04 July 2023

The clothes we wear and the clothes that wear us (down)

More than 40 years ago, a student around 15 or 16 years of age, made a rather unkind observation about a cricket coach. The said coach, referred to as ‘Colonel,’ was a no-nonsense, expressionless man who used words sparingly. The boys were not necessarily in awe of the man although his cricketing and coaching credentials were excellent.

Before we get to the comment, let me relate a side story that might shed light on his character and coaching methods.

Colonel was in the position of the head umpire, as typical of many coaches. There were two batsmen out in the middle. A field had been set. The others were beyond the boundary line, watching the proceedings.  

The batsman on strike glanced a delivery on the leg stump towards fine leg. Neither batsman needed to call the run. They ran. As the striker approached the bowler’s end, he shouted, ‘turn back.’

'Colonel' stopped play then and there. He called out to everyone, including the spectators.  Here’s the gist of what he said.

Addressing the striker first, he said, ‘You said “turn back” without knowing where the ball was and what was happening behind you.’ He didn’t have to say that the other batsman may have slipped, the throw might have come in quicker than he thought or list other possible developments. The boys understood.

Addressing the entire group he said, ‘There are only three calls: yes, no and wait.’  

Back to the incident. And the comment: ‘Colonel has no personality.’

To this day I don’t know how this boy understood ‘personality.’ Maybe screaming and shouting, endless chatter, a few jokes and guffaws was what he equated (good) personality to. To this day I don’t know if he heard what one of the other boys said, softly. I heard and remember: ‘personality should not be judged by outward appearance.’  

‘Real men wear real clothes,’ is a tagline used by a popular and flourishing men’s clothing outfit. What do other men wear, I wondered when I saw this line. What’s ‘real clothing’ and who are ‘real men’?

There’s always the ‘out’ of convention. There’s always ‘When in Rome do as the Romans do.’ How did Romans decide to be the Romans they came to be, though? Preferences can and do change. Preferences are constructed too. That’s how convention, typically, is wrought.

We have all seen invitations for weddings and other events that come with ‘dress code.’ Out of respect for the host, we comply. There are dress codes that are not written down anywhere, but we abide by them. ‘Sunday best to church,’ we’ve heard. White to temple on Poya day. Remove headwear and footwear when entering certain places of worship, this too we know.

In Sri Lanka, a tropical country, we wear coats and ties at times, even to work places uninsured against the heat. To each his or her preference is a decent and civilised prescription, though.  But sometimes we do notice disapproval, disdain or even outright horror when a dress code is considered to have been violated. ‘Good for that, but not for this; good over there but not here,’ is said or else is apparent in expression.

I’ve experienced all this first hand. ‘You look nice’ or ‘that shirt looks nice,’ I’ve been told, and I tell myself, ‘at other times I don’t look nice and my other shirts are considered ugly.’ A dear friend wanted me to ‘dress well’ for a particular occasion. I didn’t wear the crumpled white shirt that has been over-worn to the point of discoloration that she had once seen me in. It had a couple of holes. My sandals I was wearing were broken and the denim trousers were torn at the knees. I indulged her. I wore ‘something nice.’ I wore shoes. She was pleased.

And she invited me again for another event. I was to be part of the audience and wouldn’t be seen on stage. This is what happened.

Here's a choice:
"torn clothes if you like.”

Distinction is a social construct
this truth we know 
this truth we unlearn 
with singular determination
and train eyes to worship
fashion and trend
those deities manufactured
as all deities are 
to obtain confirmation 
and make profit on the side,
and not everyone is like Voltaire
able in five minutes 
to talk away his face 
so he could bed the Queen of England
if he so wished,
not everyone can erase with ease
consecrated inconsequentiality 
and not everyone can peel away makeup
unlayer deceitful garments 
and bring forth the heart 
resplendent with blemish and wart;
as for me, I wear clean clothes,
some torn and some not
in adoration of preferred comforts
for I have no eyes 
to see eyes that will not see. 

We are all lesser personalities in someone’s eyes. We are judged and we judge. We wear clothes and the clothes we wear often wear us down. It’s all very tedious and that makes us comply. We don't want to suffer discomfort; we ‘fit’ so we don’t invite caustic comments.

Such a waste of time, I sometimes think. 


['The Morning Inspection' is the title of a column I wrote for the Daily News from 2009 to 2011, one article a day, Monday through Saturday. This is a new series. Links to previous articles in this new series are given below]

Other articles in this series:

Every mountain, every rock, is sacred

Manufacturing passivity and obedience

Precept and practice

Sanjeew Lonliyes: rawness unplugged, unlimited

In praise of courage, determination and insanity

The relative values of life and death

Feet that walk

Sarinda's eyes

Poetry and poets will not be buried

Sunny Dayananda

Reunion Peradeniya (1980-1990)

What makes Oxygen breathable? 

