Thoughts on the saree

There’s only so much you need to tuck in, to make sure your feet don’t show, and yet keep the delicate edge save from being trampled on. You swivel the entire length of the drape around, gauging silently and just knowing, as if by magic, just how much leeway you should allow. It’s something you feel in your bones, your fingers deftly follow suit, working the pleats, while your waist welcomes the tight knots, and learns the perfectly-timed tucks and knows every obstinate tug.

You know just how much play to allow for, so the cloth makes room for flexibility and movement. That stray, puffed out triangle that clearly belongs in no-mans land, but invariably forms awkwardly at the right hip? You pinch it loosely, lazily. And then you leave it be, of course. Because you’ve learned over time, that not everything has a perfect place in which to fit into. (Sometimes it’s okay to stick out, you tell yourself.) You do what you always do, you envelope it beneath the swathe that drapes over your side, across the chest and down your left shoulder.

Eventually, you figure out the long and short of it. The length you allocate to the cascading bit that flows down your shoulder, that crucial part that weighs the garment down, keeping it in place, will dictate how many or how few rippling pleats you will end up with. Longer, makes you look slimmer. Shorter, makes you look dowdy, they tell you. Pin it up neatly, it keeps the fuss out of your face. Pleated perfectly, is prettiest, they coax you to make a habit of that perfection.

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But much trial and error will result in the inevitable realisation that there is no perfect long or short to it. The perfect length is in fact any length you want it to be. Maybe like me, you figured early on that neatly pinned is not your style. Unbecoming as it may be, gathering the pallu in exactly the way it allows itself to be gathered and carelessly slapping it over your shoulder came most naturally. And it stayed that way, to become the only way you ever wore your pallu.

From doing it over and over, you learn how every kind of fabric falls differently. How a freshly starched kota or cotton sari has a way of surrounding you a few inches outside of your body. The much better behaved, well-used cottons, softened with multiple wears and washes know the curves on your body and cling to them lovingly. Heavy silks needed taming, with pins and clips you showed them the way and eventually, mastered wearing them too. The chiffons and crepes were never your thing – too lady-like, too prim and proper, and way too many pins.

Sometime last week, I caught myself wondering where this all began, the fascination for the saree and jogged my memory back to when I might have picked up just how it was done, this business of draping it. Like a baby elephant with knobby-knees and shaky legs,  picks itself up and takes that first step, minutes after it is born, knowing how to drape a saree came quite naturally. Baby elephants take that first miraculous step like naturals, and I remember the first time I put a saree on all by myself the steps just unfolding in my mind, almost like the saree put itself on me.

I don’t remember ever having learned the ways, in the conventional sense. Nobody showed me how it was done. No step-by-step tutorials or hands-on demonstrations. Most of it came through mere observation.

If one ever needs proof that we learn, and more importantly imbibe, cultural subtleties through osmosis, this is it. The rest, I’m putting down to instinct. Because ever since the very first instance I put a saree on all by myself, I remember feeling so perfectly comfortable, like I was in a second skin.

For as far back as my mind can stretch, I remember watching amma get dressed in front of the teak cupboard with the full-length mirror. It was my grandfather’s, I was told. A single cupboard, with just one door that opened left to right, it held pretty much all the clothes both my parents owned, for the longest time. Until the first steel cupboard came home, long after my sister was born, because that was finally when my parents could afford one.

I mostly just watched in awe, as amma draped her saree on, with that casual comfort and perfect ease. Whether we were in a rush, whether she had half an hour to get dressed; whether she was angry, happy, sad or overjoyed, whatever the mood; whether it was a slippery crepe, a heavy kanjeevaram or a shy and impossible to pin-down chiffon, he did it like she owned the art of wearing her saree. And she wore them a lot and all the time. Even today, when I think of her, I picture her in a saree, with her red Gopuram kumkum bindi perfectly large and round, moulded with the back of a pen dipped into Vaseline and followed by kumkum. Her style, it was easy. It was simple. It was comfortable. And just so impossibly graceful.

