The Red rebels and the trend followers: JNU fashion

Posted: April 18, 2009 in ESSAYS /RANDOM COMMENTS
Tags: , ,

We all know that story. God told Mr. Adam not to eat the forbidden fruit. Nevertheless, he eventually did. Well, this Mr. Adam was the first student of Jawaharlal Nehru University (technical not but ideologically yes). Nested in a thousand-acre campus, JNU forms a world of its own. The walls of the administrative block, the schools and the hostels are covered with graffiti and political posters. People sit for hours at different dhabas and debate. Questioning is the favourite pastime of JNUites. So what is fashionable here? Being a rebel.

The university has fashioned its own kind of rebels. The Left ones. They are the popular rebels here. The ones who shun the globalization. The ones who despise the Capitalist world. The ones who wear kurta with jeans, chappals, shawls and a red jhola. They are not the much romanticized ‘leather jacket and Harley Davidson’ rebels of the movies. They are the lanky young intellectuals who find it ‘in’ to go on strikes and midnight mashal julus (torchlight processions). The fad is to debate issues over cups of tea and cigarettes. They spend hours debating. The issues vary from the US nuclear deal (which according to them is the saddest moment of free India) to the water problem in the hostels (incidentally all the hostels are named after rivers). They resent the Capitalist fashion companies (which sadly mean no Reebok or Puma). Their fashion is the one that undercuts the fashion itself.

In this temporal and spatial milieu where patiala is combined with kurti and jhola to give ‘the’ communist look, who is the style icon ? None other than Che Guevera. JNU’s romance with communism continues with its omniscient fascination with the Latin American revolutionary. You will find Che (the photo that Alberto Corda immortalized) on the walls, on innumerable t-shirts and even on cigarette cases. Arguably, JNU boasts of the largest number of Che tees in the whole of India (or so they say).

The slow and rhythmic pace of the lifestyle sets you in trance when suddenly the air is impregnated with the sound of Royal Enfield bikes as few students ride by the Ganga dhaba for their evening round of the campus. Dressed in black jackets, jeans, Aviators and matched with stubble and long hair; they await the sun to set when the day would start at JNU. When asked about JNU fashion, Farbod Vasighi, an Iranian national replied in one word: utilitarian.

Numerous events take place during the night. Film shows, plays, public talks and political meetings takes place regularly. Moreover, People who prefer to spend time differently sit around bonfires during winters and sing songs or stroll around the campus. Checkered print shoes are teemed with casual jackets. Girls dress up in Fisher-man pants with Converse keds.

JNU is not a cultural melting pot but rather a cultural mosaic. The style remains largely individualist. The different influence of different cultures is vividly seen in the dressing sense of the students. The clothes portray not only the different cultural impacts but also individual political leanings (a red jhola is always associated with the communists). JNU has a large number of foreign students. Many combine their respective national clothing with the usual tees and jeans. They also prefer to assimilate their sense of style with Indian fashion. Often teeming up scarves with pajamas and Kolapuri chappals. Harlem pants are matched with Osho chappals. Many foreign students cannot let go off their oriental fascination and often turn out in churidars and saris during special occasions. When asked about his personal style, Walid Bandhoo, a Mauritian national said, “Fashion is about being comfortable with ones own clothes and not about show off.” However, he adds mischievously that sometimes his style is just “fashion to attract attention”.

Unlike the minimalist dressing of the Left-oriented students, many particularly the student from north-east prefer to follow the trend of the outside world. The fashion among them are more western influenced. They prefer to stay together in groups. A game of basketball near the 24*7 dhaba is always on during the evenings. Boys wearing sneakers with sports baggies and sports jackets is a common sight here. Many wear gladiator sandals, waist belts and A-line skirts. Pencil jeans are also very popular. Others sport Nagaland craft cloth bags. Oversized shades and bags are popular too.

The Priya shopping complex with its branded stores is just round the corner from JNU and even Sarojini Nagar market is nearby. Many students regularly visit these places to pick up their clothes and accessories. The relatively cheaper market of Sarojini Nagar is a favourite haunt for the forever cash-strapped JNU students. Priya shopping complex is good for shopping for boys accessories. Dog tags, rings and large buckled belts are easily available here. While the girls shop for their earrings and hair-bands at Sarojini Nagar. Many political parties arrange for different people from other states to put up clothes stalls in the campus. Clothes at fair prices are sold in these stalls. Many times they also sell handcrafted clothes too.

Different centres at different schools have their own printed t-shirts and jackets. ‘Jawaharlal Nehru University’ tees are very popular. The different catch-phrases on these tees and jackets are both amusing and witty. The jacket of the Centre for English Studies at the School of Language, Literature and Cultural Studies reads: ‘Mostly Harmless’ (from Douglas Adams’s series Hickhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy). The winters bring out the overcoats and colourful mufflers. The environment becomes all the more colourful. Multi-coloured scarves, different woolen caps, earmuffs and gloves become mandatory to beat the chilly winters. The checkered mufflers are also popular. Girls wear stockings and boots. They also wear big colourful earrings teaming them with wooden bangles.

According to Indrani Roy, a Masters student who hails from West Bengal one big difference between the Calcutta University and JNU is “girls back home wear more salwar than jeans. It’s more common to find guys with long hair and girls with short in JNU rather than CU”. Not just the students even the professors maintain their sense of fashion. With few PhDs under their belts, many professors seem fit for the mosh-pit rather than the classroom. Dressed in khadi kurta, jeans and boots, they look suave and immaculate. Others prefer formal shirts and trousers. While still others decide to make their own style statements.

Guys with unkempt beard and horn-rimmed glasses will give you an hour long lecture on how American fashion houses are selling us dreams that is not our own and girls with short hair and nose-pins will lecture you on the attempts by the fashion magazines to objectify women. JNU is not ready to shed its dichotomy. One must be uncertain of our certainties as Mark Tully once lectured at JNU and students here believe that with all their hearts. Therefore, to find a comprehensive answer to what is JNU fashion is futile. Few prefer to follow the trend while others decide to create their own. JNU (the intellectual hub as some would have us believe) has place for both.

JNU is caught between the spectrums. The lal jhola-walas and the Enfield riders. The harem pants and the kurtis. The Converse keds and the Bata chappals. Between anti-imperialism graffiti and cups of Nescafe tea.

[as published in the Sportswear International (India) in november, 08]

  1. Vikas Gupta says:

    Your observations do hold water! So are you a JNU student?! Last time I had read your critique of JNU (the IE story). JNU is also a very hyped place and has many other shades (will elaborate later).

    BTW, you may like these aspects of JNU life that I have documented (links for JNU caves, river rafting trip etc. could be found in the sidebar of the blog address below).

  2. aparna says:

    i am aparna nair. am a journo based in cochin, working for THE WEEK. i plan to do an article on the populairty of che. the coffee table rebel image that he has apparently prompted Aleida march, his wife, to come out with his diaries that are being published now as books by HarperCollins in India. I wish to know how the Che lovers, serious and non serious, are taking it here. You seem resourceful. Could we talk about it?

  3. Lavina says:

    Hello, you post interesting content on your page, you deserve much more visits, just search in google for – augo’s tube traffic

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s