Sorrowing and delighting the world

The greatest fallacy 

Encounters with Liyanage Amarakeerthi

Beyond praise and blame

Letters that cut and heal the heart

Vanished and vanishing trails


A forgotten dawn song from Embilipitiya

The soft rain of neighbourliness 

The Gold Medals of being

Jaya Sri Ratna Sri

All those we've loved before

Reflections on waves and markings

A chorus of National Anthems

Saying what and how

'Say when'

Respond to insults in line with the Akkosa Sutra

The loves of our lives

The right time, the right person

The silent equivalent of a thousand words

Crazy cousins are besties for life

Unities, free and endearing

Free verse and the return key

"Sorry, Earth!"

The lost lyrics of Premakeerthi de Alwis

The revolution is the song

Consolation prizes in competitions no one ever wins

The day I won a Pulitzer


Ella Deloria's silences

Blackness, whiteness and black-whiteness

Inscriptions: stubborn and erasable 


Deveni: a priceless one-word koan

Enlightening geometries

Let's meet at 'The Commons'

It all begins with a dot

Recovering run-on lines and lost punctuation

'Wetness' is not the preserve of the Dry Zone

On sweeping close to one's feet

Kumkum Fernando installs Sri Lanka in Coachella, California

To be an island like the Roberts...

Debts that can never be repaid in full

An island which no flood can overwhelm

Who really wrote 'Mother'?

A melody faint and yet not beyond hearing

Heart dances that cannot be choreographed

Remembering to forget and forgetting to remember

On loving, always

Authors are assassinated, readers are immortal

When you turn 80...

It is good to be conscious of nudities 

Saturday slides in after Monday and Sunday somersaults into Friday 

There's a one in a million and a one in ten

Gunadasa Kapuge is calling

Kumkum Fernando installs Sri Lanka in Coachella, California

Hemantha Gunawardena's signature

Pathways missed

Architectures of the demolished

The exotic lunacy of parting gifts

Who the heck do you think I am?

Those fascinating 'Chitra Katha'

The Mangala Sabhava

So how are things in Sri Lanka?

The most beautiful father

Palmam qui meruit ferat

The sweetest three-letter poem

Buddhangala Kamatahan

An Irish and Sri Lankan Hello

Teams, team-thinking, team-spirit and leadership

The songs we could sing in lifeboats when we are shipwrecked

Pure-Rathna, a class act

Jekhan Aruliah set a ball rolling in Jaffna

Awaiting arrivals unlike any other

Teachers and students sometimes reverse roles

Matters of honor and dignity

Yet another Mother's Day

A cockroach named 'Don't'

Colombo, Colombo, Colombo and so forth

The slowest road to Kumarigama, Ampara

Sweeping the clutter away

Some play music, others listen

Completing unfinished texts

Mind and hearts, loquacious and taciturn

I am at Jaga Food, where are you?

On separating the missing from the disappeared

Moments without tenses

And intangible republics will save the day (as they always have)

The world is made of waves


The circuitous logic of Tony Muller

Rohana Kalyanaratne, an unforgettable 'Loku Aiya'

Mowgli, the Greatest Archaeologist

Figures and disfigurement, rocks and roses

Sujith Rathnayake and incarcerations imposed and embraced

Some stories are written on the covers themselves

A poetic enclave in the Republic of Literature

Landcapes of gone-time and going-time 

The best insurance against the loud and repeated lie

So what if the best flutes will not go to the best flautists?

There's dust and words awaiting us at crossroads and crosswords

The books of disquiet

A song of terraced paddy fields

Of ants, bridges and possibilities

From A through Aardvark to Zyzzyva 

World's End

Words, their potency, appropriation and abuse

Street corner stories

Who did not listen, who's not listening still?

The book of layering

If you remember Kobe, visit GOAT Mountain

The world is made for re-colouring

The gift and yoke of bastardy

The 'English Smile'

No 27, Dickman's Road, Colombo 5

Visual cartographers and cartography

Ithaca from a long ago and right now

Lessons written in invisible ink

The amazing quality of 'equal-kindness'

A tea-maker story seldom told

On academic activism

The interchangeability of light and darkness

Back to TRADITIONAL rice

Sisterhood: moments, just moments

Chess is my life and perhaps your too

Reflections on ownership and belonging

The integrity of Nadeesha Rajapaksha

Signatures in the seasons of love

To Maceo Martinet as he flies over rainbows

Sirith, like pirith, persist

Fragrances that will not be bottled 

Colours and textures of living heritage

Countries of the past, present and future

A degree in creative excuses

Books launched and not-yet-launched

The sunrise as viewed from sacred mountains

The ways of the lotus

Isaiah 58: 12-16 and the true meaning of grace

The age of Frederick Algernon Trotteville

Live and tell the tale as you will

Between struggle and cooperation

Of love and other intangibles

Neruda, Sekara and literary dimensions

The universe of smallness

Paul Christopher's heart of many chambers

Calmness gracefully cascades in the Dumbara Hills

Serendipitous amber rules the world

Continents of the heart