Saying it with the sari

Maya Menon feels a surge of buried femininity. She senses a different mood, a desire to revel in suppressed womanhood. So, she drapes a sari and stays indoors. To the outer world, she is a male professional. Any disclosure can mean a loss of job and, of course, ostracism.

It is this dilemma of the transgender community that Sharmila Nair seeks to address. A Literature graduate and talented designer, Sharmila retails saris online through her label, Red Lotus. Inspiration for her latest collection came with the Kerala Government’s policy for the LGBT community — no discrimination on any grounds. With it, she lends her support to the cause from the fashion quarter.

“The collection is a tribute to people like us who have so far been socially boycotted. It recognises us as individuals, with our traits and characteristics,” says Maya, who modelled for the sari line.

When Sharmila firmed up on her idea to design for the LGBT community, she had virtually no clue about their lives, their world. She contacted Dr. Jijo Kuriakose, founder of Queerala, an online community of Kerala’s LGBT and sexual minorities. Jijo not only introduced her to models Maya and Gowri, but also helped her understand the transgender world.

To further her understanding, Sharmila watched the screening of Ka Bodyscapes , a 2016 film by Jayan K. Cherian. “The gay-centric film deals with misogyny and homophobia. Until I watched it, I only knew about hijras , eunuchs and the ridicule they faced. I felt a deep sense of guilt in the way society had treated the community; they face unforeseen hardships. I was determined to create a clothesline dedicated to them, inspired by them,” says Sharmila.

What Sharmila did not foresee was the discouragement she would face once she undertook the project. Her friends and well-wishers warned her that this would brand her too as one of a different gender. “But my husband and parents supported me and encouraged me to go ahead.”

During the shoot too, Sharmila says, there were hurdles. The makeup guy would play truant and the reason was obvious. But soon, things fell in place.

A nun in the Vypeen church was most understanding and offered the classrooms in a nearby school compound for the models to dress up. The shoot happened in the church and its surroundings.

“I have never modelled before, as this platform is not open to us yet. I love to wear the sari; it makes me feel complete,” says 30-year-old Gowri, while Maya agrees that she loves the garment too. She would borrow it from her sisters and wear it secretly until now.

When Sharmila began designing, she thought of the seven colours of the rainbow that represents the LGBT community internationally. “The whole idea is about happiness, and so, the colour palette had to be bright, with contrasting colours.” The collection is made of Hubli cottons — organically-dyed handlooms with jute borders.

The video of the shoot on the Red Lotus FB page has created a cyber wave. “People are not only congratulating me, but also placing orders for the saris. But the icing on the cake is when they want to buy the saris worn by Maya and Gowri, as a tribute to the community that has so far been socially marginalised.”

The collection is available on the Red Lotus FB page.

What Sharmila did not foresee was the discouragement she would face once she undertook the project

Recommended for you