Hard to look away from, businessman ‘Captain’ Suresh Rajani’s satirical courage is part marketing, part interactive art installation, part patriotism; and all him
You’ve seen him around at fashion events, the airport if you fly often enough, or possibly at Juhu beach — a tall man walking bedecked with little badges and pins over his shirt, coat, hat; carrying a baton and smiling behind his mercury coated sunglasses. “Even as I am looking at him, I can’t believe this mad thing is mine,” says Ekta Rajani, fashion director at a magazine, and Suresh Rajani’s eldest child.
Where fashion pieces urge us to embrace our inner sense of style, businessman Rajani has done it — and how. He is not embarrassed, defensive or apologetic about his flamboyance.
It started after his open-heart surgery three years ago. The Juhu resident, always fond of clothes, started personalising his style a bit more. “During the Rajesh Khanna craze,” says the “67-and-getting-younger-each-year-old”, “I had long shirts made, over which I would wear a broad belt. Recently, I thought of shaded shirts and coats. I would have them dyed in all colours at
Beauty Art (a dyeing and dry-cleaning firm).”
This formed the gradient base of his trademark style. Then someone gifted him a badge, and it turned into an obsession. “I started collecting those with defence themes because all my business comes from the Navy. I found them at Kota House and at Gopinath’s in Delhi. I collect those with patriotic themes because they resonate with everyone. The security at the airport (he flies out three times a week) feel I am one of them,” says Rajani, whose firm repairs warships and manufactures spares for them.
Rajani’s badges carry a message
Surely, this must pose a problem with metal detectors? “I fly to the same destinations every week; the staff knows me well. Only once did a guy make me remove my shirt. On flight, I urge the air hostesses to take a badge or pin they like as long as they write one personal weakness and one strength in a notebook I carry.”
The pins are also subtle marketing. “I get flag pins made — Indian and all countries I work with — with HH (for Healthy and Happy, the names of his firm) under them. This warms up a person I may meet from a said country. My firm also participates in defence exhibitions, where everyone is so boringly dressed. I stand out.” The only exception he makes is when he has official meetings with the Navy, where he wears a simple white or black shirt and trousers.
Is all this admiration a compensation for missing a career opportunity? Did he ever want to join the Navy? “No way!” he guffaws, “I’m a bloody coward!”
The badges kept growing and then he turned his attention to tie-pins. Under it all, he wears skin-tight sportswear. “In the Navy, there is an emphasis on tightness, sharpness — chest out, belly in. These inner clothes give me that.”
The outfit is finished off with a baton in his hand and self-trimmed long-hair. “I came across the baton at the badge shop and
loved the feeling I got when I held it,” he says. Isn’t he worried about forgetting it somewhere? “If I forget it, it’s gone. I have learnt to let go.”
This lightheartedness is inspiring, but how does his family deal with the attention? “He has always been his own person first,” says Ekta, “then a father. And his fashion is just a harmless expression of enthusiasm for life. I think it has been easier for me to accept it because I work in an industry that celebrates individualism.”
This expression presents some unsual challenges for his wife, Sarla. Says the 64-year-old, “There are practical concerns — you can imagine how long it takes for him to get ready, putting on all those pins. The drawers are overflowing with badges and now that he is into hats, his room is running short on space. He wears something inside the shirts, but with our weather, the shirts can’t be worn more than twice — each time all the badges have to be removed before washing.”
“It feels sometimes, I have lost my husband to this attire,” says Sarla, who handles the back-end operations at the family firm.
Ask Rajani if he is embarrassed by the attention and he says, “People will always stare at you. Make it worth their while. My question is: Is this obscene?
Is it vulgar?”
For all this self-expression, one accessory protects the most private part of him — his mercury-coated sunglasses that he collects in all colours. “I like them because I can observe people and they don’t know I’m looking.” And why does a man who is comfortable with being stared at, protect his own gaze?
“That’s a good question. I don’t know.”