Monday, July 20, 2009

The Sari & Me

My relationship with the sari is a strange one. It began as a lovey dovey one but has ended up on the brink of divorce.

AS a high school kid, my idea of being well-dressed was being draped in a sari. I then felt that no dress pays greater compliment to the female figure than the sari. It hides all the sins - like the paunch, tyres, and all other oversized or undersized assets. The sari would take care of all of them. Just drape it around the woman, and all disproportionate assets will find enough fabric space to conceal/enhance themselves in.

I first wore the sari for the farewell party given to us, the final year metric students. How well in advance I planned the event, for here was the first grand opportunity for the frog to become a princess. My mother saw to it that she got me a four inch stiletto heels after I convinced her that the sari would hide it, and that I could handle it. The D day came. I draped myself in my grey handloom sari with silver border, climbed on the high heels, loaded my hands with glass bangles, head with jasmine, adorned my face with bindi, kohli, lipstick – the works. The ugly duckling transformed instantly into a reasonably tall, elegant and slim person (the sari and the additional 4 inches made me look slimmer!). My friends and teachers blinked and stared at me, their mouths hanging loose.

And my self esteem skyrocketed!

After that, for a long time, I never let go of an opportunity to wear a sari. I loved the dress and it loved me, till - - -

I got married to the sari.

Guess this is like the before/ after marriage situation. Courtship and married life are worlds apart.

I grew up in times when a day comes in the life of a girl when she is expected to wear only the sari. At graduate level, the decently brought up nazrane girl usually wore only the sari to college. That did it. The honey moon was over and I soon began to pick faults with the apparel as one would with a necessary evil.

It was inconvenient.
It took time to drape.
It was difficult to wash, starch – the maintenance.

It was not hep.

Nilu wore trousers to college. Jyothi, Sridevi and Geetha wore salwars. But I had to walk a good one and a half kilometer to college and amma thought I might draw unwanted attention in these outfits. So sari became the burden I had to bear in the name of respectability, and the innocuous existence ideal for a Syrian Catholic young girl of marriageable age!

Come the monsoon and I’d begin to curse the sari. Gradually, my take on this apparel developed complexities and nuances. This dress that once enhanced me self esteem – this friend of the woman - became her foe, the tool devised by the male species to keep the female an eternal slave. It became a hated symbol of patriarchy!

When Siddharth my colleague, looking at the students appreciatively on their ‘sari day’ said “How the sari changes these girls. It makes them so feminine, elegant and beautiful. Their very bearing seems to change - - “, I glared at him but held my peace, ‘cos he was a good friend and a well meaning soul. By then I had been won over by the salwar revolution, and had become a hard core advocate of this apparel. With the existence of an alternative, I began to get seriously estranged from the sari. But it took a real battle at the domestic front for me to jump on to the salwar bandwagon.

My children and husband thought I looked more dignified in the sari, and that I should wear only the sari when I go out on social visits. malls and outings. Of course, the salwar was OK for the market but not to work. Suddenly all of them did a volte-face when I got a job which necessitated my going up and down by the local train in Mumbai – and then the atmosphere in the house became charged with paeans sung to the Salwar Kameez and its convenience and safety while boarding the busy local trains.

What about my dignity?

‘You’ll carry off any dress, amma!!!’.

Well, one would have understood this right about turn if my teapot figure had transformed into the figure of eight on the acquisition of the new job. But nothing like that happened to warrant this sudden shift in position, but my eyes were opened to the true depth of the saying that beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder! If safe travel required that your wife/mother wear salwar suit, then you’d better try to see her look good in it.

Also, I made another important discovery. Just as I had fallen out of love with the sari, the sari also had fallen out of love with me. It ceased to be that magic wand that transformed the Cinderella into a ravishing beauty. It could not release the frog prince from the curse.

And it no longer provided a cover for my sins. On the other hand, it seemed to expose them with a vengeance, and that made me squirm self-consciously whenever I had to wear it.

It no longer did service to my self esteem.

So why live with it?

Therefore, my middle end saris are now finding new owners who do justice to them. The saris too return the compliment and seem happy to have left my wardrobe.

I have retained a few of my high end ones –for I am forced to respect the remnants of the convention which looks askance at a lady who has successfully completed half a century, appearing for a wedding or wedding related functions in a salwar kameez.


