For years, I had worn a tweed peaked cap or a French beret — in keeping with the gravitas of my academic goatee — wrapped myself in a muffler going round and round the neck, upturned the lapels of the overcoat, yet nothing fully guarded me from the winter shivers — till I discovered the good hood.
Though every winter my wife would chide me to get one before catching a chill, I would resist fiercely. And by the time the argument got quite settled, the cold abated, and with spring in the air, both the sneeze and the sermon vanished in good cheer. ‘Could a venerable, senior citizen join the band of brash youngsters wearing them all around these days, looking like another Gully Boy?’ would be the line of defence.
But this winter, with its bone-chilling bite, I finally succumbed, bowing to the howling winds piercing my bald head, to finally find warm shelter beneath the hood. And now, I can’t stop singing paeans and odes to the comforts of ducking into one, to speak highly of this rather lowly headgear.
Of course in PG Wodehouse’s world, a gentleman of pedigree walking along Bond Street or a Bertie Wooster heading for lunch with Aunt Agatha at the Drones Club would much rather freeze to death beneath his bowler hat or whatever Jeeves had approved of, than face the wrath of the venerable relative who might describe him with her hallmark candour as looking like a ‘hoodlum’!
But for a cold bald head, with no natural covering at the top, one has few choices other than joining the band of neighbourhood hoods. With the bonnet-like protective gear covering the neck, ears and most of the face, leaving aside only a small opening for the mouth, can any other headgear reach such commanding heights?
It was for nothing that the austere monks of the medieval ages, or those housed in the remote monastery of Mount Athos wore them and had got it right much before American rappers discovered it. Or for that matter, remember the good old taxi-wallah, driving those rickety Ambassadors, who greeted you at the Delhi airport in the winter fog — all bundled up in a blanket that would cover his entire body. The ‘blanket look’ never quite looked assuring about one’s safety, and left you wondering if the welcoming driver was a genuine cabbie, or a highway robber who might relieve you of your purse and coat midway in the eerie silence of a January night.
Even the Bengali brethren thronging Shimla in hordes wearing monkey caps never got it right. The most recommended headgear by Kolkata travel agents for their patrons heading into the dreaded North Indian chill for the first time made every face look alike. It was difficult to distinguish between a Swapna Dasgupta and a Shombhu Mitra.
I would much rather prefer the sinister, mysterious hooded look over such loss of identity.