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.