While in college, the nearest Sangh office was our favourite shopping halt. Every few weeks, some of us smart shoppers would go to the Shakha Babu with a simple query: Is the kachcha (shorts) in stock? Is the patta (belt) available?
They were always in, well, short supply. So, repeat visits were necessary. And once in a while, the Shakha Babu would delight us with a yes.
The belt was everyone's favourite. Made of pure leather — who cared if it was camel, crocodile, cow or buffalo hide — it cost just Rs 100 during the late 90s. For that price, the large-size cherry brown belt that went fabulously well with jeans, was a steal.
If the belt was an accessory to die for, the kachcha was a necessity that kept us alive. In the torrid summer of our north Indian city, in hostel rooms that burnt at night, the khaki knickers that flared luxuriantly above the knees, provided natural air-conditioning, bringing down the temperature a few notches where maximum cooling is required at a certain age.
They were useful even while playing cricket. The length of the Shakha shorts ensured they ended just where the pads began, obviating, thus, the need for even an inch of extra clothing during the muggy summers while batting. And since they were extravagantly loose, you could run around, jump, slide as if nothing stood between you and the ball.
Needless to say, many of us loved to dress up like Sangh karyakartas in our youth — belt by the day, air-conditioned shorts that flared up like tents as a zephyr blew at night. Nobody lectured us on asmita, nobody reminded us of the gaurav of Ma Bharati, nobody converted us with discourses on ekatmavad or Akhand Bharat, there were no drills with the danda or endless rehearsals perfecting the hand-on-bellybutton shakha salute — Namaste Sada Watsale Matribhoom. Yet, a part of us belonged to the Sangh, at least on those sultry nights. Just the kachcha and the patta ended up converting us.
This is precisely why I would suggest the Sangh reconsider its decision to replace khaki shorts with brown full pants. By dumping the shorts — the leather belt was replaced with canvas strap in 2010 — the Shakha may, I fear, lose its last connect with the sartorially-smart youth, attracting whom, incidentally, is the prime objective behind making changes in the Sangh ganvesh (uniform).
Come to think of it, why would somebody go to a Shakha, unless they offer something the youth really need? A crash-course in wielding a bamboo stick against an enemy armed with bombs and Kalashnikovs or for a man-to-man combat with enemies of Mother India, both internal and external? Mamata Banerjee once prescribed pichoney baansh ("bambooed") to deal with the BJP. With elections in West Bengal on the horizon, the BJP workers may benefit from a crash course on dealing with the baansh (bamboo stick), but for the youth in general, wielding the danda serves limited purpose.
Moreover, what passes off as core Sangh ideology is freely available on twitter, internet and other social media. The we-were-once-so-great theme has become so commonplace that these days you can find glimpses of it even in the speeches of Donald Trump. So, going to a Shakha may no longer be a youth's idea of a quick dose of rashtrabhakti, unless a suitably-priced, multi-purpose, all-weather kachcha is part of the bargain.
Eighty years ago, when it adopted the khakis when India was growing crazy over khadi, the Sangh showed it is completely out of sartorial sync with time. Back then a wrestler-like langot (loincloth) made of khadi would have given it both the military edge and nationalistic identity. But, then it chose a western outfit. Now, when it is considered cool to wear shorts, the Sangh is phasing the kachcha out. Yet again proving how it struggles to march with the times.
Perhaps the idea behind introduction of pants is to make the ageing leaders of the Sangh look more presentable in public. When they are photographed in public, the belt trying its best to keep the knickers from sliding down their ample waists, the pot-bellied, middle-aged leaders look comical, more a joke and an embarrassment than ideological inspiration. Often, the kachcha-clad politicians have to be constantly on the guard and cross their legs lest the skirt-short reveal more than what is desirable in public.
If that be the concern, wouldn't it have been a much better idea to accord the ageing, bulging leaders the option of wearing long pants instead of knickers and letting the fitter, slimmer youth continue wearing the skirt-short?
Also, the size was just right for catching them young. Once the father tired of a short, he could have easily passed them on to his children, who would have found them just the right size for a baggy pant!
Instead of rejecting the shorts, the RSS should have worked on making them more durable and easily available. It would have ensured its ideology is passed on from generation to generation, like a prized hand-me-down.