The first time I ever shared my draping skills was at Mrinalini Pandey Awasthi a.k.a. Nikki’s behest. Mrinalini is the local coordinator for a Saree group on Facebook, “The Saree Story”. The group boasts of 5000 members who regularly share details about their Sari of the day and what it means to them. The camaraderie within the group is impressive with members forming friendships and organising meetups regularly.
Last Sunday, the group organised an Online Global Sari meet where Sari enthusiasts from all over the world logged on to Google Hangouts dressed in their favourite Saris. The local members from Pune convened at my home. We logged in at the time decided and after a quick “Hello” waited for others to join in. The response was overwhelming. More than 30 women from 7 cities and 3 continents joined the event.
I felt included and at ease within the group. It was a good-natured bunch of young women with a common love for the Sari. We began with a round of introductions that included our names, our occupation, and details about the Sari we were wearing. Since I was the only one in a non-Nivi drape, my introduction included details about the drape I was wearing. The ladies’ interest was piqued.
Since time was short, we immediately moved to my session where I spoke about the history of the Sari drapes, the introduction of the humble petticoat to the Sari trousseau, and the role of colonisation on the Sari. The fluid unstitched Sari has seen and survived many cultures. For the past 2500 years, women and men draped the Sari according to their occupation and geography. Rulers changed and so did the Sari. The cultural exposure over the years added layers of techniques, motifs and draping styles to the Sari. The British rule defined the ‘modest’ period for the Sari. The Victorian rules required women to cover themselves up even if it meant losing freedom of movement and efficiency.
Most of the women at the online conference were shocked. They had never known, least imagined an alternate reality where the Sari was truly fluid. The women shared their tirade of petticoats and rashes, being chided for imperfect pleats, and body-shaming. It disappoints me that a once freedom enhancing garment is now a freedom restricting garment to some. It seems like a reflection of the times we live in I guess.
I had decided to demonstrate drapes that are simple and functional, yet aesthetic. I began with a favourite, the Boggilli Post Kattukodam from Andhra Pradesh. We then moved north to the Santhal drape worn by the women living in Jharkhand. We concluded the draping session with the Mekhla Chador, a two-piece drape from Assam. Nishigandha, Radhika and Mrinalini who were the models for the demonstration were visibly excited. Their smiles say it all! The enthusiastic trio didn’t cease to mention how comfortable they felt in the drapes sans the petticoat.
The session came to a close with a photo session. My friends left soon after and I found myself happily drop on the sofa feeling a sense of happiness and achievement. “Some impact was achieved today” I remember saying to myself. 30+ women enlightened on the history and versatility of the Sari. Three members learnt and experienced the freedom of the drapes while I gained experience talking about and teaching the drapes. The journey has begun. I can feel it.