The drape that will never turn drab

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Even as the world turns increasingly globalised and women come to prefer the ease of skirts and pants over the elegance of the sari, we hopeless aesthetes will always have the loom of nostalgia to respin its fading memory afresh.

In front of a generation’s eyes, the saree has morphed from an everyday attire into an exotic fancy wear reserved for special occasions. | Prasanta Sahoo / Pixabay

A few weeks ago, I noticed a young lady in a purple saree. It was in the office cafeteria. She sat a few tables away, draped in chiffon with bangles and earrings to match. Out of a rare burst of optimism, my eyes ran over the other tables, making two full circles of the cafeteria in search of other instances of elegant accoutrement. Perhaps, a glimpse of another a bottle green georgette? A peacock blue ikkat? A No cigar.

Call me ‘old school’ or a ‘hopeless romantic who belongs in a bygone era’ but sarees have always meant magic to me. Do you remember the morning saree-draping ritual, where Amma would ask you to hold the pleats as she folded them one by one? I would count one, two, three, four, after which she would run through them with her fingers, give a slight shake and tuck them in. Two decades have passed since, but the charm of those delicate pleats remains in my memory. Even today, rows and columns of not-too-bright cotton sarees sit in her cupboard. Sarees were her work-wear. Not just hers, but also Shantha, Vijaya, and Sujatha’s. Together, they would take that old Bangalorean Pushpak bus from where we lived all the way to the gates of the majestic Vidhana Soudha. By 8.45 a.m., all four of them would have packed their lunch boxes hurriedly, put it into their handbags, and walked as briskly as they dignifiedly could to the bus stop in ardent faith that the bus wouldn’t have left yet.

Even in all that hurry, they would take turns each day to also pack one mozham of mallipoo (a string of jasmine), cut into four equal bits, inside round tiffin boxes. Once settled in their two parallel seats, and having collectively heaved a sigh of relief for not having missed their only direct bus, they would pin the jasmines around each other’s hair buns. They all worked at different grades in different offices, but they were bus friends. That’s what Amma called them.

In the same cupboard, there are also those peacock blue Mysore silks and crimson Kancheevarams of dazzling zaris bordered with marching elephants and blooming flowers. In the corner lies a madisar podavai purchased over three decades ago for her wedding. Under it is another one, purchased a couple of years back for her daughter’s. The next row is stacked with chiffons and georgettes in multiple colours and shades. Among all of these lies a Kasavu saree that sees the light of day only on Onam, sitting patiently, like King Mahabali himself biding time for his people to remember him once a year.

Sarees today aren’t a part of everyone’s regular wardrobe — only certain occasions mandate it. One of course is the HR-imposed ethnic day at work. Or there’s the rare wedding where an entire group decides to pull off the traditional garb. The comfort offered by pants and skirts has, over time, reduced the saree to fancy wear. This extravagance overshadows the grace and simplicity of the attire that women otherwise carry so effortlessly.


With Big Billions being sold in a day, the sheen of ‘market’ shopping has slowly wound down to being a bare nostalgic memory. And the women of yesteryear are lost somewhere in that crowd.


Saree-shopping too has lost its charm. Although, during such times as those mentioned above or when there is an imminent festival, there is a rise in demand. It’s not just footwear and electronics, our generation even buys its sarees online. We have WhatsApp groups and smart stores dedicated exclusively to this. Why hustle and bustle in the crowded bazaar when you can do it over your phone — free delivery in 36-48 hours. However, we fail to realise that our choices are limited and solely depend on the colour and the visual appeal. Yet, we rejoice at buying just the right saree for the occasion without even holding it against ourselves in front of a full-length mirror and marvelling at how beautiful the six-yard wonder is.

Back in those days, when I was a child, saree-shopping was a ritual in itself. There were no shopping malls or one-stop fashion stores. Instead, we had streets — Malleshwaram 8th Cross, Commercial Street, Chickpet, Balepet, Safina Plaza, and Alankar Plaza. The ritual would start at about 11 a.m. on a Sunday or public holiday. Once all the mouths at home were fed, a bus would be boarded to one of the above predetermined destinations. All the new shops and previously unvisited ones would be paid a visit before stopping for a short break at around 3 p.m. This would mostly comprise of a masala dosa and mosambi juice, which would give the women that brilliant strength to bargain till 5 in the evening before zeroing in on their purchases. Carrying multiple plastic bags, they would hail down an auto. A few more rounds of bargaining later, one poor driver, given no option but to budge, would have settled on the meter rate. If it was his lucky Sunday, he might get an extra 10 rupees, ‘meter mele’.

Back home, over a round of filter coffee, they would sit in the hall with the day’s purchases spread on the floor. Along with the sarees, there would be frocks for the girls, T-shirts for the boys and an occasional churidar material that would have to be stitched to size. Once all these are distributed, they would suffice until the next major festival came up on the calendar. These days, we have come to shop by pictures. The shop owner no longer greets you, there is no chai or Coca-Cola ordered for, a pile of sarees never make it to the top of a wide table, and the special ‘Regular Customer’ discount has conveniently disappeared. With Big Billions being sold in a day, the sheen of ‘market’ shopping has slowly wound down to being a bare nostalgic memory. And the women of yesteryear are lost somewhere in that crowd.

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