These are a couple of images from Bhutan. The one with Bhutan's Prime Minister is my favourite ( I am dressed in the traditional Bhutanese Kira) because Lyonchen Jigme Thinkey is such a sweetie! Seriously... he is an erudite, soft spoken, elegant and eloquent scholar. Bhutan is lucky to have him! His session with the delegates was the most fun, especially since he spoke so candidly about his rebellious youth when he sported shoulder length hair and wore jeans.
This was written for a special issue of The Week. It certainly brought back lovely memories of a Prime Minister who cut a fine figure - never mind his slightly loopy politics!
It helps to be handsome.Seriously handsome. Rajiv Gandhi was seriously handsome. An absolute, drool-worthy hottie. With good looks on that scale, anything he chose to wear would have become a style statement – even a sack cloth. Since there are two Rajiv Gandhis to deal with ( before and after becoming a neta), let’s start with the former and that yummy picture of Rajiv and Sonia gazing lovingly at each other, soon after their simple and stylish wedding. Sonia looks glorious with a curtain of heavy chestnut- coloured hair falling over her slim shoulders. But it is Rajiv who resembles a romantic movie star.Or a dishy Prince. This was at a time when Rajiv was very much a ‘bomber jacket and jeans’ sort of guy – laid back, international and effortlessly trendy. He wore leather and denim like his global contemporaries, his feet fashionably shod in the latest Gucci loafers. Critics never failed to take pot shots at his penchant for all things Italian – loafers included. In fact, he and his cronies were witheringly called the Gucci Gang or the Polo Babalog by detractors, who also pointed out Rajiv’s fondness for pricey, limited edition pens, fancy shades ( aviators, but of course, given his professional training as a pilot), and a watch collection that was the envy of connoisseurs. Yet, there was a charming, throwaway nonchalance to all this. An effortlessness about his appearance that added to the casual appeal. He left the flashbulbs to his younger brother Sanjay, who had rapidly switched gears to the politically correct, Congress-approved uniform of white kurta pajamas by then. Since Rajiv Gandhi shunned the spotlight in those early years, his personal sartorial style made zero impact, which must have suited him just fine. He was being himself – reticent and mild-mannered. Happy to be enjoying life as a young dad of two gorgeous kids and husband to a beautiful woman.
Overnight, Sanjay’s premature death caused Rajiv’s world to come crashing down and nothing remained the same after that – not even his wardrobe. He insisted he “Did it for Mummy,” (joined politics) and it’s fair to conclude he was being honest. But once that crucial decision to jump into the fray was taken , Rajiv Gandhi was a totally transformed man. For starters, he lost the hair on his head in the first year itself. He also lost a great deal of weight. Political life extracted a huge price from this man – emotionally and physically. From this point on, his public appearances became standardized - impeccably tailored white khadi kurta pajamas replaced those macho bomber jackets and jeans of old. The makeover was dramatic, sudden and complete. The only concessions he made to fashion at this stage were revealed in his selection of exquisite, one of a kind cotton angavastrams during summer, and meticulously embroidered Kashmiri shawls in winter. He also began the trend of draping those embroidered beauties in a certain way ( a la Vivekananda and Rabindranath Tagore – with the chador worn under the right arm and flung over the left shoulder). Occasionally, he’d slip into his favourite loafers or wear Ferragamo shoes , especially while traveling. But the trademark , perfectly starched and crisply ironed mid-calf kurtas dominated his wardrobe and were rapidly adopted as the unofficial dress code by his Congress coterie . One can see the trend continuing till today, with Rajiv’s Boys ( well into their sixties, now), still adhering to their late bossman’s original dress code.
It was when Rajiv Gandhi travelled overseas that he wowed the world and the well- cut ‘Bandgalas’ came out in full force – dove grey for morning functions, black for the night. His virgin trip to America, as Prime Minister, had the international press gasping – as much for his winning speech ( the best he ever made), as for his smart, dapper appearance.And yes, he wore a black Bandgala to the White House. Rajiv Gandhi may not have been a style icon in the Bollywood sense of the term. But he did influence an entire generation of young polticians to groom themselves better. Gone was the era of scruffy, paan- chewing netas dressed in shabby, often stained clothes. Gone also were those dreadful pot bellies , crumpled dhotis and discoloured Gandhi topis ( God knows why they were called that, considering Gandhi himself never wore one). If anybody wanted to hang with Rajiv and become a part of his inner circle , it was understood the person had to be well-groomed, polished and attractive. Apart from his Doon School buddies (who also promptly dumped their bespoke Savile Row suits and blazers for the boss-approved khadi gear), even the coquettish ladies in his entourage ( and we are not naming them!), were given a major thumbs up for their ‘ethnic’ fashion sensibilities ( Kanjeevaram sarees , kohl-lined eyes, big bindis and strictly no lipstick).Rajiv Gandhi made desi dressing ‘cool’ by his relaxed, chilled out approach to fashion. His legacy is still evident . Watch those young netas trooping into Parliament – it’s pure R.G. ‘ishstyle’ all the way – down to the designer loafers and prominent pens.
Rajiv Gandhi was the original Mr. Bandgala. Arun Nayar was merely a pretender !