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Deepak Ramchandani

Gandhi Cap
Gandhi Topi: Story of creation

(Rare Picture of Gandhi in Gandhi Cap)
Very few people know about the creation of Gandhi Topi. I was reading a book
written by Kakasaheb Kalekar titled Bapu ki Jhankiya which was written by
him during his jail term in 1942 during Quit India Movement. In his chapter 58
Kakasaheb wrote about the discussion with Gandhi regarding Gandhi Topi.
Gandhiji stated In our country it is hot atmosphere and something is required
to cover the head to resist heat, hence there is tradition of different types of
Pagdis or caps in the country. Bengalis and some Brahmins do not wear
anything on their heads but most of the population there is tradition of
wearing Pagdis/Caps on their heads. Punjani turban looks good but too much
cloth is required also soaks too much of sweat. Gujarat conical caps does not
looks good. Maharashtra cap looks good but are made of Namda material.
Caps of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar are very thin which cannot be called as caps.
Gandhi liked Kashmiri caps, as they are light and could be folded and kept in
pocket also. They are also easy in making but are made of wool and Gandhi
thought to use Khadhi instead of wool. He again though that which colour of
Khadi shall suit the head, ultimately he thought of white colour and reason for
selecting white colour was that sweat shall appear immediately on the cap
which shall require frequent washing which is good for maintaining cleanliness.
Man shall look good with clean white caps. After thinking a lot Gandhi asked to
make the cap of his choice. Gandhiji also told that really liked Sola Hat which
protects the eyes and neck also, it is light made of wooden material which
gives the ventilation also, but he didnt promote that because it never suited
the traditional dressing of any part of the country. Also the Sola Hat being of
European type is shall not be acceptable to the people. In this way Gandhi
Topi was created
Gandhi about Sola Hat:
Gandhiji had a strong predilection towards the sola topee (hat) as a protection
against the sun. He considered that hat as one of the real boons that the
Western civilization had given to the tropics. He declared his views on the
subject as follows:
"My narrow nationalism rebels against the hat, but my secret internationalism
regards the sola hat as one of the few boons from Europe. But for the
tremendous national prejudice against the hat, I would undertake to become
president of a league for popularizing sola hats. In my opinion educated India
has erred in taking (in the climate) unnecessary, unhygienic, inelegant trousers
and betraying general hesitation to take up the sola hat. But I know that
national likes and dislikes are not governed by reason. The Scotch Highlander
will run the risk of being singled out by his kilt as an easy target by the enemy,
but will not abandon the awkward kilt. I do not expect India to take kindly to
the sola hat. It is in reality an easily portable umbrella that covers the head
without the necessity of one hand being occupied in carrying it. The Calcutta
policeman who shades his head from the fierce sun by sustaining an umbrella
in his belt puts himself in a double handicap when pitted against his European
fellow member. I may here draw the reader's attention to an indigenous and
effective equivalent of the hat that is very generally worn by the poor farmers
of Malabar. It is an umbrella without the handle, made of leaves with a bark
hoop to fit the head. It is cheap, thoroughly effective and in no way akin to the
hat and yet almost just as serviceable."
An article about the same by Sheela Reddy in
Hats off to the old man. Nearly a century after Gandhi came up with his
unique white topi, it has been snatched up from the dustbin of history by
a new generation of Indians, clueless about its origins but eager to

restore this humble weapon of sedition to its former crowning glory.
In 1919, when Gandhi sat down to design a national headpiece, he had
several factors to consider: how to fashion a cap that was not only light,
elegant, portable and affordable but could also replace the colourful
medley of turbans and caps as Indias first national headgear. Getting
people to wear an accessory for their heads was not the problemIts a
hot country, and therefore, our heads need to be kept covered, as he
explained later to his friend, Kakasahib. The problem was finding a cap
that fits all, in a country where mens turbans and caps were walking
advertisements of their social standinga proud, colourful symbol of
their religious, class and even regional identity.
For starters, Gandhi knew what he did not want. The turban, he told
Kakasahib, was ruled out: It takes up too much cloth. So was the
pagdi. A dirty thing, the finicky leader called it, goes on absorbing
perspiration, but does not show it; and so seldom gets washed. The
more common caps were no betterthe Gujarati conical cap was
hideous; the Maharashtrian Hungarian-style ones were made of felt;
and the UP and Bihari caps were too thin and useless and not even
In fact, of all the headgear that crowned Indian
heads at the time, it was the sola topi that he
found to be the most practical. Made of pith, he
thought it delightfully light and cool and airy.
Besides, it offered perfect protection for the head,
eyes and back of the neck from the burning sun.
But there was a problem: the sola topi, in peoples
minds, was associated with the British and
people these days dislike anything that has a
European flavour. He had learnt this from past
experience. Two years before he sat down to
invent a national headdress, Gandhi had flaunted
a sola topi while recruiting Indians for the British
war effort. But seeing that symbol of British
imperialism on Gandhis head proved too much for
his followers. They protested.
With some reluctance, Gandhi settled on his second choice: the
Kashmiri cap. It certainly measured up to his exacting standards: It is
light as well as elegant; it is easy to make; it can be folded, which makes

