Sunday, October 12, 2008

Que Sari Sari

I have always envied women who can wear saris effortlessly and gracefully. I have never been quite able to crack it. I can wear them. After about seven attempts and 41safety pins (a girl’s best friend), it can even look passably elegant. But if truth be told, I have never quite mastered the art and therefore, can never be one of those marvellous super women-types who just get up in the morning and glide into a sari without any fuss or tears.

My standard operating practise when confronted with a sari-wearing occasion is to

a) Avoid: Duck the occasion altogether (ah, wishful thinking)

b) Substitute: Give feeble excuses and turn up in a Salwar Kameez.

c) Sulk and comply: Throw tantrums, fret, curse, and then finally wear it (with the help of Ma or any handy female) with a martyred air and totter to whichever function. This, after turning most of the room upside down and getting into at least one spat (with the mother, – “WHY the HELL can’t you drape it properly-you have thirty years of practise?”/ “No I will NOT wear those rib-cracking-circulation-stopping blouses. I don’t care if people call it a tee-shirt. At least I don’t get asphyxiated ”/”Stick a pin there, and there and there as well, you missed that spot, OUCH!!!” or with the husband, “ hope in the next janam you are born an Indian woman and have to wear saris everyday” or the more pithy “Eff off”)

d)In a rare burst of enthusiasm, decide to drape it without any help and do so successfully. Only figure out that it has been arrayed in the mirror image of the more conventional left shouldered way after the mother goes into peals of raucous and unseemly laughter.

My first brush with the sari started somewhere in late school. Till then, I had quite successfully managed to avoid coming within lassoing distance of them despite the occasional traditional /teacher’s day scare.

Let’s forward to Class 9, Hyderabad.

Our much esteemed (!) and very I-know-which-side-my-bread-is-buttered-and-will-do-sell-my-grandmother-let-alone-these-useless-students-for-money Owner/Principal manages to get the school invited for some inter-state- competition. As a gesture of goodwill (to the rich dignitaries) and revenge (on the hapless female students), she mandates that we don costumes of the participating states and sashay down the grounds.

Some evil star prompts the organizer to allocate a Bengali sari to me. The Bengali traditional sari – the one which is the lovely red and white (Think Parineeta) which is distinguished by the fact that it has ABSOLUTELY no pleats in front. The same all-important-pleats which allow the wearer some moving and breathing space. This one is to be worn more like a crepe bandage- viz. just rolled around the wearer. Also as with the crepe, the key focus seems to be to restrict and impede any free movement (the dainty, femininity thing l I assume).

Definitely not the ideal way to initiate a semi-tomboy into the intricacies of the garment.

Somehow I manage to shuffle, waddle, and roll myself to the parade grounds with other similarly suffering schoolmates - accompanied by distressingly forthright commentary from the boys. Once there, we are told, that we need to perambulate the ground (which incidentally are flanked by er..nubile young jawaans).

So we all waddle, shuffle and roll some more, collectively stomping over and crushing yards and yards of silk and satin. During the course of this walk, my sari which seems to have a distinct mind of its own (quite typical of Bengalis?), decides that it has enough of me and valiantly tries to part ways. Fortunately, it meets with only partial success.

The Gujurati sari next to mine, decides to emulate the attempt and is much more successful (again, quite typical of the state? Hmmmm!). About seventy percent manages to sneak away before the wearer realizes that.

I did mention that we were flanked by nubile (?) young jawans didn’t I?

Let us discreetly draw a curtain over the rest of the proceedings.

Incidentally there is still a photograph of me in that damn thing floating around in cyberspace in-spite of all my attempts to destroy it. One of my moronic friends has become the self appointed guardian of my ‘street-urchin’ (as he calls it) look for eternity. Every few years he digs the photo out, sends me a sadistic mail with the photo as an attachment. Hmm, I really need to get new friends.

After this, I firmly stayed away from saris for the next three years until the twelfth standard farewell party. This was quite uneventful, except for the fashion atrocity of wearing puffed LONG sleeved blouse (the ‘in’ (sic) style) with a Guajarati pallu.

Undergrad was relatively simple. Traditional and sari days could just be avoided – as were rose days and friendship days (do they still have them I wonder, the friendship days were particularly nauseating as I recall).

Then we come to B-school. College brochures, presentations, inter-collegiate functions, mug-shots – all in saris, all fraught with much tension. The halcyon sans-sari days seemed definitely over. But on the plus side, I meet like-minded, sari-challenged friends. (Once, after a few nights-out-battling-insane-deadline-for-an-intercollegiate-competitions, we (four females) accompanied the sari-clad-presenter without realizing that it was draped on the wrong shoulder. Fortunately a friend (male!) pointed it out before she went up onto the dais).

After that it’s been a series of saris – cousins’ weddings, engagement, marriage, pujas so on and so forth. I suppose I am better than I was, but I prefer it infinitely more, when it is worn by other people.

