Sunday, April 19, 2009


'Thorthamundu' or 'Thorthu' for short, is a thin, white cotton towel, which has amazing drying and soaking properties. This is a Palagattan's must-have asset for good, clean, hygienic living.

While the 'Turkey' towel is thick and comes in multiple colors and textures, the original 'Thorthu' is just the same. Over years. Across generations. The only innovations, if you can call them, have been the 'karais' or the borders that may come as streaks of color (like a crayon stroke) or as a small flag-like insignia or just a simple, straight lined, single colored border. Since all 'Thorthus' looked alike, for reasons of personal hygiene, members of large Palagattan families, distinguished their 'Thorthus' from those of others in the family, with the 'karais'. Penny-wise, pound-foolish Palagattans who applied oil on their hair, used the 'Thorthu' inventively, on pillows that already had pillow covers, under an illusion that the cost of changing and washing a pillow cover weekly (to remove oil stains) was more than ridding a 'Thorthu' of them daily. In fact, having observed both my grandfather's and grandmother's usage of the 'Thorthu' secretively, I don't think they ever washed it. By using it, drying it, and re-using it, I think, they thought, they were washing it.

Senior Palagattans, at least those over 50, used the thin 'Thorthus' to clear their noses. It was the Palagattan equivalent of the Great Indian Rope Trick. You took your 'Thorthu', twisted its thin end to become a soft, straight 'device' that you inserted into your nostril, and the soft thread at the tip would tickle you no end. And then, achoo, you sneezed. Repeating this action just five times, daily, kept common colds and 'jaladosham' (should be a separate post!) away. That your horrific sneezing bout would scare cats in the neighborhood and ruin a fellow Palagattan's siesta or even mid-afternoon moment of 'love-making' was never seriously seen poor etiquette.

In fact, Palagattans and etiquette were and continue to remain estranged.

But all this critique and celebration of the humble 'Thorthu' hasn't even remotely affected its demand. My brother-in-law who lives in Pune, invested serious business hours last month in pursuit of picking up the perfect 'Thorthu' for his wife from Mylapore when he was on a day-trip to Chennai. My wife and daughter, both, continue to use a 'Thorthu' for drying their hair.

In fact, Tamizh heroines, at the behest of their directors, in Kollywood cinema, have plagiriazed the utility, look and feel of Palagattan women using the 'Thorthu' as an inexpensive and light device to hold their wet hair till they finish their pujas/cooking schedules.

But the most significant imitation in recent times, which has sadly gone unnoticed, and so this blog takes pride and credit for reporting this fact, has been Ranbir Kapoor's much talked about blue towel scene in the box-office failure 'Saawariya'. Those who thought Sanjay Leela Bhansali's idea of the towel as a seductive prop and those that admired Ranbir's guts to do the scene, must see any self-respecting Palagattan emerging from the bath. The 'Thorthu' at that moment will appear to be insufficient to hide anything that it remotely purports to. In fact, at those times, I have always felt Palagattans__of either sex and of all shapes and sizes__were being deliberately promiscuous. With limited or no success!

Disclaimer: Since this is a blog on Palagattans, we will respectfully abstain from discussing the usage of the 'Thorthu' by Malayalis, especially, the women. Any dissatisfaction caused to readers of this blog by this abstinence is deeply regretted and purely unintentional.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Palaghattans,

    I liked the note on Thorthamundu. It shows that we Palaghattans are not Kaattans; we are brilliant innovators.

    I feel hurt that one the greatest uses for retired thorthamundus was not mentioned at all. My late loving Paati used to use them each day for filtering tea. Believe me there is no tea better than the famous kerala "Kannan Devan" tea filtered through my Paati's thorthamundu!!

    Chittur Venkat (Palaghattan from Wichita, Kansas, USA)