What do I need to know about ... Clothing?

Brief Description

The clothes that are worn by the characters in this novel express their characteristics / personality and also, in some cases, help determine their responses to other characters in the novel.

Key Quotations

"I felt myself to be such a contrast to them when I returned in the evening, in my sagging grey cotton suit" [pg. 31]
The 'grey cotton suit' gives a dull and bland impression of Krishna which juxtaposes the radiance of his family, and therefore he feels left out. He tries to compensate for it by combing his hair as a "religious duty". This suggests that he is putting effort into changing himself from his old, bland routines in order to adapt to his new family life. This serves to underscore the effect that his family (mainly due to Susila's faith to her Gods) has on him; changing him and brightening up his otherwise dull life.

"Like a vision, clad in her indigo saree, and hair gleaming and jasmine covered" [pg. 47]
"Like a vision" foreshadows future events of Susila's afterlife. It shows traditional Indian elements, because a saree is an indian outfit, and "jasmine covered" could suggest that she wore a garland of flowers on her hair. In southern India, a garland of jasmines are often put into the hair after a visit to the temple or at official functions (e.g. weddings). The garland is usually blessed before it is worn.
The reference to jasmine here reinforces the association Krishna makes regularly between jasmine and Susila (see jasmine motif).

"I looked at her indigo saree and smiled to myself" [pg. 47]
Just by looking at Susila's clothing he "smiled to [him]self" as clothing emphasises the personality of the character. In this case the colour 'indigo' generates an impression of 'feminisim' and 'mysterious beauty' which highlights Krishna's fondness for Susila. However this may foreshadow Susila's later death

"Divine creature" [pg. 48]
Related to nature, but also significant in that it introduces the "divine" aspect of Susila: that Krishna raises her status through his love for her, and that she supposedly takes on "divine" status later, speaking to him from the afterlife.

"The purple cotton saree which I brought her on another day is wound around her and going to burn with her"
"Purple" relates back to the point above (impression of mysterious beauty). This is ironic as one chapter portrays the colour as being a sign for beauty and elegance whilst in this chapter, the colour "purple" serves to highlight Krishna's sorrow at losing Susila. Some cultures believe that by burning objects people will receive them in the afterlife. This may indicate that even after death Susila would always be "mysteriously beautiful" as the purple saree suggests.

"[Leela] threw her clothes about... the whole thing was too gorgeous for school. Her mother had selected them for her on her birthday"
Krishna suggests here that there are certain clothers are only allowed to be worn at certain places or for certain events. In this case Leela has picked clothing which is "too gorgeous" for school. The clothing was bright which emphasis Leela's personality which is filled with "life" and the stars represents "hope" and "innocence". Alternatively, the clothing can reflect Leela's longing for her mother by wearing the clothes that were selected for her on her birthday, Leela might hope this may bond her with her mother emotionally.
The contrast between Krishna's and Leela's characters is also emphasised. Krishna is very closed-minded, and is hesitant to stray away from what society accepts to be correct, such as wearing uniformed clothing for different occasions. On the other hand, Leela is more carefree, and prefers to do what she pleases, as it makes her happy. (An example of passion vs. routine).

"The child was excessively fond of this piece and on every occasion attempted to wear it" [pg. 118]
(point above) Leela may be "excessively fond" because of the material and details on the clothings which reflect herself or the emotional loss of her mother.

"She was ready, dressed in a regalia, and stood before me, a miniature version of her mother"
(definition of 'regalia': fancy, decorative piece of clothing)
Krishna's tone in the sentence is filled with awe. The regalia generates the image of Susila and stress the emotional pain for losing Susila. This quotation indirectly suggests that Krishna misses Susila. It is subtle because perhaps it is a sign of change in his daily life in which he rarely feels emotions.

"I saw a man with his forehead ablaze with sacred ash, and a thick rosary around his neck and matted hair standing at the door"
At first impression Krishna mistook the swami (a guru/spiritual teacher who is enlightened) for a beggar. This is, of course, because of his clothing. A rosary is a string of beads, and is used in some religions for counting prayers.The sacred ash on his forehead is considered holy, it is a symbol of purity, and it serves as a reminder for the religious person to put away selfish desires. The fact that Krishna did not recognize these religious symbols represents the lack of Indian religion and beliefs that Krishna has been influenced by. It is also ironic, because before him stands a person who has reached self-actualization, which is exactly what Krishna achieves at the end of the book. However, we can see that at this point of his life, he does not have any knowledge of this ideal. In a sense, however, the Swami could be foreshadowing Krishna's future life.

(His "matted hair" is an imitation of Lord Shiva's hair, and it is from Shiva's hair which the River Ganges is said to flow. The relation to Shiva is significant because he is believed to be the god which destroys evil and preserves good, and therefore, he is the lifeline of all living beings. So, the Swami represents Lord Shiva, and he is there to help Susila to live. Thus, it is ironic when Susila does not survive, and this may be responsible for the distance between Krishna and Indian influences at this stage.)

Its role in the novel

Most of the feminine clothes represent beauty and character; both of which are not present at the start of the book, but are part of changes in Krishna's life.