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Of Topis and Topiwallahs

Saturday, 29 January 2022 | Paritosh Kimothi

During the Republic Day parade this year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi wore a topi designed and associated in recent years with Uttarakhand along with a traditional stole from Manipur. The national media also reported on these aspects of PM Modi’s attire, some attributing it to the ensuing elections in Uttarakhand and Manipur while others pointed out that he makes it a point to wear something from a different state on the occasion every year to elicit focus on the nation’s diverse culture. A few days later, senior leaders of the Congress addressed the media in Dehradun while donning similar headgear. This apparent spurt in the fad may appear harmless but it is symptomatic of something more which could be considered a factor affecting Uttarakhand and its people to say the least.

Firstly, the cap in question is not an original Pahadi topi per se- it was designed with embellishments in Mussoorie and launched in 2017. There are various views on what actually is the traditional Pahadi headgear. Some generations ago, the Pagadi was common in the mountains, which was gradually replaced by stitched caps. Even then, there is no uniformity in the choice of caps as can be expected in a state with cultural and linguistic diversity. Change is normal but folk culture is created by the people, not by boutiques. Good or bad, an attempt was made to bring uniformity in the headgear which is now being flaunted especially by politicians to present an image of someone connected with and concerned about the state. One can’t blame the politicians for doing so as at times, such actions do exert a positive effect too. However, one wonders whether a headgear is the best one can find to represent the characteristics of Uttarakhand and its people. Of course, such aspects are culturally important and convey a message but there are other bigger aspects that could have been highlighted and imbibed just like the ‘Pahadi’ topi is being since PM Modi wore it.

Since the pre-colonial era, the mountainfolk have been known for their honesty, courage, hard work and god-fearing nature among other characteristics. Not that long ago, in mountain villages it was considered inauspicious to lock a home even when the residents had gone out of the village. Even now, serious crimes like murder, robbery and rape are not common in the mountains as they may be in the cities. However, corruption in culturally unacceptable proportions continues to affect the state and its people even if it may have been checked in some spheres in recent years. Another aspect which the politicians have failed to address is the differences which exist. Being a diverse state, one cannot expect uniformity in Uttarakhand. Differences can be acknowledged, celebrated and capitalised upon for the greater good. However, this has not been done in the state where varied differences continue to be politically exploited. One does not expect a utopia or picture perfect conditions. But, one does wonder how big a difference it would make if the politicians started donning and imbibing the positive characteristics of the state’s people like they are now donning the designer topi. This may not happen till the voters start expecting them to do so.

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