What people do is more important than what they wear — right?
YouTube hadn't arrived yet – or at least had not become part of everyday life – when I became a serious practitioner of yoga. I would spend hours on the Internet, painstakingly searching for yoga photos and videos that I could download and watch over and over again, so that I could stay inspired.
The videos were not easy to come by, though I did manage to build a small collection of clips, each of which was barely two minutes long. Two of the clips happened to feature Western women who were gracefully getting into the most difficult of yoga poses, in the most exotic of locations, without a stitch on their bodies. What more could a man have asked for? Or so I thought, until I started watching the two clips seriously.
The women, far from being objects to be gazed at, became a source of envy and frustration. I would carefully notice their movements and try to imitate them, and most of the time, fail – miserably. Finally, I learned to drop back into urdhva dhanurasana from the standing position; it will, however, take me another lifetime to get into the scorpion pose.
All the while that I watched these women and tried to imitate them, never did it strike me that they were in their birthday suits. All that mattered to me was the ease with which they struck the poses.
Such ease can be accomplished only after years of practice; and when a person puts in years of dedicated practice, he or she becomes worship-worthy, clothed or unclothed. What they were doing was important, not what they were wearing (or not wearing).
And yet, the kind of clothes you wear becomes an issue every now and then in our country, where college students are often forced to abide by a dress code. A medical institution was in the news recently after specifying a dress code for its students, male as well as female. Jeans and T-shirts are out, naturally; hair should be preferably oiled, men cannot leave the first button of their shirts open, while women have been prohibited from wearing sleeveless kurtas. No bracelets or rings for men, and only a minimum number of bangles for women. And so on.
In spirit, such a dress code is understandable and, to a great extent, justified. Can a jeans-clad doctor, strutting around with his top button open, inspire confidence in a patient? Or for that matter, a female doctor whose bangles make a tinkling sound as she places her stethoscope on the chest of a panic-stricken patient?
But is a dress code really aimed at maintaining sartorial hygiene in the university? The answer, alas, is a big ‘No.' The dress code for women in the medical college, which even prohibits them from wearing footwear that exposes their toes, concludes with a memorable line: “All this is to ensure that female students do not create the feeling that they are women (while examining male patients).” Now that's a real shocker.
A female doctor is a female doctor: she does not become gender-neutral by merely covering her toes or by giving up wearing bangles and nail polish or by oiling her hair. Since when did femininity require cosmetic embellishment to make its presence felt? Or is the university trying to suggest that a woman becomes a woman only when she wears T-shirts and jeans and nail polish and toe-revealing footwear? Shouldn't it also invest in a voice-modulation programme, to make its female doctors sound like males when they treat male patients?
But really, what is the big deal about a male patient being attended to by a ‘feminine' female doctor? If you have chest pain and if you rush to the nearest hospital, and if the doctor on duty happens to be a female, is the gender of the doctor going to make any difference? Are the bangles on her arm going to make any difference? All you look forward to is getting out of the hospital as soon as possible after being certified as healthy.
If in such critical moments the gender of the doctor still has an effect on you, then the source of your ailment lies not in your body but in your mind. What you need is a bouncer and not a doctor.
Published in The Hindu MetroPlus, 30 July 2011.