This sari post will not be complete, if I don’t end this with an incident with a friend.

Just after she got married, she had to go to the in-laws for the first time as a bride, for a Satyanarayan puja.There she was expected to change into an appropriate sari for the function which she did and since she didn’t have the help of any friendly, known females. She asked her husband to help her pin the sari pallu together – which he did. Only being a male, he wasn’t aware that the pallu is normally ALSO pinned to the blouse – to keep it in place. Then friend goes to the pandal and does the sashtang pranam (prostration before the idol). Gravity of course, played out its part on the thick Kancheepuram pallu.

Apparently a lot of the younger folks of her husband’s family fondly recall her as the bride whose pallu fell down.

Ah well.


Pinku said...


being the bong girl who wore her first sari at age 6 months, i can afford to laugh at this I guess.

But I do admit trying to put it on with no female help is still a challenge. An easy way out is to wear chiffons on such occassions since they drape well and you dont have to struggle with the pleats falling straignt, also being very light they dont feel as cumbersome as the heavier silks or cranky cottons do.

BTW the Delhi Dolls museum has a lesson on sari to visit? :)

manuscrypts said...

bharateeya nari, ranting about a sari...sigh :p

Nikhil Narayanan said...

In my B School , saree was mandatory for the ladies on Wednesdays and so many of them bunked wednesday sessions to avoid a saree.
Guess, the rule has changed to Formals on wednesdays.

Great read.


The_Girl_From_Ipanema said...

much empathy comes.

Akshaya Kamalnath said...

aaaaargh...I take excuse b with a slight difference....its pants on all occassions...including traditional fests...except in my 12th std farewell party...dat was a disaster...stepped on pleats while climbing stairs to stage and made a scene. The kindly teacher giving the momento helped with it.

Nandini Vishwanath said...

lol, I'm as bad as you, if not worse. I once had to wear sari in college, some day and all that and was already late. And I ran out of the house holding the sari up, you know like a long skirt and tried to start my scooter. My mom screamed in horror.

I was so used to sitting on the scooter like a guy, put leg over the seat and bring them together in the front :( I tried that with the sar, pins went flying, sari tore, and what not happened :(

mekie said...

lol.. a few dozen tries will make it work..

Sud said...

Remember this incident at Heathrow. Me and my grandmom waiting for our delayed flight. A little girl (of the toddlers who can speak sort of age) comes and sits next to us, and after a while goes
"She's a princess. She's a princess".
Me and grandmom looking all around us for the princess only to realize, it was grandmom's white saree!

j said...

Hahaha!!! ROFLMAO! I am not on the f***ing chair anymore... lol!! My only regret is not being around when that saree thing happened in school. Where the #$@!~ was I, will wonder even on my death bed methinks.

But anyways, what has become of my beloved Bharat desh and what has the bharat nari come to!?? lol.. Pretty sad state of affairs eh cynic? I am disappointed with you...

Veens said...

ohh my freaking senses... i m laughing laughing!!

u knw... i m way better than u !! i know hw to drape it nice and proper :P

hehehe!! darn thing... that friend of yurs is a genious... let him knw... i would love to see that pic of yurs :P

and the bride whose pallu fell of... so damn shocking :-D but hilarious nevertheless!!

awesome :)))

Iya said...

"my sari which seems to have a distinct mind of its own (quite typical of Bengalis?)"... Really

I was equally challenged till I went to my B-school.. I took help of all possible females allowed in the hostel, from cleaning woman to the washing lady to the lady guard...ahh..and then finally i learnt.. not that I wear it everyday.. The number hovers around 5 times a year...

Cynic in Wonderland said...

pinku - six months? HOW? WOW! you are a stud. at six months the only thing i was capable of was dribbling all over the placementhinks. and no, no sari lessons for me thank you very much. if people knew that i did know how to drape it, i would be told to wear it much more often no? ignorance IS bliss i say.

young manu - i put disclaimer no. actually its not so bad if one needs to just sit in a place and not move. but working in it is the killer.

nikhil - was it? i think we would have chucked out the person who mandated that then. my batch our favorite passtime seemed to be chucking out professors. but every week. ugh. terrible.

the girl from ipanema - et tu brutus?

akshaya - yus! and these strange people dont even allow one to lift it up and walk. sigh. god bless safety pins

nandini - i do that too. my mother hates it too. heheh.

mekie - exactly. few dozen tries later and i am a very cranky person tho.

Cynic in Wonderland said...

sud - hehe that is cute

j - you werent there? what are you saying? you werent one of those morons sitting and chortling away at us? in that case i forgive you. if you meet shilpa, check up with her. she probabaly remembers the trauma.

veens - shush. dont give me a complex no.

iya - bengali eh? can you drape it in one go is the question.

shilpa said...

