At this point I am afraid my only reader is going to walk away in disgust after reading the title. I am counting on his innate compassion to stay on after the initial reaction.
Suddenly it struck me that the Gujarati way of wearing a saree is so much neater and highlights the pallu as it should be displayed.
In every saree shop we see women taking great pains to pick a saree with an elaborately designed pallu – either woven or embroidered or just printed – and in fact the rest of the yards of material is often discounted in preference to the most decorative pallu. And then, while wearing the sari the pallu is just bunched together and thrown over one shoulder, bedsheet fashion, as R. would snigger. It does not flow down in a graceful sweep nor does it fan out to display the beauty of the weaver’s craft, it just lies in a mass of cloth as if that is all there is to it. At best it is folded and pinned. This the usual urban Indian style seen all over urban and even semi-urban cities and in the smaller towns. Rural India has different ways of draping the sari and Bollywood village women wearing the saree in their own inimitable way exist only on the screen thankfully.
The Maharashtrian nauvari is nine yards long but is a very distant cousin of the South Indian Iyer nine yards. The Marathi women wearing their traditional sarees easily break into the most vigorous dance possible while the Iyer Mami is very sedate and dignified even if there is a considerable amount of leg on display. The younger mamis generally are very distracted while in their nine yards because half their attention is on the slowly unravelling saree. They are in constant peril of having to bunch up the nine yards in their hands and rush into the nearest room and call for help. The fact that they, traditionally speaking, cannot wear a petticoat inside, does not help matters. The younger women these days prefer to wear tights before draping the nine yards saree. At my own wedding, my saree had been tied for me by a nameless Mami and I barely lasted through the saath pheras with the saree trailing behind me before I was ushered inside for a retying. (Nameless Mami, I shall seek you out and kill you, if you are not dead already.)
During the time of my grandmother, girls were married in their early teens. My grandmother used to tell me how she wore the six yards sari before marriage and switched over to the nine yards when she was married. She was thirteen at the time. She was very petite and could barely carry the weight of nine yards on her frail body. She also had to wash it every day and hang the wet mass on the clothesline. From the age of thirteen, she wore a nine yards’ till she died at the age of seventy five and almost till the end she would wash her own clothes.
Nowadays of course the saree is going the way of the kimono and is fast becoming a matter of sartorial choice (!) for many urban women. They choose to wear it after much thought and discussion and only if other women at work agree to wear it on the same day because who wants to be the odd one out? In colleges the girls decide on a saree day and turn up in beautiful sarees belonging to their mothers and draped on them by their mothers, who else.
In fact, in Mumbai finding a saree shop is becoming very difficult. There are the galli shops which sell the ubiquitous polyester sarees in violent colors and designs and then there are the high-end shops in places like Queen’s Road and Dadar which have on sale and display the “designer” sarees with a lot of embellishments that can only be worn to weddings, preferably by the bride herself. It is only in Gujarati-dominated areas that sarees are sold in more numbers and varieties, even if many of them still have the unnecessary sequins and stones stuck on them almost as if it were de rigueur.
So we are back with the Gujarati saree which I wish I could wear, but not being a Gujarati, it would make me feel more than a little pretentious.
My saree shopping is all done in the South nowadays, because there it is still seen as normal wear for Indian women and you can take empty suitcases and bring them back filled with sarees. I can hear R. say that it is what I do, but I tell him that as I do no saree shopping in Mumbai at all, I am entitled to do it on our trips outside Mumbai.
Shopping abroad is just that little bit less appealing because how many shampoos and foundations can one buy after all? Now if only them furriners would put their mind to creating beautifully printed or woven cloth with saree panna (width) I could create interesting sarees out of them! But our rupees would still fetch better value by the yard than the pound or the dollar. After all A. took back a beautifully embroidered saree for her Kenyan friend at less than $45!