TCS: Poem in Honor of Levi Strauss

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I wish I had invented blue jeans.
They have expression, modesty, sex appeal, simplicity –
all I hope for in my clothes.

– Yves Saint Laurent


Tomorrow, February 26, is Levi Strauss Day, in honor of the birth in 1829 of Levi Strauss, the German-born American clothing manufacturer, and founder of Levi Strauss & Co. His company was the original manufacturer of those iconic American pants, the blue jean. Although jeans will be forever associated with the American Wild West and the rebellion of America’s Youth, they have long since gone global, and are worn on every continent, except possibly Antarctica.

So it is fitting that a poem about them should have been written in Gujarati, one of the languages of India, by an Indian writer working in Boston, Massachusetts.

An Historical Poem

by Chandrakant Shah

Let us sit cross-legged, close our eyes and say wah wah
As we study jean-ealogy

The course: A Brief History of Blue Jeans
Course prerequisite: to be human

The foreword is that
What is born must shrink
And finally fade

The total number of jeans made in the market to date
Is thirty two and a half billion
Texan blondes wear them
Damsels from Kolkata
Cowboys and presidents of many nations
Hippies and heroes
Socialites and culture vultures

To vintage history, add a dash of poem-ology
As we study jean-ealogy

This is about the origin of jeans – the where, why and how:
Blue jeans too, like animals, birds and humans, are a kind of gene

Cloth from a small French village called Nîmes
Was called ‘fabric de Nîmes’
‘De Nîmes’ became denim!

What the village-folk knit and weave by the sweat of their brow
The city folk study in classrooms from books – and how!

Denim cloth is such that it changes the psychology of folks high and low
As we study jean-eology

The one who is known all over the world by his first name
Now hear the story of that brave man

In 1829
The genes of Levi Strauss came into being – an auspicious moment
In 1853
At the age of twenty-four
The lad came to San Francisco
Sold canvas cloth to gold mines
For Contestoga wagons and tents

‘Should-a brought pants’
The miners said
‘Pants don’t wear worth a hoot in the diggins’
The miners added

Levi ran to the tailor’s shop
With his starched canvas
And that is how the first wearable jeans were made

In that mining village of Frisco
‘Those pants of Levi’s’
Were so much in demand
Everyone clamoured for them
Praise be to the name of Levi

In this poem let there be no fiction-ology
As we study jean-ealogy

Genes maketh the man
Man maketh jeans

Children grow, change and become their parents true blue
In quite the same way,
Like us,
Jeans were born brown but grew up to become blue

If you have any questions this is the time for ask-ology
As we study jean-ealogy

Like girls, jeans come
In two hundred and twenty-four different sizes
Like boys, denim comes
In only twenty-six kinds

When it comes to wearing jeans, boys are at the top
Girls prefer bellbottoms

Zippers came in 1850
Rivets in 1873

Boys are satisfied with one pair of zipper-down jeans
While girls prefer a pair of jeans
And a boy in a pair of jeans

The lesson is now complete
The summary: man is incomplete without jeans

Now rise and dust yourself with slap-ology
As we are finished with jean-ealogy

“JEANS 101 An Historical Poem” from Blue Jeans, © 2000 by Chandrakant Shah – Image Publications

English translation by Naushil Mehta and Arundhathi Subramaniam

Chandrakant Shah (1956 – ) is a Boston-based Indian Gujarati poet and playwright, as well as an actor, theatre director, and the artistic director of the Avantar Theatre Group of Boston. He is the author of two books of poetry, Ane Thoda Sapna and Blue Jeans, and several important plays in Gujarati theatre, including Master Phoolmani,  Kabro, Khelaiya, Ek Hati Rupli and Eva Mumbai Ma Chal Jaiye. He has also written an English-language play, Mahatma.Gandhi.Com.


So how many pairs of jeans do you own?



About wordcloud9

Nona Blyth Cloud has lived and worked in the Los Angeles area for over 50 years, spending much of that time commuting on the 405 Freeway. After Hollywood failed to appreciate her genius for acting and directing, she began a second career managing non-profits, from which she has retired. Nona has now resumed writing whatever comes into her head, instead of reports and pleas for funding. She lives in a small house overrun by books with her wonderful husband.
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