Hey!!! Well said!
I understand your angst...Not only do 'they' glide into them...But they flit around with a smile frozen into place...Perhaps its the DNA ?
Recently , was terrifyingly faced with the prospect of wearing a Gujju ever helpful husband,declared a panacea to the problem..googled it..and proceeded to show me a Youtube video on sari draping..Having said..the sari didn't turn out awfully..and stayed put through 2 hours of dandiya..So perhaps YouTube Zindabaad?

Rada said...


Obviously you haven't heard the dictum "practice makes perfect"!

Shame on you, child!

Soulmate said...

Wearing a saree can be fun. I used to dread at the thought of wearing until I figured out that you simply need to be confident. Now I can easily drape a saree in 20 mins(which I feel is good enough), thanks to all the cultural functions in my previous organization. :-)

Epiphany said...

Well I don't know how to wear a sari either! :P

Devakishor Soraisam said...

Thank god.. I'm a guy..:p

This post reminded me of a "saree" story. In my school, all the female teachers were suppose to wear saree for our annual day. There was this one teacher, half jew, she normally wears salwar kameez to class. But, that particular day she was forced to wear a saree.. she was struggling throughout the function, at one point it almost came off.. lol... so she made some of us surround her, took a belt from one of my friend and wore it over her saree!! It was way too funny(for us) and a disaster for her.

Tarun said...

Agree It's too difficult to wear but I think it's not necessary to have that many safety pins, BTW because it's topic related with saree so I recalled in school once we read (in hindi)
'Saari bich Naari hai ki Naari nich saari hai' I think it means something like this: they are so mixed with each other it's difficult to say saari is around girl or girl is inside saari.

Australopithecus said...

i'm extremely sari :P

Cynic in Wonderland said...

shilpa - technology for sari? why did i neverthink of that now?

rada- *duly ashamed*. what to do saar? we are like this wonly.

soulmate - that is pretty quick. twenty minutes it takes me to open it and get it the right side up.

epiphany - bad, bad bharatiya naara you are.

devakishore. a belt around a sari. that must have been brilliant. ive seen saris with sneakers. but belt is new. did you get a snap?

varun - believe me, for a lot of girls, safety pins are a MUST.

austro. sari for the sorry?sorry for the sari. ok now i am confused.

shilpa said...

I neither!!!! Useful sometimes to have a technology obsessive husband! Downside however,I am constantly hopping around the room to avoid strewn wires!!! Hmph!Makes sari wearing a joy!

EggHe/\D said...

My maasi (perima) was saying - their generation found the 9 yarder version ever more difficult (being tams we are supposed to wear 9 yarders on occasions)
Then : 9 Yards was tough
Now : 6 Yards is tough
Later : Saree, what is that?
Much fun came !! My mother ROFLOLd at this.

sra said...

LOL! Can empathise!

Now am at a stage where I don't care - as long as my saris get an airing, that's more than enough! I'm the kind who tried to hide in a corner when I wore a sari to work, no one had ever seen me in one. (I got locked out of home and couldn't change after a wedding i attended).

Trinaa said...

i dont lyk sarees...too ventilated :P

Santosh said...

lol. Did an MBA and still struggling with Sari? I always thought one of the very few things that MBA schools teach well now a days is how to wear sari in 5 mins flat :)

Pinku said... it was my cousin sisters shaadi and I was the newest/youngest girl in the house, they decided all girls will wear saris so I was included in the list.

Still got a pic of me in a sari hollering like crazy.

kochuthresiamma p .j said...

strangely enuf, am in the process of posting a piece on saree!

Cynic in Wonderland said...

shilpa - have you ever tried hopping around in the said sari? that should be fun i am thinking.

egghead - next gen it will probabaly be tough to wear salwar kameez - too long and too flappy. did your aunt/mother wear that mysterious thing called the half sari btw? i find that very fascinating. its like a skirt with a dupatta.

sra - i sneak em off to the mother for that purpose. win win situation. you know there was this brilliant retailer in bombay who had come up with two blouse pieces for saris. he sold it to my cousin and aunt thus. "baby ke liye kharid lo, agar unko nahin pehenna hai to aunty bhi pehen sakti ho". the fell for it. quite canny i thought.

trina - hehe yus.

santosh - mbas teach sari draping? how come i missed that? i knew i should have paid attention in class aiyo.

pinku - ok i think your mother is a stud now.

kochuthresiamma p .j - waiting and watching.

Lekhni said...

Hilarious post :) I can completely empathize with the feeling about saris. I can never understand those people who love occasions when they can wear a sari.

EggHe/\D said...

@cynic - Yes in their generation times they had to apparently .. my mom still has photos in that costume (called daavani in tam speak)
btw thanks for the kind comment ... wordsmithing is a part time obsession .. suggest you look over other post under linguistic overtures ...

Arunima said...

I can wear it very well though it is not my traditional dress. :-)

We wear wrap-arounds as our traditional dress.

shilpa said...

Well...I played dandiya in the sari..and it stayed put!!!! accomplishment for the month!

roop said...

haha and that's exactly why i got most of my saris stitched! and it's oh so fabulous! :D

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