I Want to be a Young Man in Spats

Skimpy claims that monsoonal rains follow the Gregorian solar calendar, while post-monsoonal autumn showers follow the Hindu lunar calendar. Thus, there is always rainfall at the time of Dasara, whenever that might be, while the monsoons always show up in June. Every three years, when the leap month is added to bring the lunar year back into sync with the solar year, this manifests itself as a longer and dryer summer.

The reason I bring this up is that due to the Dasara rains, my trousers have been spattered with mud even before I reached office. As is usual after 10 millimetres of rainfall, Magrath Road is now a dirt track, and the traffic passing over it has left my lower right trouser leg looking like a Jackson Pollock painting – if Jackson Pollock would have used brown.

For a banker of repute, having such indignities visited upon his trousers is intolerable. One cannot convince customers of the virtues of zero-cost options unless one’s trousers are spotless, starched, and straight. The cry goes out: what to do, what to do?

Fortunately, we do not need to come up with new solutions that will impose heavy research and testing costs. The answer lies in our past, and we can reach back and grab it. Ladies and gentlemen: spats.

As the Master wrote:

Spatterdashes was, I believe, their full name, and they were made of white cloth and buttoned round the ankles, partly no doubt to protect the socks from getting dashed with spatter but principally because they lent a sort of gay diablerie to the wearer’s appearance. (link

Remarkable, no? My trousers are protected from spatter, my appearance borrows a gay diablerie, and best of all, I promote Edwardian values:

This is pointed out to me every time a new book of mine dealing with the Drones Club of Jeeves and Bertie is published in England. “Edwardian!” the critics hiss at me. (It is not easy to hiss the word Edwardian, containing as it does no sibilant, but they manage it.)

I will now rant about the importance of Edwardian values. 

The Edwardian Period was an era marked by social, intellectual and political ferment. Coming as it did between the Victorian age and World War I, it saw the adoption of liberal ideas, increased social mobility, and greater economic openness, not only in the home islands, but across the British Empire.

Economically, the Edwardian era saw the creation of industries and enterprises, as technology was developed in Great Britain as well as imported from the United States and Continental Europe. It saw the wholesale adoption of the motor car, revolutions in aeroplane design, and increasing innovation in railway and steamship technology, all of which combined to increase economic productivity dramatically. Economic policy became more liberal too, and the reindustrialisation of India began: Jamsetji Tata established Tata Steel, and the textile mills of Bombay flourished. Simultaneously, there was massive investment into public goods: railways were developed and expanded in India and Africa, and the Indian Forest Service directed its energies towards forest management.

The increase in economic freedom and openness had downstream effects on individual liberty. In the home islands, the Edwardian era saw increasing freedom of action for women. The corset was abandoned, and women moved out into society. Bloomers eventually blossomed into the suffragette movement, supported by Edwardian intellectuals like George Bernard Shaw and HG Wells.

Simultaneously, in the colonies, Bal Gangadhar Tilak took advantage of the increased financial empowerment of Indians to demand swaraj. The Edwardian period saw the Indian National Congress move away from being a debating society to a potent force for independence and nationalism.

Culturally, too, the Edwardian era saw innovation. Art Nouveau sprang to prominence in these years, and continental art forms such as expressionism and cubism benefitted from English galleries and buyers. Jazz took its first steps towards the mainstream. On the literary front, Wells and Shaw have already been mentioned, but the era truly belongs to two masters: Wodehouse and Saki.

Edwardian foreign policy was marked by increased miltarisation and the development of new classes of battleships and cruisers; but was accompanied by the longest sustained peace since the middle ages. England signed a peace treaty with France, ending ten centuries of rivalry, and mended its relationships with the United States. Increased trade led to increased peace.

In contrast to the exuberance of the Edwardian period, post-independence India is a sink of moral decadence. The Regency of Manmohan Singh represents the nadir of this moral depravity.

While the Edwardians believed in openness and freedom, and pulled down the oppressive institutions erected by the Victorians; post-Indpendence India has seen repeated assaults on liberality by state as well as non-state actors. We get Himess instead of jazz, and Ravi Subramanian and Chetan Bhagat instead of Saki and Wodehouse.

Instead of new battleships, we have battle tank and combat aircraft programs which are mired in delays. Instead of making peace with our rivals, we find that they are encircling us in the Indian ocean or radicalising previously friendly neighbours. And where public goods and infrastructure are concerned, the brief spell of hope occasioned by the road building program under the reign of Vajpayee has been replaced by despair as it has ground to a halt under the Singh Regency.

Faced with these obstacles, we must fight on for freedom. This shall be long and arduous. We must fight on all fronts: civil rights, deregulation, the creation of free and open cultural and educational institutions. This will need activism and journalism and think tanks and political lobbying.

But as a symbolical gesture of solidarity with the liberal values of the Edwardian age, wearing spats will work too. The protected trousers and the gay diablerie are a bonus.

0 Responses to I Want to be a Young Man in Spats

  1. nupur says:

    looking fwd to pix of a debonair gent spatting:)

  2. Ravages says:

    Possibly one of your best posts.

  3. […] The Sarbanes-Oxley Act has led to the butler revival. One hopes it will also turn Burberried chavs into spatted knuts. […]

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