The Chaddi Campaign
The Chaddi Campaign9 mins 521 9 mins 521
I decided to take the Garibrath superfast to Aluva. As the name suggests the train was intended to provide luxury travel to the poor and was the brain child of the fodder king Lallu. As it happened in our country, schemes intended for the poor, got usurped by what Mr Tharoor calls as the “cattle class”. As a result, it was people like me who made up the majority of the passengers in this train. Since I was a yoga practitioner, I could twist my body this and that way and squeezed myself into the side middle berth. But who, but Indian Railways could provide an air-conditioned travel for Rs 500 odd for a distance of 500 km.
As I alighted at the Aluva station, I noticed two things as I came out of the station. Firstly, the morning heat. It seemed to me that God had leased his own country to the Satan who had created a state-wide sauna perhaps sparing the hills. The second thing was the famous actor in a huge cut out announced my brand was Bharat, and asked what was yours? It seemed a bold ad for an actor of his stature to be talking about chaddi (underpants) which was a closet item. In fact, this chaddi business was the thing, what brought me to Aluva. As a freelance-writer, I decided to gather some juicy tit-bits for a piece, I was doing on the ongoing election campaign. I chanced upon this piece of news in a WhatsApp sent by a friend. Indeed, Mrs Chandrika Unni was using the chaddi as her election symbol as an independent candidate in the forthcoming parliamentary election. My trip’s purpose was to meet her and understand how come she decided upon this unique symbol, gauge the peoples’ response and that of rival candidates.
Aluva was not unfamiliar to me and I checked into a budget place, had a wash after the sauna exposure. Ordered for appam and egg roast for breakfast. If you were a foodie you must try the appam and combo, for vegetarians the side dish could be kadla (black chana) curry. Let me take a minute to digress and describe about the Chaya (tea) which I am very fond of. Typically, here the water stays boiled in the traditional boiler made of brass. The boiler had two holes in which two big metal tumblers containing black tea and milk were kept, both immersed in the hot water. This was the Chaya making unit supplemented with the filter, glasses, a steel mug and a container with sugar. You were offered black, lemon, strong, milky, with and without tea. The last two referring to the sugar or its absence. My usual was strong tea with less sugar. One saw the tea maker having mixed tea and milk according to your specification and tossed up the tea a few times as if it was some extended spring. The end result was a great cup of Chaya.
I had already informed my old friend of a driver Anil and he was awaiting me as I finished a satisfactory breakfast and the great Chaya and muttered to myself “Mugambo kush hua”. I went up to meet Mrs Unni. After the preliminaries, I shot my question how she came about choosing the symbol. She said that chaddi was their livelihood as she and her husband were running a small hosiery shop. Then she asked me the following riddle:
Caste no bar; sex no bar; age no bar; religion no bar; party affiliation no bar; color no bar; size no bar; rich or poor no bar; everybody owns this; you found this in every house; you felt less complete without it; you may not step outside your house without it; offered basic coverage, needed all through the year. So, what was it?
By the time crowd of men, women boys and girls had gathered around us beneath the tree outside the small shop there were giggles and guffaws as the riddle was being asked and I was racking my brain. My face turned red as I realized the answer and let out a loud laugh. The crowd joined me in my laughter. So, Mrs Unni said, “This was our election plank and my service would be available to each and every one throughout the year. Initially it invited derision but soon the media found it curious and I was interviewed. I repeated the riddle every where I went. The symbolism of the chaddi was now being appreciated”, she concluded.
A local band made up a jingle of the riddle and had since become the most downloaded ring tone. The jingle was being played repeatedly in cable TVs and FM radio station. The catch word was, “What is your brand?" at the end of the jingle. The crowd around demonstrated a flash mob moment. Suddenly the jingle played in all their mobiles and they made some jazzy moves. Then all of a sudden, their voice went up in a crescendo asking, “What is your brand?" The rival candidates were being badgered with the riddle and the question "What is your brand?" They have not yet come up with anything to counter the campaign. The parties were desperately calling for their national leaders to shore up their campaign, least of all counter the chaddi campaign.
People were starting conversation with strangers by the question "What is your brand?" The friendly waiter at the restaurant handed over the menu to me and asked, "What is my brand?" and broke into a guffaw.