The nation
baulked at
imposed, but
adopted the
khadi topi
once the

it easily portable. One can put it in ones pocket, or pack it comfortably in
ones trunk. But this too was not perfectit was made of wool. Why not,
Gandhi began to muse, switch to cotton cloth instead?

A sea of Anna topis at India Gate (2011). (Photograph by Sanjay Rawat)
Having chosen the form, Gandhi then put his mind to work on the colour.
Always exacting when it came to matters of taste, Gandhi decided it had
to be white. White shows up dirt and grease, so white caps would have
to be frequently washed (a great recommendation!). Also, white cloth is
easily washable. The cap, being of the folding sort, would be quite easy
to press after washing and iron out into a fresh, clean, smooth white cap!
What could be better or more becoming? he exulted.
Once he was done designing it, Gandhi wasted no time in promoting his
cap. Besides wearing it himself, he began campaigning for others to
adopt it too: The khadi cap can be used by all, the rich and poor...the
idea that all should have the same kind of cap on their heads is well
worth considering.
At first, the nation baulked at the visual uniformity he was demanding of
them. People looked for ways out. In Bombay, for instance, vendors
began selling coloured imitations of Gandhis cap. But Gandhi would
have none of that. A swadeshi cap should be one that can be identified
even by children, he insisted.
His bemused followers, torn between acute fear of his moral disapproval
and an equally acute chagrin at the spectacle that they made of
themselves, finally succumbed. Within a year, the Gandhi cap was not
only an obligatory vestment of the Congress uniform, but was being sold
at street corners during all major political meetings. Those who refused
to comply were faced with the Mahatmas censure, more terrifying than
any leaders wrath. An incident in April 1925 evidences this. En route to
Calcutta, Gandhi was met, as usual, by huge crowds wherever his train
stopped. At Nagpur station, when he saw the crowd wearing provoking
black foreign caps on almost every head, he demanded they remove
their caps. A hundred people threw them off, but four refused to do so,
resulting in violence from his supporters.

But it was not until the British stepped in that sales of khadi caps started
to really take off. Always suspicious of Gandhis experiments, the British
regime clamped down on the Gandhi topiwallahs, dismissing them from
government jobs, banning them in courts and public places, imposing
fines and occasionally beating them up. Gandhi at once seized upon this
opportunity to turn his cap into a political symbol. He began urging his
countrymen to be prepared to die for the khadi cap, which is fast
becoming a visible mark of swadeshi and swaraj.
In newly independent India, the Gandhi cap took on a new avatar: only
politicians considered it part of their uniform. Others were only too glad
to throw off a cap that they had always considered hideous, though few
dared to say so. The writer Nirad Chaudhury, never one to shroud his
feelings, was scathing: It seems monstrous that the hideous cap should
have been allowed to supplant one of the most beautiful articles of Hindu
clothingthe turban.
The maharajah of Jaipur seems to have felt the same. At the reception
he held for Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh in 1961, he
forbade guests from wearing the Gandhi cap; they were made to wear
the Rajput turban instead.

Krishna Kumari and Kamala Nehru wear the Gandhi topiconsidered
male attire. Courtesy: Rroli Books (From Outlook, September 12, 2011)
Nehru made a valiant attempt to keep the Gandhi cap in fashion,
sporting it everywhere, even at receptions aboard, adding a certain
rakish charm to the humble cap. But it was to no avail: the cap died
unsung soon after Nehru and his generation of freedom fighters passed
away. By the time his grandson, Rajiv Gandhi, had ascended to power, it
had become little more than a token gesture, at best a passing salute to
a political tradition that no longer existed.
Interestingly, even after the extinction of its political tradition, the cap
continued to live onon the pates of poor peasants and, more famously,
on the heads of Bombays dabbawallahs. The younger generation
preferred the American-style baseball caps for protection from the sun,
but for their fathers, the caps were not simply a reminder of Gandhi.
They were also cheap, easily available and convenient. It is these
villagers who seem to have inspired Annas change of attire when he
cast off his soldiers uniform and became aam aadmi. Just as he is now
the inspiration for a new millennial makeover of the Gandhi cap.