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Saturday, February 4, 2012

Sari Forever

I  admit that I was the first in my family to abandon the sari. As a teen, the salwar-kameez that was just coming into vogue seemed much more practical, less restrictive and freeing. Even to the point of ditching the dupatta/chunni that was de rigueur for modesty/warmth in North India. I would happily go around in various salwar-kameez combinations, ignoring the piles of saris that got added to regularly by my mother, who was and still remains a major sari-maniac.
Of late, though, the charms of saris have started to beckon to me. Never mind that it is primarily a special-occasion wear now. But I did indulge in sari-shopping this time around on my visit to India. There was the mandatory silks that were gifts from my mother, my in-laws, all necessitating rushed trips to the tailor to get the blouses stitched in the few days that I had. A visit to a sari-shop is always dazzling to the senses. So many colors, fabrics, tossed with elaborate carelessness by the assigned salesperson, hoping to catch the eye of the customer. Just when you fixate on one particular sari is when some other customer wistfully sneaks up beside you to either finger or look at the same, while your grip tightens on it possessively.  "This is the one I should get, before the other tries to snatch it away."
For the last few months, my eyes kept following the headlines "Hermès is introducing a line of saris to be sold in high-end boutiques', a much ballyhooed  entry made into the Indian market. $6100 or thereabouts for one of those? I knew that it was doomed to failure at that price point, except perhaps among the Lakshmi Mittals of the world. Considering that Indians have always demanded value for money, what value did the Hermès saris provide other than bragging rights for $6100? Precious little, I would say, the same amount of money spent on a noname Indian specialty sari (Kanjivaram, Banarasi, Balucheri, Mysore...) would get not only the top quality, but also a beauty that could be passed on as an heirloom to at least a couple of generations in the future.
So, I have come to praise the sari, not bury it. I only wish that I knew more styles than the traditional 'Nivi' to wear it. Especially the '9-gajam' variant that I saw my grandmothers wearing, old fashioned as it was. Now, however, there are a multitude of useful Youtube videos that show every method from the basic Nivi to all sorts of regional variants. Perhaps I will set aside a day for experimenting on these, with M as the model, since she will likely be able to make use of it for dance performances with her dance school (they do folk dances as well as Bharatanatyam).
I was thrilled to find a page on 'How to wear a sari' with simple line drawings in the "Daring Book for Girls", so guess what M got from the book store recently.  And hope to pass on at least a whiff of sari-mania to a daughter who is probably going to be much more comfortable in jeans than salwars (which she does wear routinely for dance classes) or saris.