The Underwear Files

Traditionally, for untold decades, the Indian male’s staple of conversation has been the movement of his bowels, or the lack of it. Go to any public park of a morning and you will find many ongoing panel discussions on the subject, with as much heat being generated as on Republic TV, which is one big bowel movement in any case. You will find two distinct categories of citizens: the first, doing their laughing exercises (notwithstanding that there is very little left to laugh about in Bharat these days), are the “relieved” ones, in gastrointestinal parlance. The second type are the ones who are walking vigorously, hoping to stimulate their innards into some action, not unlike Mrs. Sitharaman’s efforts to get the economy moving, sadly with about the same degree of success.

But things are changing, and our fixation now is centered on the humble underwear which of late has been getting a lot of centimeter columns in newspapers. Having little to do since the sarkari files stopped coming to me some years back (not that one had much to do even when they were coming) I have made notes of the more newsworthy cases involving underwears and propose to brief the reader about them, if you’ll excuse the ghastly pun.

The underwear came into its own during the run up to the 2019 elections when, in an election to the municipal council in Alleppey down south, one lady candidate was allotted a pair of panties as her election symbol. Now, it’s just possible that the Returning Officer was trying to send her a risque hint or that he was a closet admirer of Hugh Heffner, but my own view is that he was surfing a porn channel when allotting symbols, as govt. functionaries are wont to do, and simply ticked something which was uppermost in his mind at that moment. Be that as it may, the consequences were a blow to the free exercise of one’s franchise. I’m told that no voter who was wearing any kind of underwear – not just panties – was allowed to vote, because the Election Commission rules stipulate that a candidate’s polling symbol is not allowed within 200 meters of a polling booth! It is rumored that the turn out was lower than Baba Asa Ram’s sperm count. Sadly, I have no idea whether the lady won or not, but the law of the land certainly did.

This, the better informed among you may remember, was followed in quick succession by Mr. Azam Khan (of the missing buffaloes fame) revealing the swadeshi colour of a rival candidate’s underwear. Suddenly, her underwear became more important than her ideology and many prime time hours were spent on speculating on the actual colour and the brand name. Fortunately, Tehelka refrained from doing a sting job to find out. The lady candidate could have saved the day by announcing that, since her party belonged to a rainbow coalition, that precisely was the colour of her unmentionables, thus maintaining her eclectic credentials. Unfortunately, she did not do so and lost. The voters apparently did not like the colour she was tarred with.

Calculating the underwear index

Coming to more contemporary times, our economy too seems to have got entangled with the underwear- we appear to have got our economic knickers in a royal twist, as it were. Purveyors of the underlinen solemnly announced that their sales were falling. Economists, who track knickers as well as tickers, immediately proclaimed that the “Underwear Index” had come into play and that the naked truth which the government had tried hard to conceal was there for all to see. They were promptly dubbed by the right wing as “leotards”, a variation of libtards. An indigenous Baba contradicted the economists by saying that the sales of his “langots” had gone up, India had gone back to its cultural roots, and that things were actually looking up. But the Finance Minister hastened to darn the damage, lestĀ  Moody’s get into a bad mood or foreign investors start putting their money into thongs in Bangkok instead. She declared that the fault was that of the millennials who either did not wear underwears or insisted on Boxers only. In any case, India’s strength lay in its diversity and sales of branded underwear was not a good criteria to judge the genre- people also bought katchas, chaddhis, langots, janghiyas, loin cloths etc. from the unorganised sector, which went unreported. She did not, of course, state that this sector had been destroyed by demonetisation and GST and could not now manufacture even a G-string. In her rare compassionate moments she could perhaps have considered this question: how do millions of the newly unemployed buy underwears when they don’t know where their next meal is coming from?

And as usual the piece d’resistance comes from Uttar Pradesh where all rules and laws have been hung out to dry but you can now be arrested for hanging out your underwears to dry. The Hindustan Times has reported on 23.9.2019 that a police case was filed against an activist, Vijay Singh, under Sec. 509 IPC (“word, gesture or act intended to insult a woman’s modesty”) for drying his undergarments on the walls of the Muzaffarnagar DM’s office. Vijay Singh was protesting against encroachment on 1600 acres of public land. He had a lot of chaddhis to dry because he has been sitting in dharna there for the last 24 years, for which feat he has also made it to the Guinness and Limca Books of Records! How’s that for a state where you can get away with naked body massages and worse by your female student but cannot display your Boxer shorts on a clothes line? The case has now been withdrawn after much protests, but I would not be surprised if Mr. Singh has now stopped wearing underwears because he now can’t dry them. And we are still wondering why folks have stopped buying the ruddy things?

It’s time to lift this country up by its jockstraps. Can we have some rational discourses, please, and not the Piyush Goel kind of epiphanies? For, as the wit observed: Intelligence is like underwear. It is important that you have it, but not necessary that you show it off. Especially if it has a holeĀ  big enough to push the annual Budget through .

Avay Shukla retired from the Indian Administrative Service in December 2010. He is a keen environmentalist and loves the mountains. He divides his time between Delhi and his cottage in a small village above Shimla. He used to play golf at one time but has now run out of balls. He blogs at

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