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She pleats to conquer: Samantha Cameron's sari triumph

British First Lady Samantha Cameron does what our homegrown beauties do not.

At a time when hardly any Bollywood star shows up at any function in a sari anymore, Samantha Cameron, the British First Lady, is all over the front pages of media in the UK in a burgundy Banarasi.

The sari is getting more love and izzat abroad than it is at home.

Samantha Cameron’s sari entry was a way to make sure all differences were truly ironed out and the conversation firmly changed. Reuters

Samantha Cameron’s sari entry was a way to make sure all differences were truly ironed out and the conversation firmly changed. Reuters

“Is Vidya Balan trapped in a sari?” The Times of India once asked despairingly about our only Bollywood star who routinely wears one in public. “So, the sari works well, but you can’t be endlessly seen sitting, walking and talking in one. It should be a part of your wardrobe, not the only thing in it” complained the article.

Balan’s problem was not just she wore a sari but that she wears traditional saris – not slinky Chikni Chameli half-saris. As Lakshmi Chaudhry explains on Firstpost we have discovered a “postcolonial pride that soon expressed itself as a demand that a woman had to look good in a Versace number in order to qualify as beautiful.”

Meanwhile back in our old colonial headquarters, the media is gushing over Samantha Cameron for her embrace of our ethnic traditions. Hello Magazine says “splendid”. The Daily Mail says “Samantha Cameron glitters.” The Express says she looked “stunning.”

The Guardian’s ShortCuts blog gives Samantha extra kudos for her style (“classic Banarasi number – stylish, understated and with chic kaam (silk embroidery)) and the “obvious hours she spent practicing her Diwali look”. After all, the sari, the blog tells us “isn’t an outfit for the awkward, it takes forever to achieve the elegant sari walk and glide, rather than shuffle, despite being wrapped hip to ankle, in yards of trippable fabric.” In sari diplomacy, Samantha clearly one-upped poor Cherie Blair who “took the magpie approach to South Asian style by opting for the shiniest, brightest polyester mix possible and ended up looking, frankly, a bit rubbish.”

Sam Cam’s sari comes like a stitch in time that saves nine yards of unraveling British-Indian relations.

David Cameron’s government raised the hackles of Indians at home and abroad when his home secretary Teresa May decided to get tough on visa overstays by making an example of Indians. Her proposal for a 3,000 pound sterling bond for those deemed “high risk” visitors to the Britain got Indians worked up into a lather of indignation. It seemed a little rich coming some would say from the very country that overstayed its welcome in India and helped itself to the Koh-i-noor.

Well just in time for Diwali, the bond proposal was finally given an unceremonious burial after the Liberal Democrats said they would block it if it was applied in “an indiscriminate way.” A Home Office spokesman said tersely “We have decided not to proceed.”

Call it the Diwali un-gift.

Samantha Cameron’s sari entry was a way to make sure all differences were truly ironed out and the conversation firmly changed.

The pictures of Samantha Cameron in a burgundy Banarasi splashed all over the front pages of British media will allow our little hearts to burst with pride and forget all about the prejudice. The images of Samantha with a big garland around her neck greeting a host of girls in traditional Indian ghagra cholis will send out a heart-warming picture of multi-racial Britain where her husband can sport a red tilak and say with bland sincerity “We want to be the partner of choice for India to grow, to do business and to make that case I want to have you (British Indians) right behind me.”

Of course, the British first couple’s costumed pandering didn’t go down well with all their constituents. As Amit Roy writes in The Telegraph the sari was interpreted by many newspaper readers as "the actions of ruling elite which cannot be bothered to safeguard Christian culture while seeing to ingratiate themselves with immigrants". “Pass the sick bag please!!” wrote in one reader. Another complained “I wonder if they attend their local Church?” “It does nothing to encourage integration and everything to emphasise that Britishness is a dying culture in the political class (apart from UKIP)”. UKIP is a right-wing party with hardline views on immigration.

But all that abuse actually helps the Camerons especially as they get ready for an India trip on 14 November. In one fell swoop, Samantha Cameron allowed David Cameron to become an enlightened defender of multiculturalism without having to do very much. It’s quite the silken coup.

David Cameron apologised for showing up at the temple in his usual boring suit. But he didn’t apologise for that ill-thought out discriminatory bond proposal.

Clearly love means never having to say sorry. Only sari.

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