My Forever love

January 10, 2018


I tend to remember people by the clothes they wear.

Just the way some smells are evocative of some places and memories, clothes too are memory markers for me, and my earliest memories feature sarees. Worn by my mother, her sisters, their mother...soft cottons , starched and worn countless number of times before they were re -purposed to swaddle newborns and spread on the floor for mattresses,stiff kanjeevaram silks, first worn to weddings and then over the years softened by wear to make them fit for temple visits and train travel…..  so many genres of saree wear come to mind!!There is always this image in my mind’s eye of my grandmother in a pristine white “ravikai" - it was held at the neck by a small gold button that held both the eyelets together and then there was this deep, deep décolletage held at the waist by a knot. Yet to see a revival of this style though!!

Sarees used to be ubiquitous and every daily task was performed wearing them. Convenience hadn't quite crept up as a factor influencing the purchase, care and wearing of sarees. Blouses used to be fairly uniform with small variations in sleeves and necklines and you learnt the art of draping a saree much like how we learnt other life skills, by watching and trying our hand at it until it became a daily ritual.

And then came washing machines and salwar kameezes in fabrics one could wash and wear without so much as running an iron over it. In a faster paced world urbanity and convenience crept up and time got crunched. The simplest of things like draping a saree was relegated to weddings, occasion wear. It became something that had to be taught to young girls on the morning of their school farewells:girls still getting comfortable with their bodies and struggling with blouse darts and flowy pallavs -for them sarees became synonymous with fashion shows, culturals and ethnic days.

And then ,slowly the tide started to turn again.

When fast fashion became something we could take for granted and all the brands in the world could be summoned to our doorstep at 60% off in cardboard boxes swathed in tape , women in their perennial search for finding and wearing clothes that make them stand apart, rediscovered the garment that within its drapes and folds flattered every figure, in its plethora of weaves gave them the joy of wearing something that was handcrafted and unique and in its myriad embellishment techniques ensured that every single one of us could find something we love. Blouses still remained a challenge, but then came what i like to call, the wear-anything-as-a-blouse movement. Peasant tops, crop tops, jackets, t shirts, bras, bustiers, corsets....virtually anything can be worn as a blouse today. We embraced all this and the saree that came back into our cupboards.

In coming back to the art of wearing a saree, we have gotten back in touch with a rasa called Shringara, that we forgot. Shringara means love and often, also beauty. Narrowly defined, it means to enjoy the company of the opposite sex. But broadly speaking, in Shringara the word rasa literally means good taste.  It is the mood in which we concentrate on creating an atmosphere of beauty and enjoyment through company and courtesy combined with objects and ways of art ,culture and decoration. Wearing a saree is an act that quite simply puts us in touch with this state of being.

Thus the versatility of the saree and the innovative-ness of its modern day wearers, have come together, to reinvent the oldest of garments. Despite its many modern adaptations, the saree wearer of today possibly loves it for the very same reasons as their mothers and grandmothers before them. The forgiving folds of its drape, the feminine grace it lends to your gait, the relief that cotton sarees offer against our tropical summers, the nip in the air you can enjoy when you have a kanjeevaram draped around your shoulders...the air of being taken seriously when in a saree and the knowing that it can pretty much be worn to every place and occasion.

It can be styled edgily or worn classically. Prints, checks, solids...anything works on a saree. Throw a warm enough trench over it and you can wear it in Chicago (I know of someone who does, everyday) ,wear it with a white shirt and a row of pearls and you are mehendi and sangeet ready, with heels, with brogues and a matter how you wear it, it is a garment which will be seen and noticed. And with it, so will you. And maybe that explains our perennial love affair with it.

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