Clubs and dress code

It is a tough call to balance the gentility of wearing appropriate attire and tradition with moving with the times. I have been thrown out of country clubs in the US and in India for wearing wrong clothes–or rather for going with a man who was wearing wrong clothes. In particular, shorts. It’s probably why I don’t have a country club membership.

India’s clubs should move with the times and embrace different traditions

Shoba Narayan

July 22, 2014 Updated: July 22, 2014 06:10 PM

When Narendra Modi became India’s prime minister a new sense of national pride swept over the country. But the colonial mindset of old still pervades certain dark corners, specifically private clubs in various cities. All these clubs have a dress code that harks back to when the British ruled the land. They don’t favour Indian attire, particularly for men. Instead, men are forced to wear long trousers and shirts. Those who don’t, aren’t allowed in.
Recently, the Tamil Nadu Cricket Association refused entry to a High Court judge because he was wearing a dhoti, a loose sarong-like garment that is perfect for tropical India.
Dhotis, also called veshtis, have largely slipped out of fashion as more and more men turn to Western outfits such as tailored trousers, which they consider more comfortable and professional. The same Indian men wear dhotis at home or for religious ceremonies.
The issue gained heat when Jayalalithaa Jayaram, the chief minister of Tamil Nadu, threatened to take away the licences of clubs that denied entry to men who wear Indian outfits. She called it “sartorial despotism” and an insult to local pride. Ms Jayalalithaa has vowed to introduce a new law that will prevent clubs from enforcing their existing dress codes.
The objects of the chief minister’s ire include the Madras Boat Club, Madras Gymkhana Club and the aforementioned Tamil Nadu Cricket Association, all of whom frown upon men entering their premises wearing Indian attire. Women aren’t accorded the same level of indignity. They can sail through wearing a sari or salwar kameez.
I think it is about time that all Indian clubs get out of this colonial mindset that views Western attire as somehow more superior and elegant than Indian clothes. To disbar members who wear Indian clothes from entering club premises reeks of an inferiority complex that should have disappeared when the British left India.
Officials at these clubs have generally clung to the belief that it wasn’t so easy to incorporate Indian attire into the rules that govern their institutions. They said that they would have to bring up the issue at the club’s annual meeting, so that members could vote on the topic. Nonsense, I say. A starched white dhoti that doesn’t hug the legs makes perfect sense for Chennai’s hot climate.
Clubs are private bodies with erratic, nonsensical rules. Augusta Golf Club, for example, did not allow women to enter its premises until two years ago, when the chief sponsor of their events, IBM, was headed by a woman. As a woman who doesn’t belong to any of these establishments, I think they need to be shamed into changing their policies.
But things are changing in India. Nowadays, male CEOs often confidently wear the kurta pyjama to their offices. These clothes are sleek, elegant – and appropriate for India.
There is no reason to wear a wool suit in steamy weather, simply because it is deemed to be more professional.
And what do clothes have to do with efficiency and effectiveness anyway?
Companies in Silicon Valley are renowned for allowing employees to work in shorts and a T-shirt. India’s private clubs don’t need to go quite that far, but at least they can take pride in their country’s national outfits.

Shoba Narayan is the author of Return to India: a memoir

Day 6: July 20 2014

Here is the pattern so far. I wake up, listen to all the birds, wish I could identify them, and then tried to convince myself that I need to get up. India has so many birds and they are all very loud. I wish there was an app where you could record Birdsong, feed it in, and know the name. It would be so cool, for example, if I could say that I listened to a barbet, a warbler, a Kingfisher, and the kite in rapid succession. I have learned to recognize the sound of squirrels and the hoot of the kite, but nothing beyond that.

It was about 515 when I woke up. I started the meditation at 550, after checking email and stuff. at 554, I am ashamed to say, that I got up to remove the milk from the fridge. I always do this. I take out the milk and keep it outside so that it can warm up before I heated for coffee. I think I’m obsessed with energy efficiency. To my detriment. I came back, feeling bad, and decided that I would meditate for a little longer today.

Instead, I did pranayama. I began with kapalabhati because my neighbor said that he had lost a lot of weight because of doing that. Abhishek told me that the proper way to do kapalabhati was to slow down the breathing in the end to the point where you are sort of lost between inhalation and exhalation. It’s such a lovely image. I tried it but it didn’t work for me. I did 60 rounds, and then inhale and exhale slowly for five rounds and try to get lost between the inhalation exhalation. Then I increased the speed and I could only do 30 rounds. My heart rate went up as well.

I did brahmari after that, feeling weird as always to be making that humming sound. But I could feel my hair stand on edge as my body cool down. In Sanskrit, it is called Roma harsh or happy hair. This I suppose is how you develop intuition–by paying attention to the small things.

I did anulom vilom as well but somehow that doesn’t do much for me. I don’t know what I’m after and what I’m getting out of it. I’m not able to breathe in deeply as well. It’s very unsatisfactory, the whole thing.

I ended it with just sitting meditation. Again, a flood of thoughts came into my head–about the Blue Bloods episode I saw yesterday, about how freaky and weird Scandal was getting, and about all the things I needed to do today. I switched the channel, and boom, my thoughts slowed down. That seems to be a learning. If you want to slow down your thoughts, switch to a language that you’re not comfortable with.

