My first saree - a gauzy, blue one with a smattering of flat, golden chumkis - was worn over a denim skirt, with a white top that had Peter Pan collars. It was one of my mother's favourites but three hours after she had wrapped me in it for Saraswati Puja, the saree was reduced to an unmanageable ball in my hands, unraveling onto the ground and threatening to take me with it. At eight, I was perfectly terrified at the idea that the older women of my family would willingly subject themselves to the many horrors of wearing a sari, every single day.
I remember spending an entire week watching with renewed respect as my dida (maternal grandmother) hitched her saree up a couple of inches above her ankles, tucked the pallu into the waistband, and squatted before a shil nora (a piece of stone used to grind masala) and swiftly made pastes out of green chillies and poppy seeds, mustard seeds and ginger. Or how my mother peered over my shoulder to point out spelling mistakes in my exercise book as she swiftly pleated her sari, without even looking at it. Or how the domestic help, carried my baby brother back from the playground as he clawed at her sari and howled in protest. Their saris never met with disastrous fates unlike mine that Saraswati Puja.
After a week of re-imagining the women in my family as super humans, I dismissed the saree as one of the many features of being an adult, like not having to drink Complan and not having to share plates of biryani with a sibling.
The saree, in the middle-class Bengali home I grew up in, was both a necessity and a luxury, both functional and fancy. So there were printed chiffons that were dug out in the monsoons because they were easy to dry, the much-washed cottons were strewn around the house during the summer, the silks reared their heads in the winter. And there were the ones kept out of our reach, sprinkled with naphthalene and lovingly smoothened every time anyone opened the almirah and pulled something out in haste, disturbing the stack of Sari Superior.
Many years later, with a little help from the mother and some from YouTube, living inside a saree doesn't seem that daunting. However, it's strictly a luxury for me, at times even an occasion in itself. However, the VIP treatment that a new sari receives - some happy cooing, immediate WhatsApping of pics, Googling of blouse designs and then cursing all the tailors of the world - points at a deeper malaise of sorts. And that's how rarely we - a section of middle class, professional Indian women - wear them.
Anju Maudgal Kadam, a Bangalore-based entrepreneur who kicked off the #100SareePact on Facebook, has this to say about saris: "Every saree has a memory based on an occasion, emotion or relationship. When you wear a sari, you have a sari glow, like a birthday glow."
It's true, for our generation and class of women, the saree is an elaborate piece of clothing, not a go-to work wear. So much so, that we are actually deeply enamoured by each sari we possess.
It's perhaps a little wrong to say that my mother and her ilk weren't as much in love with the saree they had - like me, my mother can recollect the circumstances under which most of her saris were bought. However, unlike me, she wasn't as infatuated with the idea of a sari. She and my grandmother spoke about saris with glee, erudition and were also equally dismissive about them at times. In fact, a popular practice of buying utensils in middle class Bengali homes were bartering old clothes for new utensils. I have witnessed sarees handed over with no great heartbreak to these bartanwalis and to domestic helps for mopping and cleaning. Back then, the saree was more a object of utility even for the middle class, than a symbol of luxury.
However, as we fawn over sarees, many of us can't tell one silk from the other. We can perhaps recognise weaving patterns but don't know where they come from. We struggle to tell which is an ikat sarees, which is a baluchari. And because we can't, we also remain blissfully ignorant of the sheer mindboggling number of weaving traditions that thrive in our country. It's as shocking as not being able to tell which state owns the Vada Pav and which one makes a mean Hilsa fry.
The consequence of elevating the sarees exclusively to selfie-worthy haute couture also betrays our own ignorance about it.
According to a BBC report, the duo who started the #100SareePact didn't do it to make a political statement, or because they feared that the sari is critically endangered. "She says they're not organising a campaign along the lines of the Gulabi Gang - a pink saree brigade who became an anti-corruption force. Nor are they worried the sari will forever disappear from the streets of India. Their challenge is more of a celebration of a style and an excuse to break out colourful garments more often," reports BBC.
But maybe, the #100SareePact, with its promise of rich social media rewards, can be a way we try familiarizing ourselves with the sari and the stories that already exist around them. The Facebook trend, which asks you to wear a sari twice a week and post a picture, narrating the story behind it, can expand from being a fashion fad to a more involved understanding of the rich history of Indian handloom. For example, it shouldn't be too difficult to ask the shopkeeper the weave of the sari you just bought and then Google it. And instead of posting pictures of the heart on the coffee froth, you can post the picture of the newly acquired saree on Instagram with a little description of what it is. For the more enthusiastic, a Tumblr too isn't that demanding an idea.
That apart, wearing sarees twice a week, will not make pleating one seem like solving a trigonometry problem. Perhaps we will even get used to sitting cross-legged in them without feeling like we are accomplishing a Herculean task.
Just a couple of days back, wrapped in a silk saree for a elaborately planned lunch, an angry call was made to the mother. "The Ola app has stopped working on my phone just now. I will have to take an auto. This heat, this sari...," I started complaining.
"Can't hear you, getting off the bus...," my mother's voice sank as the conductor hollered 'joldi, joldi' and the grumble and groan of midday traffic in Calcutta swallowed her voice.
It made me remember she only wears sarees outside, takes the public transport to work daily like so many other women. So wearing a sari can't be like balancing china on your head. While I was gradually working up courage to sign up for the #100SariPact, my mother is, in effect, signed up to a #300SariPact and she doesn't need any social media love to do it.
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Updated Date: Apr 17, 2015 11:27:10 IST