It’s hailed as one of the most versatile garments in Indian history, and is an absolute must in any woman’s bridal trousseau, no matter what part of the country she belongs to. And yet the ubiquitous sari is not fashionable enough, it would seem, if a stroll down one of India’s Fashion Weeks is anything to go by.
Never mind the designers who stay faithful to the 5,000-year-old form – hail the Anamika Khannas, Suneet Varmas, Manish Malhotras, Deepika Govinds and Sabyasachis who include it in all their collections. I’m talking of the fashion frat – the celebs, journos, critics, socialites, sundry hangers on, buyers, sellers and party goers – who wouldn’t be caught dead in one at any do. I remember a conversation with a British guest at a fashion event once. “What lovely saris!” she exclaimed, pointing at mine and my colleague’s. “I’m surprised I haven’t seen more of these here.”
“This is a Delhi fashion week,” I said, wryly. “You’ll see more of them in Britain.”
It’s considered downright down-market to be seen in a sari at times (unless of course it has a designer label, comes with a now-you-see-me-now-you-don’t blouse, and is tied dangerously below the navel on a toned body a la Priyanka Chopra.) The regular silks, tussars, chanderis and cottons with their hearty, eternal ikats, kanthas, garas, kanjeevarams, bandhinis, patolas and block prints are left confined to political corridors and jholawalla events. Lord Krishna would despair to see his gift to Draupadi stoop to such untrendy depths.
The sari paradox would be intellectually stimulating if it weren’t so sad. On one hand, here’s a garment that gives employment to millions of textile designers, weavers, embroiderers and retailers; that outfits most women of this country on the most important days of their lives; that has spawned various other garments including the lehenga and the one-shouldered dress; and has inspired countless fashion designers in India and across the globe. On the other hand, here’s a garment that a modern, urban, fashionable, well-heeled Page 3 regular wouldn’t want to be caught dead in. It’s symbolic of our cultural schizophrenia: All things Indian are for family functions only. Outside the home, West is best.
The sari won’t die – it’s way too intrinsic to the Subcontinent dress code for that. It’s a technical feat, really: Created to both conceal and reveal, to allow movement and grace. Invented when needle-craft was unheard of, its versatility, femininity and sensuality are unparalleled even today. What young girl hasn’t clamoured to wear her first sari, borrowed from her mum, on her 12th class farewell party? What coquette hasn’t used a wilful pallu as the ultimate seduction tool? What bride hasn’t let her inhibition down with the first unwind of its six-yarded drape? What housewife hasn’t tucked its end around her waist in an inescapable symbol of hard work and sacrifice? What mother hasn’t fanned an infant’s fever or wiped her child’s tears with its generous width? The Indian woman’s sari is the tapestry of her life – weaving her joys, tears, wounds and wisdoms in its folds.
I suppose a few fashion events can hardly dent a history.