That’s it. Here I am, on my wobble board, dictating this using my Dragon Dictate software.

Day 5: July 19 2014

Woke up to the sound of birds again. In India, it is a cacophony. In the darkness, I could hear three distinct birds. There was one that was rattling like a woodpecker; a second that was ululating somewhat; and a third that was whistling very sweetly.

I thought I would lie in my warm bed and meditate. Maybe that would count as my daily practice. When I woke up again, I decided that simply lying in bed and falling asleep again would not count for a meditation practice.

Today, I smartly decided to get rid of my meditation practice first thing in the morning. So I went to the puja room and sat before the diya. I decided to do trataka today, so I gazed at the candle flame and observed my thoughts. They kept coming, unsupressed, like a drowning man on top of the ocean waving his hands and legs madly. I decided to think in my mother tongue, Tamil, as an exercise. To my shock, the words stopped. I was thinking in English! Not my mother tongue.

I decided to do brahmari pranayama. It feels, felt weird to be humming like a bee early in the morning. I felt like that actor in The Goodbye Girl, a very funny movie that I watched in the 80s. “My body is my temple,” he says. Anyway, I did brahmari pranayama 11 times. That felt good.

One more day of meditation success. I’m feeling good about it today.

Living Will

This is a horrendously complicated topic. To get an idea, just imagine writing a living will yourself: when would you pull the plug on you? There needs to be a medical counselor to help with this sort of stuff.

The will to die with dignity


My father said something recently that freaked me out. He talked about icchha mrithyu, a phrase borrowed from the Hindu epic, Mahabharat, in which Bhishma has the ability to choose the moment of his death. My father is in the process of writing his will; and often, through stray phrases, he reveals to me that he is confronting his mortality. “Euthanasia (mercy killing) is not a bad thing,” he will say as he steps out of the door.
How do you want to die? Do you know how your parents or in-laws want to die? My mother-in-law, for instance, has told me that she wants all her organs to be donated. Through a friend, I learnt that this process would be a whole lot easier if she registers with a hospital. It is this type of detail that falls through the cracks when we think about ageing or dying.
There are 100 million elderly people in India today. The number could grow to 324 million by 2050. How our elders live; how we care for them; and how they die is something that all of us are going to confront in the coming years. It isn’t easy. It is terrifying. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) such as Dignity Foundation offer help with respect to counselling, mediation and writing a will. But that, as I’ve learnt, is only the tip of the iceberg.
One of the things I used to trot out when people asked about Indian culture and values is respect for the elderly. A new study conducted by the NGO HelpAge India suggests the opposite. Apparently, 50% of elders in India face abuse, primarily from their loved ones; and usually when they are too ill or frail to care for themselves or others.
Perhaps this finding doesn’t apply to you. Perhaps you can dismiss this as something that happens in resource-constrained families. Even so, there is a need for a very specific kind of discussion that each one of us needs to have with our parents (or children, depending on age). It is called Living Will and it is a set of instructions about how you would like to be treated when you are infirm in body and mind.
The first time I heard this term—Living Will—was from my brother-in-law, a physician in the US. He told me that in addition to a legal will, he had written a Living Will, detailing the medical treatments that he wanted—and more importantly, didn’t want—if he was ever terminally ill. It got me thinking. Maybe I ought to write a Living Will too.
As detailed in many documents, a Living Will answers the following question: “What kind of medical treatments would you like to have or not have if you are terminally ill, permanently unconscious or in a coma, or in the final stage of a fatal illness?”
That’s a very broad question, but God, as Mies van der Rohe said, is in the details. Do you want to be put on a ventilator? Do you want to be intubated, where a tube is stuck down your throat? How long do you want to prolong invasive procedures in case you are terminally ill? When do you want to forgo yet another surgery for palliative care that comforts but doesn’t treat? Which of your children do you want to nominate as your healthcare proxy—the one who makes your decisions when you are no longer able to? What do you want your children to do in case you go into a coma? How long should they hold on to you? What level of pain are you willing to take and tolerate? At what point do you want to pull the plug on medical care? Do you want to die in the hospital or at home?
The last question is the easiest, and should be your starting point. Nobody wants to die in a hospital, but what ends up happening once you get admitted to hospital is that a series of medical procedures are set in motion. Often, once you are in the throes of the intensive care unit, it is hard to decide when to pull back and which procedure to forgo. This is the type of decision that could be made well in advance, ideally by you rather than your spouse or children.
If you are a parent, think of it this way: It is very hard for a child to make these types of decisions on behalf of their parents. They will always want to keep on going—do another test, try another method, a different kind of surgery, to do everything possible to attack whatever illness is attacking you. They will do everything that the hospital has to offer rather than “give up”.
This means that your child will authorize procedure after procedure just in case something works. He or she will explore all the options in the hope that something will work and prolong your life. What your beloved child will not be thinking about is the quality of your life since he or she will be caught up in preserving it, come what may.
This column is about living an examined life. Do you think that leaving detailed instructions in the form of a Living Will—either written or through a candid conversation with a loved one—constitutes one element of a good life? Must we die with dignity and in a way we choose—ichha mrithyu—to have lived well?

