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.