NaMo’s Veshti: Made in India for China

NaMo’s Veshti: Made in India for China

Politically correct and sartorially savvy, Modi-Xi on day one had multiple, engaging cultural messages

The coastal city of Mamallapuram, a UNESCO World Heritage site—with the Arjuna Penance monument, Krishna’s Butterball, and the Pancha Rathas (a temple complex of monolithic structures)—the PM in a veshti (dhoti), angavastram (a traditional stole) and a white shirt sipping nariyal pani (coconut water) with Chinese President Xi Jinping. It is a photograph to archive. Not just for political reasons. A sublime backdrop. The right optics, the right vibe given the number of times the two leaders warmly shook hands. The right clothes. Politically correct, aesthetically appealing. There were many details for those who had their eyes peeled—the PM’s white veshti had a slim, dark border but his angavastram was more off-white or cream. Nice touch of slight mismatch.

Known for his sartorial savviness, Modi, whose wardrobe favourites have given India Now the Modi kurta and the Modi jacket—“modi-fied” versions of India’s traditional menswear pieces—also understands proportions well. In sophistication, the length of a kurta, the slim finish of the hem of a shawl, the tautness of a turban, the underlining of a jacket or the fabric of a bandhgala are the building blocks. The PM is clearly keen on these minutiae. The apt length of his veshti spoke for it.

For the first day of Jinping’s visit on October 11, for the second informal summit with India, the Indian PM’s choice of a World Heritage site as the venue struck at least two birds with one stone. If Mamallapuram emphasised the 2000-year-old civilisational ties between the two countries, Modi’s veshti sent out a strong message of cultural familiarity to the people of Tamil Nadu. Like other regions of South India, it is not uncommon to find men in Tamil Nadu dressed in traditional garb. This is quite unlike North India where Indian clothes are mostly seen as contrary to being “urban” or “modern”.

That’s why the PM’s choosing a veshti in Mamallapuram was a more engaging gesture than if he had worn a men’s shalwar, in Patiala for instance. In Tamil Nadu, he announced a sense of pride in regional costume while stressing the importance of local dress in an age of globalism in a broader context.

That’s not where the grammar of the photographs ended. The Chinese leader in dark trousers and a white shirt, smiling wide, also spoke of Jinping’s ample cheer. As the PM’s ease with a garment he doesn’t wear frequently. You can only look good if you are comfortable and Modi didn’t allow the slightest sign of awkwardness to surface as he gently picked up the folds of his veshti to walk around the World Heritage site giving his Chinese counterpart a cultural tour. The closed, brown sandals worked well.

Here then is a proposed line for a postcard from India to China. Xi-Jinping’s smile: Made in India.

Banner: In this handout photograph taken and released by India’s Press Information Bureau (PIB) on October 11, 2019, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and China’s President Xi-Jinping shake hands at the Pancha Rathas complex in Mamallapuram.

Banner Credit:  Handout/ PIB/ AFP–3228