Sometime ago the political bug hit me and with it came adhering to the codes of conduct that have to be inculcated, I learnt lesson number one, 'Adapt to the customs conceived as acceptable in our society'. Talk about peer pressure, this is very similar. Social practices have several aspects and I believe following the herd is one of the essentials. I am surely not one of those to follow the social norms unless it's absolutely necessary. I lived in the bubble but all that had to be put aside and like others I also had to undergo 'change'.
Willing to fall into line, albeit on 'political time', one manages to find an alternative life when one feels hemmed in, when this occurs the butterflies emerge to flit and fly as nature intended. This is probably what has kept my sanity and looking at the changing reflections, it has left my funny-bone intact, happy and amused.
In the political arena perception is very important. People perceive you as you intend them to... not necessarily you the person, but you the persona. The aura you carry is so incredibly significant that your whole career may depend on it.
Recently everyone with half an idea of the political developments must have noted that there have been several influencing factors at play... in fact, so many that it can make one's head actually roll right off. But that funny bone I spoke of earlier came into action and taking the more humorous note proved helpful in keeping my perspective and spirits high - which I may tell you is essential for survival in a ruthless business. So, letting the lighter side of this industry take its head, I watched people and their behavioural patterns and one of the most obvious were how they dressed.
Some of you may agree that dress codes in public are a form of warfare. Both men and women fall into the net and much can be fathomed by what they have donned for the day.
I have observed that men on their guard in our political system tend to wear suits when put on the line. Often those on the back foot who want to appear in charge use the fashion to convey a strong message that screams "do not come close to me as I am 'different' from you and want to maintain my distance." The greater the pressure, the more expensive the suit.
Wearing a jacket with the national shalwar kameez, which is very acceptable at any time, indicates that you are adaptable and are very comfortable in your own skin.
Then there are those who wear the tweed jacket, shirt and trousers which manage to reflect a man pursuing a career in agriculture or someone who is a part of the academic corp.
However, those who wear the jacket with a nonchalant air are on the defensive side. You will note that when under scrutiny several men will turn up with a flamboyant air, the double blazer or a double-breasted jacket, a shirt with buttons open at the neck, often a cravat or scarf to add a cavalier look. It is a sure way of saying I have a thick skin, so take a long walk off a short cliff... not a very political message. It is, significant to note that this is a look adopted by the military brass, who tend to look at life from their own unique perspective and I presume it is a sort of survival tactic. However, this same fashion when followed by the politicos tend to say, "Hell the guns are blazing and I am in the line of fire. Maybe using this military offensive will work for me!" needless to say, it backfires!!!
Coming to the 'awami' look, the shalwar kameez and sitting with legs far apart says, "I want to fit in at all cost and hopefully you will believe in me, please, please, please believe in me, I am your 'khadim'." To add a bit of lustre to this over used cliche, a rakish cap and sporty blazer adds a sense of 'look at me, I am frisky man, get out of my way' message.
Technically, women in the world of politics cannot be left far behind when it comes to these codes of combat; the only thing is that they have few options when in public. Women 'have' to don the national uniform, use the duppatta or have people labelling them... not very polite of the masses to be so judgemental, but that happens when one is out in the public eye.
Despite the set back of having access to limited fashion lines to reflect attitudes, our women have developed their personal signals to send out messages. A key point to be noted when it comes to warfare, is to say it with gems and accessories. We have seen the wonderful hairdos, gorgeous jewels donned by ministers and key diplomats and even the spokesperson's designer spectacles and diamond ring have been a means to get the message of power across.
The ladies in the political field are fashion conscience. They have rivalries amongst themselves - even if they are friends - and need to use strategies, to prove a one-upmanship. Several dress to the nines, and wear huge amounts of make-up as camouflage. We see a lot of black, so presumably it is an all time favourite colour specially when there is an offensive or an unrelenting attack in the horizon.
There are other forms of aggression that are also practiced. I believe in certain quarters animosity seems to be brewing large. I say this as I noticed during a 'milad' one pretty lady who enjoys dressing up, quite unknowingly, sent a message out to a colleague who has been aggressively trying to undermine her. Unconsciously garbed in a militia gray kameez with flared trouser, very contemporary indeed, she gave me a chance to ponder about the officious trimmings. Instead of the usual embroidery, she wore military stripes and brass buttons that suggested the underlining combative mood to the chic ensemble. Her 'rival' had arrayed herself in a range of peacock colours, blazing lipstick and darkened eyes, and looked ready to dance off into the sunset, or to have the proverbial face-off. Needless to say, I enjoyed the tell tale signs, after all there were no words, just the play with fashion was enough to tell that there was an on-going war . That was until I looked at myself...
These signs of the times had me wrapped up too... I had my hair tied up in a knot, a pair of pearl earrings on my lobes, a simply trimmed duppatta draped on my head, my shoulders were covered with a shawl and my outfit said, "I have conformed!"
Well that was it!!! Next day, there was no venturing out, I put on a pair of trousers and a well loved fleece tee and stayed at home!
Pictures courtesy: Khaliq Khan and Murad Ali Shah