No Masterclass for Teachers’ Dressing

No Masterclass for Teachers’ Dressing

From conservative decorum to work from home athleisure, teachers’ dressing has turned many a page. What have we lost?

In an era of masterclasses, when COVID-19 is teaching us many a lesson, when teachers work from home in pyjamas and need Teachers 101 crash courses to balance new technology with the frolicking attention spans of their students, how do we celebrate Teachers’ Day in India?

Who is a teacher, since so many try to be one on social media?

How does a teacher look, if you discount Hindi cinema’s memorable teacher appearances—Simi Garewal in Mera Naam Joker, Jeetendra in Parichay, Sunil Dutt in Didi, Sushmita Sen in Main Hoon Na, Gayatri Joshi in Swades, Amitabh Bachchan in Mohabbatein, Aamir Khan in Taare Zameen Par


Jeetendra in Parichay.

How do we discuss the persona of a “teacher” with young children today who look at a laptop or iPad to get a sense of the person behind the screen? Even as we, the not so old and not so young, who have suddenly become old style pumpkins on the technology bandwagon can only think of teachers as men and women of decorum writing on a blackboard with chalk?

Kind but “strict” figures in simple cotton or silk saris pleated into obedience with pins on pallus. High-necked blouses, neat joodas. Shirts tucked into pants, black or brown leather belts minus logos, polished, black or brown leather shoes, dark blue ties, black suits, sombre grey pullovers and fuddy-duddy spectacles. Dhoti-kurta-umbrella in village schools. Veshti and white shirt if it is the South of India. The Jana Gana Mana orchestrators of our student lives, formidable if always middle class. Disciplined ringmasters of our early manners and lasting morality. Superintendents of pran jaye par vachan na jaye (rather death than a broken vow) soldierly codes who taught us how to live ‘an Indian life’.

Gurus from not so long back who took to school teaching dressed in uniforms of conservative propriety and orderliness. Neat, clean and non-ostentatious clothes to live up to expectations of role modelling—both the roles and models would then be dashed but let us not get ahead of the story.

History was a good teacher. All teacher figures from the Swaraj Movement like Annie Besant, Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore, Acharya (Sanskrit for teacher) Vinobha Bhave, BR Ambedkar, or Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan whose birthday on 5 September 5 is observed as the day of Guru Puja, to name a few, had an aura of correctitude in appearance. Gandhi himself, author and teacher of Hind Swaraj and a dozen other monumental ideas did not. He dressed extraordinarily as a half-naked fakir, wearing peace and poverty as he pieced India together. He did not teach a school. He schooled a nation.


Photo: Wikimedia Commons

A portrait photograph of Dr BR Ambedkar.

Films followed real life as real life followed history. Gayatri Joshi teaching a village school in Swades wore simple cotton saris. Amitabh Bachchan wore authority and anger in Mohabatein, Sushmita Sen wore a svelte figure, sexy blouses and chiffon saris in Main Hoon Na. When we were young, our PT (physical training) coaches wore Bata shoes not Nike trainers. But Aamir Khan wore trainers and layered T-shirts in Taare Zameen Par. He rolled back his sleeves and rolled in smiles. In Dangal, he wore unrelenting obsession and white kurta pyjamas (to be symbolically soiled in his karmabhoomi) and chappals as he taught his girls to wrestle.

Perhaps in the last decade or so our children’s teachers wore salwar or churidar kurtas and later palazzo sets to “English medium” schools. Saris were kept for special occasions and festivals. For Teachers’ Day, Independence Day, Republic Day. Yet in villages or non-metro centres from Maharashtra to Trivandrum, schoolteachers still wear saris. It is a “compulsory” dress code. Male teachers may have transitioned to jeans with collared T-shirts in cities but in villages, the pant-shirt set symbolises the transition.


Sushmita Sen in Main Hoon Na.

And now? While social media “masters” wear their fashion bests: cheeky eyeliners, smartphone friendly lipsticks, finger rings to throw their hands into focus, tortoise shell eyeglasses and Zoom Attitude, we have no idea what the schoolteacher wore to the pandemic. Those who painstakingly and dutifully teach children online every day in villages and in cities. Or tutors who coach thousands students for the forthcoming JEE and NEET? What does Work From Home dressing mean for them? What does Aamir Khan’s real life Dangal counterpart wear during COVID? What has the Amitabh Bachchan style college principal in a hill-station boarding institute done with his formal jackets?

There is no assembly, no school prayer, no PT class after all. Even though there is a masterclass for everything. Amul Butter has one too!


A still of Amul Butter’s Teachers’ Day campaign.

For me, while I miss my sari clad school Miss(es) and suited-booted Sirs, it is Walter White (Bryan Cranston) in Breaking Bad and Annalise Keating (Viola Davis) in How to Get Away with Murder who have taught me a thing or two.

One lesson being Never Typecast a Teacher.

Banner (L-R): Rabindranath Tagore; Annie Besant; Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan.

Wikimedia Commons.–3997