The perfect old Delhi dress code
The Delhi Walla saw this man at an alley in Bulbuli Khana, a congested neighborhood in the Walled City, the historic district established by the Mughals.
His outfit was elaborate and rooted to his culture: a black karakul cap, a grey kurta, a grey jacket, a grey pajama and a bluish grey sherwani. His beard was white; his shoes were light brown. There was no one dressed like him.
The man’s sherwani and inner jacket were unbuttoned, which did not interfere with his formal grace. Walking slowly towards a nearby mosque, he looked like as if he had stepped out of the pages of a tragic Urdu novel set in 19th century Delhi. That was a time when two worlds were colliding. The Muslim gentry that ruled the Mughal India for more than 300 years was losing control to European colonizers. We know what happened next: The British Empire in the subcontinent ended with the country’s partition. India became a Hindu-majority democracy having more Muslims than most Islamic nations. Pakistan, the dream land of India’s Muslims, turned into a nightmare. This Muslim man with his traditional clothing – now rarely worn – symbolized the era when the disintegration of his people had just started.
The melancholy deepened when I contrasted the man’s sartorial nobility with his immediate surroundings. The dress was clean and creaseless; the alley was filthy and rutty. Old Delhi, one of the city’s few Muslim-dominated neighborhoods, is a civic disaster. Streets are claustrophobic, drains remain uncovered, gutters stink, monuments are unkempt, and everyone spits everywhere. By clinging on to his unembroidered hand-stitched sherwani, the daily uniform of the extinct Muslim aristocracy, this man rose above the squalor. For a while, he brought back the flavor of the Walled City’s past, a period prettier than its present.