So perhaps some of it is genetic, or natural. Because I took considerable interest in sarees when I was growing up, even collected a decent number for my wedding trousseau – a process that began very casually many years before the boy I was going to marry even came into my life. Clearly it was more about the sarees than the wedding. Or the trousseau. And then when I moved to Goa, somehow that excitement waned, and all my sarees remained in Bangalore under amma’s able care and experience. Until recently, when my facebook and twitter timelines have begun to be inundated with so many gorgeous women in their fabulous sarees.

Something stirred within me, and I longed to wear them again. Goa doesn’t give me enough occasions or opportunities to. I work from home, I barely ever socialise at events that justify a saree, and I’ve been to less than half a dozen weddings here.

The opportunity finally came when I was in Bangalore last month, and I excitedly picked out two sarees to wear when I went to meet friends. I surprised myself when I was able to drape it in no time at all, no pins to boot. Its been about six years since I did it last. So maybe, like cycling and swimming, draping all 6 yards of a saree, is a skill we never forget?

A delightful saree-date happened, with these lovelies dressed in their sarees as we had planned.

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It was supposed to be a quick date but four hours of non stop chatter, giggles, shock and awe stories and a thunderstorm later, we realised it was nearly dinner time, we’d polished off half a chocolate pie, one of us didn’t have a ride home and the other had successfully missed gym. Apparently hanging out in a hip café in Bangalore, in a saree was totally normal. And if there’s one reason to love and hang on to your girlfriends, it’s for making losing track of time seem so natural.

A couple of days later, I hung out with these lovelies, dressed in their sarees as we had planned again.

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More beers than I usually have on a weekday afternoon were consumed, and a lot of colourful food was eaten. We then waddled over for ice cream, while two of us convinced the third that it was perfectly fine to continue on that pre-planned shopping spree, and change out of her saree in a changing room. But that outing however, didn’t go plan. On account of overeating and food coma. I suppose meeting friends to drink beer and overeat to a point where you have to cancel all plans and head home for a nap is also totally normal.

I hadn’t bought a saree in years, and so when the latest purchase arrived last week, I couldn’t even wait to get the false stitched before I wore it. It was a horribly rushed morning and I had just 5 minutes to decide if I was going to wear the saree and actually put it on. The decision was made in half a minute and the saree worn in about three.

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Last week, after a long, long wait, I finally got tickets to watch the National Award-Winning Konkani film Nachom-ia Kumpasar. The event didn’t seem like a saree-worthy one, but I decided I was done waiting for the right occasions. Women across the country have been wearing them everyday, bringing them out of the recesses of their cupboards, and several thousands have been wearing them day in and out for generations now. My grandmother’s generation wear them through all seasons, times of day and year, whether going out, staying in, whatever the case may be. So many take public transport, some drive, walk through city traffic and go to work in sarees. I don’t see why I need to wait for an occasion.

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So I wore a saree to the movie. And lunch afterwards. By the end of it, we’d decided we’re going to try and meet every so often for a catch-up. And we’re going to wear sarees. Of course.

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45 thoughts on “Thoughts on the saree

  1. You carry your sari so so gracefully… With that short hair do, it looks very chic… Hope to see more of your gorgeous saris :)

  2. I love wearing saris, though only do so on ‘special’ occasions and I haven’t learnt how to drape them myself. You give me hope that I can master the draping.

  3. Haathi, you carry the sari with so much elan and grace. I love the way how you described ways of wearing the sari which I feel goes well in any occasion, be it corporate event, going out with friends or attending a wedding. I do feel that a woman looks graceful and charming in sari at the cost of being labelled sexist, which I am not.
    You know! Till now I don’t know how to knot a tie:)

  4. Hi Revati, loved the way you explained the drape. I am an avid saree lover. I have learnt the drape exactly like how you would watch amma draping it. BTW loved all the 3 saree you have worn here. Where did you get those? Would be interested to know that so that I can splurge my money there.
    Love Vibha

    • The first two are ammas sarees, and she buys them all over. So Im not sure. But the indigo and pink one is mine. Just purchased from a store called Timri in Whitefield, Bangalore. You can find them on facebook.

