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Looks do matter

  • Published at 06:00 pm December 9th, 2018
Hero Alom
Hero Alom at a press conference Syed Zakir Hossain/Dhaka Tribune

How one presents oneself is important at all stages of life

Hero Alam’s candidacy was rejected by the Election Commission on the grounds that he could not provide the mandatory 1% signatures of total voters in his area needed to have the submitted nomination paper accepted. While Hero Alam has said that he was not given a chance to compete because he “is not good looking.” 

Well, the EC has done its task and Alam has made his comment, and the case rests there. 

But does it? 

Alam’s line about appearance triggered a thought: How important is appearance in life and politics? 

Well, looks and appearance are important, in a world where perceptions formed once tend to remain for a long period. It reminds me of a line by Machiavelli: “Everyone sees what you appear to be, few experience what you really are.”

Or how about the cynical but piercing line from Oscar Wilde: “It’s only shallow people who do not judge by appearances.” 

How one presents oneself matters, at all stages of life, and no matter how we try to place arguments against it, in the end, the well-groomed person will always be the one stealing the show. 

From the school uniform to the office interview

I personally feel that the main purpose of the school uniform is to instill a sense of sartorial elegance from very early on. That is why, when we were at school, there was an activity on the yearly sports day called poshakh poridhan

In that, students had to take off their shirts, belts, shoes, pen, badges, and then, within a set time period, wear everything to perfection. Even the badge’s alignment was noticed along with the tying of the shoe knots, the buttoning, and the placement of the pen. Sounds easy, but in the given time frame, it was a tough job to perform.  

At City College, I made the blunder of going without the uniform one day, and was duly called by the Principal Hafizuddin, a former military officer, who told me to wear the uniform and report to him the following day to be allowed in class. 

When I went to college next day, wearing a pristine white shirt and blue trousers, his smile of satisfaction was a lingering one. 

“Always be prim and proper, it does not cost much,” he advised. 

The “prim and proper” actually go beyond the dress, and applies to the whole demeanour of a person, the style of speaking, gestures, and certainly, the language. 

Well, if for some reason, one cannot follow the smart attire code, then it has to be made up with assertive language.

Once, while giving an interview for a multinational donor agency, I didn’t have time to change my clothes after coming back from a field trip. As I walked in wearing dusty trainers, sunburnt, sweaty, unshaved, and looking more like a jilted lover, the personal secretary to the country manager was aghast, and looking at the HR manager blurted out: “Who is this? Whom have you brought?”

Anyway, walking into the room, I apologized for the rough appearance, explaining the reason, and the rest of the discussion was smooth. The clothes did not bother the country manager who I later found to be a maverick of sorts. 

But not everyone would have been so understanding. 

Hero Alam’s demeanour 

Hero Alam talked sense when he met the media, his desire to genuinely serve society did not seem like a pretense, and he has many followers across the country, myself included. 

However, he presented himself without proper preparation. This may sound harsh, but Alam’s language needed to be more refined, and his attire more conventional.

Sorry, that is how the real world works.

If Alam had taken elocution classes, the impact could have been different. To serve society, people need to be convinced first that the person harbouring the intent has the caliber. 

Alam’s clothes were not right -- the jacket could not hide the fact that he was wearing a silky pink shirt underneath. Something one can wear for shooting a slapstick skit, but a faux pas on most solemn occasions. 

Now you may say there are countless politicians who cannot speak properly. True, but these people are seasoned politicians who have been in the craft for ages. In addition, many of these people have age on their side. 

Again, this may be hard to digest, but grey hair has advantages in politics. Remember the Bengali line por khaoa rajnitik, which means a politician who has seen the essential vicissitudes of life. 

To end, I must say that a lot of people are a bit disappointed that Hero Alam did not get the chance to compete in the election. However, Alam’s chutzpah, and his confident stance during a media scrum impressed many. 

There’s of course, always a second time, a third, and even a fourth. This is politics, and one can try until the end. Alam should not be disheartened. This time it didn’t work because there were some mistakes on his part, though the next time it may not be the same. 

If he appoints a PR manager, and carries out some serious social development based awareness videos, Hero Alam won’t just be the person who has the audacity to challenge orthodox notions. 

Meanwhile, a local fashion house can give him some tips on understated elegance. 

For an aspiring politician, pink can only be the colour of the pocket square. Best of luck to Hero Alam for the next time. You still have that ingenuous look, which is more important than being handsome. 

Towheed Feroze is News Editor at Bangla Tribune and teaches at the University of Dhaka.