White Lady In a Traditional Indian Saree
“Angela, come with me, I want a photo,” said one of the executives at work today. It was Sari & Kurta Day at work and I was dressed in a sand coloured sari with purple accents, my hair was pinned up and I was properly adorned with a bindi. Today’s themed event at work was an idea that I pitched to H.R. just after Christmas time for the sole reason that I wanted to wear a sari and needed an excuse. So there I was, thinking ahhh how sweet, she wants a photo of us together as we headed for the exit. And then she added, “we are going out so I can snap a picture to show my family the white lady in a sari.” Hmmm, okay, still sweet because I know she is sweet but it did make me stop for a moment when I realized that my colleague didn’t want a picture WITH me so much as OF me. Maybe not even of ME but of a white lady in a sari.
Was it really such a novelty to see me in a sari? Would I feel the same way if I saw one of my very traditional colleagues in tight Levis and a scooped neck t-shirt and heels? Maybe!
I don’t know what it is about a sari that has me so coo coo crazy but I fell in love with wearing one the first time I tried on my first sari at Sanskruti Silks (read about that here). I felt beautiful and elegant and – I know I shouldn’t say it but – sexy as the designer draped sari after sari on me as I hunted for just the right one for me. I had no idea how much saris cost when I first moved here and I didn’t yet have any friends when I went on my first shopping trip in preparation for a colleague’s wedding. The sari I fell in love with and bought for the wedding was Rs. 15,000 and I didn’t understand until later just how crazy expensive that was. But it was love at first sight and I didn’t care. Just trying it on – even at the end of a long day after work when I stopped in for the blouse fittings – transformed me momentarily into something akin to an Indian princess. Having it on made me feel like I’d been transported to another place in time. I
It was at the very last blouse fitting that I spotted the sari that I wore to work today. This one was much less expensive but I loved it just the same so I bought it and had a simpler blouse tailored for it too back in May of 2010. At that time I was living out of a hotel and I remember I tried it on at night several times just for fun of it. I love that sari and was thrilled beyond words that I would finally – almost 8 months later – have the opportunity to wear it out on the town. Or to be really specific, out to work.
My only good friends who live nearby in Frazer Town are guys, neither of whom have girlfriends or wives. So my choices for the sari draping today were either to fumble through a YouTube video and do it myself, go to a salon or ask my very cute housekeeper – who wears a sari everyday – to help me. I went with the last option and she recruited the help of another maid from the building. They brought a bundle of safety pins with them that we merged with my sari pins I bought a few days ago on Commercial Street here in Bangalore. Man, was I happy to have their help! Pathima and Maha tied and pulled and pinned me like pros until it was draped so it would stay on all day (something I could have never managed with just YouTube, I’m sure). They selected my accessories for me and Maha even popped the bindi off her own forehead for me to wear. I think it was as much fun for them as it was for me because they had never seen a white woman in a sari before and this was definitely something outside the norm from either of our day-to-day activities.
At work I am the only white face in either of the Indian offices of my company and for whatever reason I evoked a much different reaction from people by wearing a sari than any of my other female colleagues – all of whom had much more elegant and stunning saris and beads and hair styles than mine. But it was the first time my work mates were seeing me in anything aside from my super anglo clothes so there was a certain novelty to it. It was actually really nice and I was genuinely touched by the amount of sweet comments I received. I suppose I would have the same reaction if one of my female Indian colleagues all of a sudden turned up to work in knee-high boots, stockings, a slim knee-length dress and a jean jacket. I’m sure that I would stop and stare and comment, too…and probably want to take their photo!
When I first moved here I couldn’t really understand why women wanted to wear the same fashion and clothing style as their great- great- great- grandmothers. I can promise you that my sixteen year old daughter wouldn’t be caught dead in some of my clothes and I am only 41 years old. So for me, I see saris as such a unique thing. They date back to 2800–1800 BC and are worn by everyone from super hip university girls and sweet little old ladies to housekeepers and the power women running companies in India. It’s impossible not to feel feminine and pretty in a sari – at any age and no matter whom you are or what you do.
Unfortunately, the one big negative thing about wearing a sari that I did notice this time was that I looked fat as hell in some of the photos due to the way Pathima and Maha draped my sari. It really wasn’t their fault though because they are both so tiny and have such straight-up-and-down figures compared to mine. I am massively tall and have a very curvy shape – super wide hips and junk in my trunk. I think the girls didn’t really know how to drape it on my figure and so they draped it as they normally do for their body type. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I still felt pretty and feminine all day but I was conscious that I looked a bit portly from the waist down.
Note to self: in the future sort out how to wear the sari best for my body type.
I remember having a conversation with a few of my male Indian buddies about how they felt about saris and they all unanimously agreed that the sari was ‘damn sexy’, as one of them said. In fact, I know this to be true because the one Indian man I’ve dated adored me trying on saris and I was always happy to oblige. Ooohhhh… and I receive daily reports from WordPress on the search terms that people type into Google to reach my blog and I’ve seen so many occurances of “blonde in saree” or “white woman wearing sari” or something similar so I know that Indian men have a bit of a fantasy about seeing us white girls wearing traditional attire — which I find to be just a bit pervy sometimes to be honest (but it does beat the one time someone clicked into my blog after typing in “naked Indian man butt goat sheep” hehe. They found the naked man butt keywords from my Chennai road trip post).
I have truly come to appreciate and adore the sari. More, of course, when I am actually the one wearing it but I do love people-watching Indian women wearing their saris. It makes me smile every time I see a belly peek out to say hello, which is soooo taboo in the U.S. and Europe at work or church or anywhere formal or swish. Just like bare legs and shoulders are generally taboo here, I guess.
My next mission? Convince work to have Sari & Kurta Day every month on the day we hold our birthday cake cutting ceremony (like today) so I can wear one more often. And since I won’t want to wear the same sari every other month and I only have two…this also implies a mandatory shopping trip for a new sari or two…and beads…and new jhumkas…!
© 2012 Angela Carson