Sunday Levity: Whose cap is it anyway?

Uneasy rests a head that lies under a karakul cap

Official portraits of Mohammed Ali Jinnah, Pakistan’s founder, show him wearing it. Like his illustrious father Sheikh, Farooq Abdullah, a former chief minister of India’s Jammu & Kashmir state wears it to hide his shiny pate. V P Singh, a former prime minister of India, got into trouble for wearing it.

But Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan’s president, wears it in style. Syed Ali Shah Geelani, a ‘hardline’ Hurriyat leader, wears it too (without the style, perhaps for reasons of substance?).

We are talking about, of course, the karakul cap. It is made out of the skin of — animal rights advocates are advised that the following lines may affect their sensibilities — new-born karakul lambs, which explains why V P Singh faced ‘decapitation’ for wearing it (Maneka Gandhi, India’s most famous animal rights activist was a minister in his cabinet).

Natwar Singh’s sympathies have never lay with Maneka Gandhi, but even he was not sending any signal to Pakistan when he wore that cap to Islamabad. An eagle-eyed Reuters correspondent picked out a piece of symbolism when there was none. Extemely cold weather in Kabul and northern Pakistan are likely to have caused Natwar Singh to wear the ‘Jinnah cap’. US State Department records show that Natwar Singh wore it when he met Colin Powell in Washington last year.

If the Karakul cap comes to be known as the Jinnah cap, it may not be the first one to end up with a confusing etymology — the cap that Nehru wore almost all his long public life is known as the Gandhi cap.

Here’s a photograph from The Hindu’s photo library that captures these two mistaken caps and their equally mistaken wearers.

From the Hindu Photo Library: Nehru and Sheikh Abdullah
(That’s Sheikh Abdullah, the Lion of Kashmir, in that photograph)

4 thoughts on “Sunday Levity: Whose cap is it anyway?”

  1. I am a regular reader of this blog but comment rarely.
    But today it is funny that you mention about Karakul cap worn by Jinnah, it is also known as Baluch cap. I am reading a book on subcontinent freedom struggle and aftermath titled ‘Liberty or Death’ by Patric French and the author refers to this cap in this book. Author interviews Begum Saida Isa who migrated to Pak after partition and she says that her husband gave Jinnah that cap around 1920s or so.!

  2. I am sure you know this already.. but the “Gandhi topis” claim to fame is not Jawahar Lal Nehru. The cap was first introduced by Gandhi Ji, at a time when what head gear one wore signified what caste one belonged to, and also ones social standing. Therefore, ones “pagdi” was an extremely important part of ones dress. The Gandhi topi was the same for everyone, and wearing it, at that time, was to erase caste and class distinctions.

    It was a fashion statement (cause it was something new and unlike the traditional topis/pagdis prevalent at that time), a political statement, a social statement and the right thing to do all at the same time. Try beating that 😀

    Ofcourse, now it signifies something completely different. But even today, if one visits, say, rural Maharashtra, one can see ordinary people (who are not out to make a statement or anything) wear it without being selfconscious.

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