Renowned Bangladeshi poet Kaiser Haq's most famous poem "Ode on the lungi" celebrates our "ethnic wear," demands sartorial equality and speaks against the colonial mindset of looking down upon lungi.
The poet imagined if there would be more people in lungi, more than "the population of the US," trying to attend the "White House."
Kaiser Haq then confronted us with the bitter truth about the lack of sartorial equality. Even "Grandpa Walt" (American poet Walt Whitman who advocated democracy) would wear a "kilt"- a type of man's skirt - but never wore a "lungi."
The poem seems to be staring right at us as we constantly fail to give lungi its due respect or perhaps are still ashamed to accept the beauty of our own culture.
While Brad Pitt astounds the world by rocking a kilt/skirt during the premiere of his latest film Bullet Train in Berlin, an elderly citizen in Bangladesh gets barred from purchasing a film ticket because of wearing a "lungi."
And so this begs the question: How can we ever see people of other cultures respecting our "lungi," when we ourselves look down upon it?
If you look at the viral video that shows an elderly man with watery eyes, a fainting smile and brittle voice say, "They did not allow me to buy a ticket because I am wearing a lungi," it is bound to break your heart, or at least make an impact.
In the video clip, when the elderly man said, "I am going back [without watching the movie]," his disappointment is palpable.
Of course, the authorities of the said Cineplex issued an apology and clarified that they do not "discriminate against people based on anything" or their attire and the incident must have been caused by an "unfortunate misunderstanding." I strongly feel as though such a blanket apology profoundly fails to address the issue, it barely even scratches the surface.
The man in the video deserves a sincere apology from Cineplex, and from our entire nation.
Because someone among us must have said at one point in our lives, "I will never allow my husband to wear a lungi," or "I will never wear a lungi like my father."
Unfortunately, and perhaps unsurprisingly, someone among us could have complained after seeing a jovial elder man in a lungi inside the premises of a posh Cineplex.
Netizens flooded the comment section of the Cineplex's 'apology' post. One comment read "A man of his age coming to the cinema hall and willing to pay TK350 for a movie ticket should be considered as the retrieval of the golden age of the film industry."
While another commenter rightly asked, "When the characters in the film can wear a lungi, why can't elderly people enter the Cineplex in a lungi?"
Again, this begs the question: Why couldn't he wear a lungi to the movies in his own city? Is it because our colonised mind considers it as a symbol of the low-income class? Or do we think only people of lower socio-economic status would wear that comfortable piece of clothing outside their home?
The elderly man identified as Saman Ali Sarkar, is a businessman from Sirajganj who trades lungi and saree. Md Sabbir Hossain, who helped others to identify the elderly man through his Facebook post, told The Business Standard that popular actor Shariful Razz had already contacted Saman Ali and promised to watch the film with him.
Popular actor Shariful Razz, Bidya Sinha Mim and the entire "Poran" crew did in fact watch the film with him.
And this brings me to: those of us who might have instantly assumed that the man must have been financially vulnerable based on his choice to wear a lungi to the movies seriously need to reflect on our perspective and thought process.
Kaiser Haq's poem said, "No, I'm not complaining about the jacket and tie required in certain places / That, like fancy dress parties…I'm talking of something more fundamental."
Haq's poem raised the question if millions of people from "East Africa and Indonesia" adore lungi known as the "sarong, munda, kanga, and kaiki," then why can't the people of our own country pay due respect to our own "ethnic attire"?
Every individual needs to be a "lungi activist" like the narrator of Kaiser Haq's poem and give due appreciation to "lungi."
If we stray from our roots, then we will be nothing but a people suffering from an identity crisis. And, in the same breath, if we don't appreciate the gifts of our own culture, how can we expect appreciation from others?
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.