the Indian aristocratic way of life through its mascot, the Air India Maharaja. The airline for several decades in the twentieth century was also probably India’s best advertisement for the grace and charm of traditional Indian hospitality.
In the late twentieth and twenty-first centuries, financially bereft Maharajas in India possibly took a leaf from Air India’s acknowledged success in doing that. The Maharajas followed the airline’s example by turning their run-down palaces into hotels or home stays. Some Maharajas even deigned to rub shoulders and dine with guests willing to pay through their noses for such an experience.
Let’s call it a different type of nose job. Some Indian Maharajas have turned their ‘looking down the nose’ into a privilege people are now willing to pay through their nose for.
Perhaps it’s a good thing they do because the traditional way of Indian living is otherwise rapidly disappearing, giving way to the convenience of a Western lifestyle.
I think it all began somewhere in the nineteenth century when the Indian Ton began to get confused and turned schizophrenic – sometimes very Western; sometimes very Indian. Perhaps their adoption of a Western way of living was needed to ingratiate themselves and gain acceptance from their Colonial masters. Or, maybe, the ruling colonial power had succeeded in positioning their style of dress, their way of eating, drinking and dancing as the ruling fashion of the era.
Or, and I think this was probably more it, perhaps the increasingly designed for convenience Western lifestyle was simply too tempting.
Think about it. Would you choose to sit on the ground in the lotus position to eat your meals? When you could sit on a cushioned chair with a back rest and be served your meal on a table?
You wouldn’t, right? Not unless the leading yoga gurus of the day decided to revive an old Indian practice of dining and marketed the fact that the lotus position is the best way to consume food as it aids digestion. Then, in the interests of your wellness, not to mention being seen living the high-fashion life, you might. Health is in after all.
I’d love to see that!
Imagine fine dining restaurants reinventing themselves into a colonnade with high-ceilings. Instead of carefully arranged tables, there are only rows of paattas or palahais laid out on the floor. Marching in line with the paattas or palahais are floor mats for people to sit on.
Think about it. All the space saved from doing away with tables and chairs would mean more customers, more table covers, more profit. The only problem I foresee is the impediment of apparel not designed for such a fine, healthy way of eating.
Dress in traditional Indian clothing and there’s no issue. The dhoti and sari are designed for maximum flexibility and allow any sort of free movement. Many styles of Western trousers or skirts are not designed to do that, making sitting cross-legged on the floor an exercise in acrobatics.
But that is a problem easily solved. If floor dining becomes fine dining, I am sure some smart fashion designer will come up with a line of apparel specifically designed for that! When that happens, media releases will probably be issued with headlines such as Armani and the Banana Leaf!
There is scope here, I tell you!
The timing is perfect as well what with Banana Leaf dining (another ancient Indian custom) catching popular imagination in many parts of the world.
When I was but a school kid in oil-soaked pigtails, people would frequently make fun of the TamBrahm and other South Indian communities for the way they ate on banana leafs instead of plates. The style was seen as messy and inelegant, as compared to table dining. Consequently, people from the South would get jeered at with groups of people mimicking the way they ate. There was even a hurtful litany that went “andu gundu thanda pani”*.
All that hurt caused for what? In the ultimate analysis, I wonder who the joke is on today when I see a dining chain called Banana Leaf with outlets packed to the rafters.
Sigh! It all boils down to just how susceptible we are to social fashions and opinions. We all get caught in that net because we crave for social acceptance and hate being looked down on.
Otherwise, the fact is that plates made of banana leafs are more hygienic and environment friendly. And, floor dining is better for digestion.
This is an extract, modified for this post, from my book A Dance with the Corporate Ton: Reflections of a Worker Ant.
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#BananaLeaf #Armani #FineDining #TamBrahms
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*Ton – The London Ton was a term used to refer to Britain’s high society during the Regency period (the reign of George IV or thereabouts). The haut ton or ton were the fashionable elite of Georgian society who were bound by strictures to always display a ‘high tone’ and refined manners. This was deemed vital to displaying good breeding and status (definition extracted from Regency History: What is the haut ton by Rachel Knowles).
The Corporate Ton is a phrase coined by the author of A Dance with the Corporate Ton: Reflections of a Worker Ant.
*Rajkumar – meaning Prince in several languages of North India.
*Rajkumari – meaning Princess in several languages of North India.
*Mantri – means Minister in most Indian languages.
*Zamindars were the equivalent of the landed gentry in India.
- Paattas is a word in North Indian languages standing for little mobile platforms on which meals were placed. The paattas are designed to elevate the served food by a few inches making it more comfortable to bend down and eat a meal laid on the floor. Palahais is a Tamil word for the same little mobile platforms with the only difference being that in the South, the little platforms are offered for people to sit on.
*Andu gundu thanda pani does not mean anything. It’s really gibberish strung together. The word gundu does mean obese and probably found its way into this gibberish litany because South Indians were also regarded as people who over ate and were, therefore, fat.