Thursday, July 28, 2011

Hanky , No Panky


When we were college students in Bangalore sixty years ago, the most fashionable dress for the college student and the youth was to dress in style by wearing a full suit with a lovely handkerchief neatly displayed on the top pocket of the coat. Some students were particular to have a tiny rose embroidered at one corner and display it prominently, having folded the kerchief in a triangular shape. Affluent students staying in college hostels near about the Central College would not end their weekend without having an evening stroll on the footpath of the MG Road , mostly window shopping and ogling, and ending the evening with a cup of by-two-coffee in the then existing India Coffee Hose on the MG Road.

Those days the handkerchiefs used to be sold in designer stores in elegant boxes but it was also displayed and sold in street corners. It was usual to purchase them in bulk, say 6 or 12, and normally nobody would purchase one or two pieces. This tiny apparel never found favour with the land of plenty, America, where the ubiquitous tissue favour took its place. The handkerchief as an indispensable part of one’s attire was introduced by the British. It used to be a cherished possession of both men and women and the texture and design of the kerchief depended on one’s dignity in case of the man and the charm and elegance in case of the woman. Woman’s kerchief was much smaller in size and delicately embroidered. They used to carry it either in their hand bags or tuck it in their waist bands.

The handkerchief, though it appears tiny and insignificant, had carved its own niche
in medieval times. When a Knight wanted to win the favour of his lady love, he wore her handkerchief on his sleeve and engaged himself in jousts or tournaments. If he was victorious he won the approbation of the spectators in addition to winning over the heart of his lady love. The handkerchief has its place in literature too. It has a major role to play in two of Shakespeare’s dramas—in one it serves to strengthen love while in the other it destroys it tragically. In ‘As You Like It’, Rosalind dressed as the youth Ganymede, faints on seeing the handkerchief soaked in Orland’s blood and almost gives away her identity. In ‘Othello’, it is the loss of a handkerchief that leads Othello to suspect Desdemona’s fidelity and finally drives him to kill.

It is said that a well-known gag was once asked “Is, in your opinion, Shakespear’s ‘Othello’ one of his best tragedies?” Without batting an en eyelid, he said
“It is not at all a tragedy. What is a drama but a comedy when the plot revolves around a lady’s handkerchief?” In romantic fiction it is often a handkerchief that brings into the open unspoken love that flows between the hero and the heroine. The heroine at a certain juncture dissolves into tears and the reticent lover pulls out his handkerchief to wipe away her tears and fears.

The kerchief does not function as a mere wipe cloth. It works as a headgear both in sunshine as well as in the rainy season. It is with the help of the handkerchief that people can perch on a rough seat or use it a mat when they want to sit in clean surface without dirtying their clothes. In case of emergency a wet hand kerchief can be used as a temporary bandage to stop bleeding. In gold days people often used it to serve the purpose of a bag when they made small purchases on the roadside and had no bag to contain the purchase. One of the first articles used by those learning needlecraft was to take a tiny kerchief, embroider all the four corners with colorful lovely and tiny flowers and present them to their loved ones with all love and affection.

It renders a special service to those who are addicts of snuff. Particularly some of the Carnatic musicians in the South addicted to taking snuff in heavy doses always make it a point to carry a big sizes handkerchief to blow the nose and eject the snuff particles. With a view to camouflaging the amount of snuff sniffed out, some of them carry two handkerchiefs—one white coloured to wipe the face and the other of snuff colour to blow the nose.

In Western countries, mourners to the grave always carry a handkerchief to the grave to wipe their tears out of sorrow on the death of their loved one. When a famous English actor was asked what was the purpose of carrying a handkerchief to the grave, he appears to have said “It is the only piece of apparel which could be conveniently carried and used in a funeral to hide the tears that are not there”.

When we were small children, elders used to fold it neatly, tie a knot at one end and make it look like a rat. They used to conceal the rat-like kerchief in the palm of their folded hands and spring a surprise by ejecting a rat from their palm to the amusement of the children. Modern kids are totally unaware of this amusement.

To end on a lighter note: A famous bosomy pianist in Paris went for a dance party with her boyfriend. With a view to wipe out the sweat during the interval, she tucked two handkerchiefs inside her skirt. In the dancing frenzy one kerchief dropped down which she never noticed. During the brief interlude when the dance stopped for a few minutes, she wanted to wipe out the sweat and looked inside to get the kerchief. It is only then that she noticed that one was missing. She looked inside the skirt and exclaimed to her boyfriend “Oh dear, I had two when I came”. The boyfriend observed her for a second and exclaimed “Darling, you have two even now”


ARTICLE NO. 564--The Handkerchief
Created: Friday, April 30, 2010 10:12 PM


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