An nth copy, of the world-famous portal of learning Harvard, had sent its professors to study the chaddi campaign: what made it tick? I was told that this case went on to become one of the topical case studies discussed in the hallowed portals of learning across the country.
Seeing that the chaddi has come out of the closet, an international institute of health founded by the world’s richest man had entered into a memorandum of understanding with the Chaddi campaign to include issues like personal hygiene and menstruation targeting the adolescent girls and young women. A series of mobile compatible gifs of 20 sec duration has been made and has become a popular download. India’s largest mobile platform Leo had hosted the gif free of cost under the “Chaddi Health Campaign”.
Bollywood’s highest paid actor had announced a biopic based on life and times of Mrs Unni and the chaddi campaign. Mrs Unni made a self-deprecating comment that she had led an ordinary life until this campaign, what will the Bollywood actor do?
The flash mob moment of the chaddi campaign has went viral in You-tube and had even beaten the why this “Kolaveri di”?
As I was sipping tea beside the school, the boys and girls were pulling each other with the question "What is your brand?" followed by peels of laughter. As the police man pulled up an erring bike rider the question, all he asked was "What is your brand?" before letting him go with a warning.
Conductors in the bus asked the question, "What is your brand?" and then your destination. All this was accompanied by friendly guffaws all round.
In the evening, I saw the youth chaddi brigade play the jingle, ask the question and do a flash mob moment in street corners. Interestingly they were wearing the chaddi over their leggings and performed a short street play around issues of local relevance. Rehabilitation from the devastating flood of the previous year was still a big issue that has not been settled.
The famous Malayali actor voluntarily offered his service and produced the “What is your brand?” campaign at his own cost. His acting fees had gone up since as he had become more popular because of the campaign.
When I met the main opposition candidate, he confessed to me that they were not able to counter the chaddi campaign. No body wanted to discuss serious issues of development and hear us out, what our party had done in the last 4 years. Where ever I went, I hear the jingle and the question "What is your brand?" What sort of non-sense was this happening in the most literate state in the country? That woman had hypnotized people en masse, he raged.
Many of the smaller party candidates have withdrawn their candidature and declared their support for the chhaddi campaign leaving only the national party candidates to face the music literally. If you can’t beat her join her seems to be their motto.
I could see and feel that the chaddi campaign has taken over the psyche of Kerala. The news paper headlines scream.
Rival candidates caught without their chhaddies;
Another paper contested a politician caught in a ration scheme row as to how the chaddi size increased from 32 to 36 inches in a year’s time at the cost of chaddies of many poor people.
A police officer caught in a fake encounter was questioned as to whether he was wearing a chaddi at all?
Chaddi has become a state-wide symbol of expression of angst, ridicule and derision against the ruling elite and all that goes against the grain of common people.
Back at the hotel, I unwrapped the complimentary pack of Bharat chaddies given to me. The leaflet said the material used was khadi, hand-spun, mixed with a blend of recycled polyester and 3% lycra. Polyester made it easy dry; lycra gave stretch ability and khadi made it comfortable and breathable. All of this at a competitive price of Rs 50 for a single unit.
Next day as I was at the station once again, I looked at the cut out of the actor asking the question "What is your brand?" I said proudly 'Bharat' as I was wearing one.
Back at home I was actively tracking the chaddi campaign by fetching newspapers from Kerala as well as in the Malayalam media. I saw the news that the Oxford Committee of Asian Languages had met and passed a resolution to formally include Chaddi in their dictionary. The resolution further stated “chaddi literally means underpants; but figuratively its usage is catching on to mean anything from referring to conscience; entitlement of poor people, breaking the ice like hello; and so on.
Of course, Mrs Unni lost the election by a close margin. It has been alleged that the candidate who won indulged in distributing free chaddies thereby confusing the voter. One candidate of another national party which tried to make inroads in Kerala lost his deposit. When I last spoke to Mrs. Unni she said that her sales in the last 5 weeks had reached last year’s sales and now they were moving into a bigger showroom. They had committed orders for the next 6 months. She was the first candidate to publicly submit her campaign expense account audited by a chartered accountant. Now people were asking other candidates to do like-wise.
She also mentioned that the “Chaddi Health Campaign” had been extended to the entire state. Long live the chaddi!!