  5. Thank you so much for writing it. I loved the way you described the it. The simplicity of your article.You looked very elegant in photos.,

  6. I genuinely contracted more love for sarees from the inspiration of my sweet buddy and looking at the mirror I felt for the elegant material again and again and realized mom’s collection be soo refreshing and unique that it became my first preference for any big day of celebrations

  7. But for that bit about the bindis, I could have written this post. Only, I can never write half as beautifully! You said so many of the things about the saree that I have never consciously realised. Like that bit about not remembering ever having learned to drape a saree. So many years of watching amma do it, that when it was my turn, it just came to me so easily. The pinning the pleats bit is such a South Indian thing, no? At my last job, people at work used to come and compliment me on the saree and then tch, tch at my pallu – why was I being so carelessly reckless about it? Why won’t I pin it up gracefully? Why let it be a piled up mess on top of my shoulder and look like a *gasp* older woman? :)
    That bit about chiffons as well – amma never really owned that many chiffons and when I procured some of my own and tried draping them, I never quite liked the weightlessness of it all!
    Sigh. What an insanely graceful thing, this saree is!

    • Im pretty sure we learned how to drape a saree just by observing, right?! Its funny it hadnt occurred to me either, until I consciously sat and thought about it!

  8. Simply delightful, your story on saree.. the sweetest I’ve ever come across so far.. I’ve shared it on my page – ‘For The Love Of Sari’, because I felt that it should reach out to every sari-lover…

    You write beautifully – hope to read more of your stories…Keep them coming :)

  9. Simply delightful, this sweet saree story of yours.. the sweetest I’ve ever come across so far… just loved the way your words played around with the pleats, folds and the drape. As soon as I had finished reading it, I had to share it on my sari page, – “For The Love Of Sari” –

    https://www.facebook.com/fortheloveofsari

    I felt that it should reach out to every sari-lover possible..

    You write beautifully. Looking forward to reading more of your stories. Keep them coming! :)

      • I have a bit of an odd comment/question. I just love the second saree that you are wearing in the pictures (blue and pink). Where did you get it from? :)

        • Not an odd question at all, Shrinkhala! If you see the comments upthread you’ll know many others have asked too :) The blue and pink saree is from Timri, a store in Whitefield Bangalore. You can find them on facebook.

  10. That made for a delightful read, your thoughts on the saree. Draping it sure is an art, isn’t it?
    My timeline on facebook has been inundated with saree pics too, thanks to Monika and her gorgeous collection. And it’s from her page that I got here to your post.

    Thanks for such a breeze of a read, Revati, on an attire which I have always believed is one of the most elegant attires if draped right :)

  11. So beautiful the prose of tying the saree, of the emotions and curves that it embraces. It’s been a while since I wore a saree. Perhaps, it is time to change that. :-)

  12. Beautiful post, Miss R. I’ve been enjoying seeing your saree photos on FB and it is inspiring me to get out some sarees as well. I just got back from my grandmother’s place in Mangalore, where I “rescued” some sarees from a trunk in the attic. Need to get the blouses sorted out and that’s a pain here. Where do you get your blouses?

    • Can’t wait to see you in them! I am still using blouses that I got made in Bangalore but a friend just told me about a very good blouse tailor in porvorim. I need to go check it out.

  13. I AM A GREAT FAN OF SAREES AND APPRECIATE YOUR ARTICLE ABOUT THE SAME, WELL WRITTEN AND HOW REFRESHING. KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK

  14. Beautifully expressed….this is what every saree lover, who wears sarees with pride feels in a saree..this is what I feel every other day :)

  15. I read this post a couple of years ago and was amazed at how beautifully you have captured the minutiae of the little daily ritual of draping a saree. I felt like someone was in my mind. But the most powerful words for me are – “If one ever needs proof that we learn, and more importantly imbibe, cultural subtleties through osmosis, this is it. The rest, I’m putting down to instinct.”And this resonated very deeply too -” Because ever since the very first instance I put a saree on all by myself, I remember feeling so perfectly comfortable, like I was in a second skin.” I’ve shared it again on a handloom saree lovers group. I’m sure many of them will truly appreciate your writing, you have a gift with words

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