Saturday, June 20, 2020

Vocal for the local Gamchha

If you are a Bengali kid whose childhood resides somewhere in the 70’s and 80’s, you were probably scarred by the memory of a grandparent prancing around the house in a mere gamcha. Since they were no Zeenat Aman, you probably had difficulty sleeping for the next few weeks, haunted by the image of their shrivelled frames and flappy skin. But then this was a generation that had yet to be introduced to the miracles of skin tightening formulas and gave ‘zero fucks’ to the outside gaze.
Image courtesy- Google 

 Perhaps this jaunty confidence stemmed from their cape with superpowers, the limp gamcha. To the uninitiated, gamchha is the country cousin of the fluffy bath towel. This deceptively flimsy piece of cloth resembles a dusting cloth that has seen better days. Usually check patterned, it is as soft as it is absorbent and dries as quickly as a Twitter outrage.

The gamcha was the OG of multitasking. Either flung casually on the shoulder, or tied carelessly around the waist, this versatile piece of cloth flitted from one role to another with little effort. To ward off the pesky fly disturbing the much cherished afternoon nap on the armchair. Gently wipe off beads of sweat while surveying the storeroom for pilferage by the staff. As a hand wiper, table wiper, God, I need another bath wipe, wrap-around bathrobe to scar your grandkids for life….. It was everyone’s favourite silent companion.

Ms G was loved so much, it was embraced across all communities and castes with equal vigour, making it one of the greatest equalizers. On a hot day it would transform itself as a farmer’s turban as he toiled in the sun. On a lonely evening it was the homely housewife’s cheek caresser. The adolescent’s dhoti because why waste a proper garment on a growing child. As an all purpose scarf for the male on the move it was also his fashion statement.

It wasn’t until my 30’s that I let myself be introduced to the wonders of the ubiquitous gamcha. And when I did, it was love at first wipe. As I gently rubbed myself dry with the gamcha, I could hear my forefathers and foremothers sigh with contentment. Its texture reminded me of my favourite pyjamas with half a dozen holes that I had held on for years despite its sorry state. It felt as soft, airy and comforting - just like an ideal relationship that exists only in our dreams.

I shed silent tears for all those years I had wasted on alpha towels. I chastised myself for being led astray by bulky towels wrapped around glamorous divas beckoning sultrily on billboards. My heart was simmering with rage thinking of the unfair treatment given to gamchas, ignored, taken for granted, dismissed as too unsophisticated. Even in movies, Ms G was relegated to cranky old men who wouldn’t stop talking about their daily ablutions! 

No my dear gamchha, not anymore! I will not let you be subjected to anymore humiliation. I held it close to my cheeks, whispering sweet nothings and pledging my undying love to it.

My love was far from ordinary, so I would often set sail in quest for even softer yarns. I embraced it in all its forms. Because I often mistake myself as fashion forward and couldn’t possibly fling it on my shoulder, I now have a gamchha dress that I picked off a pavement stall in Colaba. I often notice my husband eyeing its wispy soft beauty with lust and snarl at him. She’s mine and mine alone and no man can have it.

Marie Kondo guilted me into parting ways with a lot of my dresses, jeans and tops, but her sorcery failed on my sizeable stack of gamchas. These are not mere cotton towels. A gamcha is an essential part of religious ceremonies in West Bengal, Assam and Orissa. It is given to family elders as a mark of respect.

Each region has given its own twist to this bath towel, be it weaves, distinctive colours or patterns. The gamcha is a unique symbol of our nation’s diverse tapestry. At a time when the cries for ‘vocal for local’ are becoming shriller and more passionate, the gamcha is waiting to be tied around your waist while you throw yet another made in China appliance from your balcony.

Women leave behind their Banarasis, Kanjeevarams for their daughters. My collection of gamchas will be my daughter’s family heirloom. She’s still naive and prefers towels. But I know she will succumb soon to its charms, just like her Mom.


  1. Brings back a lot of similar memories of this local spun wonder. Hope it will find more acceptance in times to come when your heirs will promote it in times to come:)

    1. Given how quickly it dries and how beautifully soft the texture is, I'm surprised!

  2. Your daughter is so lucky to inherit this treasure. ^_^

  3. Even Kerala had this multipurpose piece of cloth used by almost all men in my childhood.

    1. I have quite a few that I have picked up from Kerala

  4. very good. just one suggestion, it's spelling should be Gamchha.

  5. That's a nice one on the humble gamcha.

  6. Good work and I love Zeenat Aman movies


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