Confession: I have never been a sari wearer. I have been a sari dreamer. Let me explain. I love saris. For someone who has right at the outset revealed her sartorial preference for apparel other than the sari, how could I possibly drool over them or express a fondness for them?

I grew up in Matunga in a predominantly Tamilian neighbourhood where the women wore exquisite patta podves, six yards of gorgeous silk, with thin zari borders if they were visiting the local market or walking to the next block, and rich kanjeevaaram saris with golden elephants or peacocks or flowers parading across the entire length, if it was a special occasion. The saris made swishing sounds as the women walked or moved their arms, the silk gliding over and caressing their skin. At home, my grandmother wore a nine-yard sari, the pleats of which were gathered together at the navel and rolled and tucked into a little pouch made at the centre in which they stayed put, whether she was cooking, grinding masalas on a grinding stone or visiting a relative. As a child, I was fascinated by this bird-like pouch, and often, as I wiped my hands and mouth on the end of her pallu, I stroked it, and inhaled the warm, comforting scent of the hearth that had settled on it. Her sari was my comfort zone.

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The sari pallu is a formidable ally with multiple uses. Pulled tight and tucked inside the left side of the petticoat from under the right arm, it gets transformed instantly into combat gear, infusing a certain kind of dynamic energy into the sari-wearer that serves as a warning to the opponent. I have seen many a woman in the neighbourhood win a fight over filling water at the common tap or scaring away an eve teaser merely by adopting the tucked-in pallu stance, their spines erect, their breath a hiss. Dangerous though it is, the pallu serves as a hot pot holder when the tongs go missing; it can be a napkin/towel, a warmer when pulled close over the shoulder, a fan when waved up and down, a disguise when pulled over the face, a baby carrier sling, an instant purse to tie some notes into, and whatever else your imagination fancies. I don’t need any convincing about the beauty or the utility of the garment. I know it’s a winner all the way.

At home, my grandmother wore a nine-yard sari, the pleats of which were gathered together at the navel and rolled and tucked into a little pouch made at the centre in which they stayed put, whether she was cooking, grinding masalas on a grinding stone or visiting a relative.

In fact, the sari is also a great equaliser. It makes no distinctions whatsoever as it swathes the bodies of women of all sizes and shapes automatically and gracefully, making each one look special. The sari knows just where to cling and where to let go, where to flare out and what to enclose within its folds. Despite knowing well the magic the sari weaves, why was I such an unabashed buyer of ready to wear apparel? I suspect it is plain laziness. Too much trouble I thought – buy a sari, get a matching fall attached, then look for a matching piece of cloth, go to a tailor and get the blouse stitched, then ensure that there is a packet of safety pins handy, and so on and so forth. I did try. I swear I did. But I forgot all about the blouse that was at the tailor’s, till one day, I received a call from the agitated gentleman, who all but threatened me to take away what belonged to me and what was occupying space in his cramped shop. When I slipped one arm inside it, the blouse protested. It just wouldn’t move up and so tightly did it sit just above my elbow that I had to yank it off with brute force, almost dislocating my shoulder and bruising my skin. Horrified, I stepped on my weighing scales and hollered.

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While this misadventure did dampen my spirits a bit, I dared to wear a sari again, this time because my colleagues decided on that theme for a particular day. Not wanting to be a killjoy, I agreed and got into a frenzy, putting together an ensemble that looked decent, opening the seams of the abandoned blouse, practising constricted breathing, folding and pinning the pleats the night before. With about five safety pins attached at different sites, I smiled happily at what I saw in the mirror. I had managed the feat of looking like an accomplished sari wearer. What I had not contended with was the train travel. I got in easily as it was the starting point. It was while alighting that I had to graze umpteen shoulders while clinging to my oversized bag with one hand, and holding on to the overhead handles to maintain my balance, with the other. The inevitable happened. I stepped on the pleats of my sari which had, after the jostling, decided to succumb to the laws of gravity and descended a few precarious inches. I let go of the overhead handles and tucked the pleats in, seconds before my destination arrived, allowing the crowd to push me out, my pallu trailing behind and getting stuck between the bodies of my co-travellers, choking me and almost unravelling my sari. By the time I disentangled myself, I looked like a defeated, battle-worn disaster, with dishevelled hair, the blouse torn where I had pinned the pallu, the huge mass of pleats having shifted to one side, the petticoat peeping out. I could have been arrested for abusing the sari had there been a law against it. Never again, I told myself.

Sari is also a great equaliser. It makes no distinctions whatsoever as it swathes the bodies of women of all sizes and shapes automatically and gracefully, making each one look special.

Twice bitten I was but not yet shy. I was dreaming of being able to wear a sari and carry it off with easy grace. Every time I saw a woman in a sari, elegance personified, I longed to be able to emulate her. I began to wear saris for short periods at safe places, trying to get the hang of it, and graduated to wearing them on special occasions, also learning how to use the washroom without endangering the secure grip of the sari at my waist. The more I wore it, the more I surrendered to its wonders, discovering a gentility hitherto unknown to me, and soon, the sari and I began to cohabit comfortably, the stumbling into the unexpected a joyous experience. I call it sarindipity.

Do I wear saris regularly? Not yet, but I hope to get there. I know of no other garment that’s as flexible and yielding, as timeless and simple, as trendy and empowering. All it needs is a little getting used to. But, that’s how it is about everything in life, isn’t it?

Picture Credit: Swadesh.unnatisilks.com

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Archana Pai Kulkarni is the Books Editor at SheThePeople.TV. The views expressed are the author’s own.

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