The first time I heard the word(s) T shirt was back in the 70’s when I was in standard 1. One of my classmates had migrated from the US and he wore this strange colorful vest on top of his knickers scandalizing all of us. When we asked him what was he wearing he said that it was a T shirt ,Me and my friends wondered why they called it a T shirt and not A shirt or B shirt. Finally our US pal clarified that it was a shirt that he wore in the morning when his Dad was having his tea so it was called a Tea Shirt. His simple explanation satisfied our curiosity at that time.
Many years later I figured out that a T shirt essentially meant crew neck T shirts which without the collars looked like a T so they got their name accordingly.
My fascination with the T shirts continued and though it might be difficult to digest for you now, very few people wore T shirts in India till the late 80’s. I remember that when my father travelled to Europe and theUSin the late 70’s and early 80’s we were the only kids to have T shirts. Everyone else was pretty much dressed in the good old shirts with characteristic 2 pockets and funny Dog collars. Our colorful T shirts with their bright colors and catchy prints were the envy of every eye that was set upon them. So much so that one day one of my friends Mom dropped in to ask if she could buy a couple of my T shirts as her son was not having his food ! Unfortunately my mom did not capitalize on the opportunity and gave one new T shirt to her from my closet causing great discomfort to me in the process. I didn’t care that she had given her something from my wardrobe but I was concerned struggling not to tell everyone that the T shirt Sunny was flaunting was actually mine. And my fears were not unfounded – in a fit of rage after loosing out a hand cricket match to Sunny I did blurt out “ Hey Sunny boy don’t think of yourself as Gavaskar , you don’t even have your own clothes to wear.” After that I was explained in great detail by my parents that what I did was wrong but didn’t I say that I knew it would happen to start with. Anyway time went by but still when we refer to Sunny we call him “oh that T shirt Sunny yup yup” and I want to ask my folks what do they have say about linking someone’s persona to the clothes that you once gave away in charity. Huh !
Then as India caught with the rest of the world our school realized how this new kind of uniform could be used to differentiate between students belonging to different “Houses” and we were given Red,Blue,Green and Yellow T shirts for Johns, Peters, Gabriel and Monfort house respectively. Soon the T shirts became part of our second identity as sportsmen and many a T shirt were sacrificed in the wars that ensued for the supremacy in the game of football. Those who thought that a T shirt was just a piece of clothing were wrong , the yellow color symbolized all that was great and honorable and the red was damned to be a color of weakness and cowardice. The universal brotherhood of MBIC written on all our T shirts was dwarfed when it came to our loyalty towards Monfort and John house. We lived and died for the honor of our football team till I passed out of the school and kept the T Shirt safe from all evil for a very long time to come.
By the time I started going to college for my degree T shirts were quite in vogue and they became part of the mainstream haute couture. A T shirt that stands out in my memory was my “Doors” T shirt. It had the face of our God of those days – Jim Morrison painted on it in bright psychedelic colors against with a deep black ground of the T shirt body.And yes it read – there are things known and there are things unknown, in between are the doors. I put it on firmly believed to be every bit of the rockstar I wanted to be. With my tight hip hugging Blue Jean and my long boots the Doors shirt somewhat increased the swagger in my stride. With dark ,gold rimmed Ray Ban Aviators I thought of myself as the rider on the storm gazing curiously at the lesser mortals who would take their sweet time to understand the deep philosophy of life I had already mastered. I loved the T shirt also because many of my ” fans” had said that it suited my attitude to the T.
And how can I forget that special T shirt!! We had gone on a field trip to Mumbai and fashion street was a must stop. The locals told us that most film stars shopped at Fashion Street and everyone started combing the footpath with stalls on both sides for cool stuff and cooler bargains. I was also sifting through a bunch of T shirts on a 4 way hanger when someone tapped on my shoulder. It was her ……I think this would look good on you. I found the yellow and green stripes just awful but I immediately mocked the T shirt on me for her to have look. She just smiled and I knew that I will have to live with this garment for the rest of my life. Mumbai shopwallahs are smart or may be they watch too many movies. The bugger sniffed that love was in the air and doubled the price. She haggled and complained like all girls do and told him that he was a thug.We left the place. She would never know that I spent a fortune coming back to the place in the evening all the way from Andheri on a cab to buy the T shirt. I hated the way the shopkeeper looked at me…I even think he sneered and joked about it after I left but couldn’t care less. What the idiot didn’t realize that any price was less for the treasure I had in my hand that day.
The next big thing in my T shirt world happened when I joined Wal Mart. Having struggled for 4 years in my career I had stuck to my belief that I was born to be a merchant and travel the world- an idea that many of my friends who had switched to pastures greener in the domestic business had not exactly cherished. A company with the scale and scope as Wal Mart broadened my horizon like nothing could. We talked million dollars and met up with the shrewdest brains in the business. Being a big Box retailer, Wal Mart sold everything under the sun and we could pick and choose any business or product that fascinated our imagination. Not before long I knew how diamonds are traded and televisions manufactured, why India had an inward looking economy with a hindu rate of growth and why China was poised to be the shop floor of the world, Why Quality was more in the mind than on paper and why child labor was stigma for the rich but optimal utilization of resources for the poor. My Wal Mart T shirt was specially cherished also because I had flown half way across the world to attend the Manager’s meeting only to be on a flight back the next day or so as I had to attend to something really important. Each time I look at the Wal Mar T shirt I can recall the thunder of 5000 voices chanting the Wal Mart cheer in Unison. While it seems funny now it was even funnier when I realized that I was shouting the loudest in my group and how a tear rolled down my cheek in excitement !!
Another T shirt that I love a lot is my “ Auroville” T shirt. Each time I wear this one I get transported to a world full of peace and contentment. A calm descends upon me and I am very much the spiritual seeker that I was roaming about the streets of Pondicherry. It’s a simple T Shirt with a deep blue background but the special thing about it is that the word Auroville is hand painted along side a very misty pink lotus flower symbolizing enlightenment. I remember I had picked it up ‘oven fresh’ while the paint had still not dried from a European resident of Auroville who looked like Bob Marley if he would have been born in England of white parents. I had asked Joe how much should I pay him and he had answered back saying” how much do you think it’s worth my friend?” I had given my Rs. 300 to be on the safer side but he returned me a 100 Rs back. For a brief moment I had thought that what if all commerce was conducted with the trust and honesty as we had just did. I realized I was being wishful ……customers are not me, sellers are not Joe and the world was not Auroville.
The last T shirt I want you to know about is my GOA T shirt. It’s a bright Sky blue background the kind that my 10 year old would wear on a sunny day and has something very interesting written on it. It says “ Man made Booze, God made Grass. Whom do you trust?” While at the face of it the statement epitomizes the flower child attitude of Goa, I found the statement to have a very special and profound meaning for me. Man made booze means all the material stuff that we have created around us as human beings to keep ourselves continuously engaged in the so called pursuit of happiness while God made grass symbolizes everything natural woods, the mountains, the streams, the rivers, the sea. All of us find asking this question to ourselves some time – whom do you trust ?? Which is the path that’s going to take us to the destination we know nothing about…. if it is a destination or a just something frivolous we are so habituated to. Every time I wear this T shirt and get into the Goa spiritI can’t help but ask myself –
Whom do you trust ???