Shoba Narayan has no answers to any of the questions posed in this column. She is struggling even to contemplate them. Write to her at

Day 4: July 18 2014

I am so mad. I woke up at 3 AM and surfed the Internet for two hours, looking at Hermes and Louis Vuitton bags.
Fell asleep at 5 AM and woke up at 630 again.
I could’ve meditated but I didn’t.
Instead the day has gone.
I have just sat down from 330 to 345.
I can feel myself slipping back to my old mode again.
If it weren’t for this damn log, I doubt that I would be meditating even.
So what did I do today? I breathed in and out 45 times. My mind was swirling the entire time. I need to find an architect to get the quote for an article. I was thinking about deadlines. Was thinking about what I would write in the stupid log. Mostly, I was mad at myself.
I don’t even know why I’m doing this. I am really looking forward to the yoga class in an hour. At least there, I will be doing something.

Day 2: July 16 2014

Woke up to the sound of the birds. Should’ve got up, but lay in bed lolling. When I finally woke up, it was 5:40 AM. Tomorrow, I will wake up soon as I wake up! lit the lamp in the puja room, and sat down at 548. Couldn’t figure out what to do. Mind was so restless. tried to do anulom-vilom 27 times but lost track of counting after five times. Felt bad about that. Then, I tried to do brahmari pranayama 11 times, but again, lost track of the count. Ended up doing both without counting. But at least I did them. Feels weird to externalize an internal practice. Feels weird to document and measure something that offers immeasurable benefits! But it seems to motivate me to sit for 10 minutes. I think I will not publicize these posts from tomorrow. That somehow reduces the externality of it.


Today was the worst day. I walked around searching for my glasses with them on my head. That does it. I need to start a “meditation project.” Everyday. Ten minutes. At least.


My inability to meditate properly is really stressing me out
Shoba Narayan
July 14, 2014 Updated: July 14, 2014 05:26 PM

In his book, Focus: The Hidden Ingredient of Excellence, author Daniel Goleman talks about the different kinds of attention. The most obvious kind of focus, he says, is concentration where the mind is rooted to a task until a solution is reached. This type of focus is best suited to analytical work.
Creative insights, on the other hand, occur when the mind is loose, open, and aware. There is a reason why psychologists like to put their subjects on the couch. When you are lying down and daydreaming, you reach into your psyche and touch upon aspects that are not normally on the surface. This is the site of insight and intuition.
There are a few ways to trigger the pathways that open intuition, insight and imagination.
The easiest way is to go to sleep. There is a reason why we wake up and discover that the knotty problem that we have been wrestling with has been solved overnight. Another way is to meditate. Meditating, or accepting thoughts as they come and sending them on their way, allows the mind to relax. It expands and opens the brain and primes its receptors to the sort of ideas and insights that leap across boundaries.
I am a failed meditator. I have tried sitting cross-legged and attempted to “watch my thoughts,” as it were. Sadly, they were all over the place. They did not make sense and worst of all they were mundane, tacking the kind of trivia that is traditionally the realm of children and old women: “Should I have acted differently at the party? Did I pay the right amount for those dozen apples or did I overpay?” my mind wandered. “Did I forget to turn the gas off before ducking out of the door?” The idle mind, they say, is a devil’s workshop. My idle mind was a fool’s paradise, focusing on personal issues and unresolved business of the most idiotic nature. Sometimes, I daydreamed of holidays. Mostly, I fell asleep sitting up. Meditation wasn’t helping me with focus. It was helping me combat insomnia.
Meditation is among the hardest things to do, particularly in this world that values action over stillness and doing over being.
I have tried meditating for years and I have failed. I find sitting still terrifying. I feel guilty for not doing anything. It seems like such a waste of time to just sit there.
The problem with such practices is that their benefits are not immediately obvious. You can read the literature. You can fully buy into the Dalai Lama’s assurance that meditation is the path to rewiring your brain. You can listen to Steve jobs talk about opening the channels of intuition and imagination. You can take online courses on mindfulness and focusing attention, all of which are essential for leaders. It still doesn’t make the actual task easy.
I have tried novel approaches. I have pretended to be a Tibetan monk while sitting cross legged and trying to control my thoughts. It made me feel good. It put me in a good mood and gave me a beatific smile. But as for controlling my impulses, the chocolate cravings only grew stronger.
Then I decided that sitting still was not for me. I would do walking meditation – like Steve Jobs who walked while holding meetings because nature triggers positive neural impulses.
The only problem was that nobody wanted to walk with me. I told my husband that I was going to be Joan of Arc and meditate on a horse. His gaze didn’t alter.
In desperation, I have come to you, dear reader.
Here is a challenge: both for you and for me. Let us meditate for 20 minutes every day. Announcing something like this helps sustain action, according to social psychology. So this in a sense, is my last ditch effort to get on the path to mental nirvana. I will keep you posted as to whether it works.

Shoba Narayan is the author of Return to India: a memoir