  1. Well well…I have such close association with the saree too….Wearing female clothing comes naturally to me as once it happened for me during a university skit( in which I enthralled the audience with a moving depiction of a female queen…..and talking about the saree…well….i have been chased by the HOD of my college when we enacted a particular skit at a college event...well ofcoz the skit was quite offensive…but I learned how difficult it is to run wearing a saree from the college compound to the main road outside and to be stared by curious onlookers!! I learnt why the shakuntala style dress (a saffron saree with match-ing skimpy blouse) for the college cross dressing day attracted so much atten-tion…the saree has been so beloved for me too…sigh……………..;-P

  2. " the uncut cloth " -- i have a long distance relationship with it !

    but boy do i admire everyone wearing it, if they are handwoven

  3. .. that is an engrossing saree tail (tale)!

    i guess it is high time that freedom of choice of dressing remains with the person wearing it, and is not imposed. if sari is to be imposed in some place, they should put the same impositions on male costumes (eg:mundu, dhothi).

    sari traditions, are of course beautiful and enhcanting, and will still remain for long.. whatever may come.

  4. Oh God, you have just reminded me of my articleship days when saree was compulsory to give us a 'professional' look. We used to curse our sirs during the monsoons. And as you said, I started hating it the moment it was made mandatory. I still haven't got over that hatred even after almost 13 years!

  5. Sari or Saree...?

    Not a Mallu dress, anyway. The Salwar Kameez makes women stink in Kerala humidity. It keeps pinchers away; but some of them do not have noses..

  6. we had sari compulsory in engg colleage except for labs..and you think I am kidding..that too late 80s/early 90s. further to that conveience took my sarees are resting for ages in the closet.
    the write up as usual is very interesting..could not stop laughing on saree boosting self esteem. aha! that is what I am going to do with my sarees..

  7. I love the sari...on other women. It does hide the flaws in the figure and it does look elegant but wear to office or in local trains? Spare me. I love buying sarees though and wear it on festivals and weddings. It transforms me from an awkward bird to a graceful swan.

  8. Hmm children are slow sometimes. My Mom too had to go through a bit of hassle before bro and me finally understood comfort came before anything else.

    And now when I want to wear Sari sometimes - things have changed so much that it is an odd thing wearing a Sari to your college or office. You have to answer every single person "What happened, why are you in a Sari today?". Sari has somehow become an occasion-only wear. So to get away from all the uncalled for attention, I mostly never wear it :-(. Sad.

  9. @ mathew
    :-) :-)))))))))

    @ anrosh
    the uncut cloth - easy or difficult to wear is a matter of attitude

    'sari traditions, are of course beautiful and enhcanting, and will still remain for long.. whatever may come'

    @ ris
    'Sari has somehow become an occasion-only wear'.
    that's y i feel its time to sing raquiem for the saree - -- - -
    mmmmmmm, i doubt.

    @ wanderlust
    but i guess u still wear it for social occasions?

    @ stoic
    sari or saree - does it matter? 'The Salwar Kameez makes women stink in Kerala humidity' - frank, aren't u?

    @ shy
    there r prof'al colleges even now insisting on sarees

    @ aparna
    'love buying sarees though and wear it on festivals and weddings'.
    textile/saree industry survuve 'cos of this

  10. the sari story made a very interesting reading.By the way i think i remember siddarth's statement about sari :)

  11. @ madhu
    :-). i remember u too were in the dept

  12. Is it correct to use the word Nazarene to describe syrian christians? Does one not say, Jesus the Nazarene, meaning Jesus from Nazareth? That meaning is obviously not true for Kerala Christians.

  13. Sari is a western dress. It is slavery to wear it.

    Salwar is just as bad. The colonization of southern India by the unscrupulous northies.

    Both the dresses show a shameless rush by malayaalees to "fit in" and "conform", in following accepted fashions of the rest of the people. If you go to Maharashra, even Mumbai, you can still easily find walking in the street many versions of the Raja Ravi Varma's depiction of the Maharashtrian woman. But there exists no such thing as a stereotype of Kerala female costume. The two typical dresses are the churidar and saree, which are in fact the national dress, having nothing in particular to do with Kerala.

    That's one point of view. I must also say that saree and churidar united the Kerala women beyond caste and creed. There is no separate dressing as Nair women in Ravi Varma paintings, the "chatta-mundu-kunukku" dressing of syrian xians, and the well-known dressing of Muslim women whose name I can't recall, but can surely be found somewhere in some book of Basheer, and the "no-dressing-above-waist" custom of lower-caste women. This is the praiseworthy part.

    So what do I say? Do I burst forth in indignation at the submission to northies, or do I sigh in relief considering the progress made?

  14. sari is western dress!!!
    wohoo!!! now ,thats news!
    and wearing it is slavery???? gets better,doesnt it?
    dude(or dudette), hand me the hashish you are smoking!its pretty good,i say!
    being anonymous when you post your commentsis i guess being a true it!

  15. Nice blog. I am also Player of Saree Point


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