04 August, 2016
my first time.
awkward. sweaty. anxious.
yes. I am talking about the first time…
…that I wore a sari.
I remember it like it was yesterday. It was 2002. It was Diwali. I was listening to Destiny’s Child whilst cleaning my room. Mum barged in… ‘Beta, let’s dress you in a sari tonight – you are old enough…come on I will find you a nice one to wear’. (Note: Prior to this, I had always worn a lengha choli – comprises of a long skirt, midriff top and scarf)
I looked down at my yellow USA hoodie and shuddered at the thought of squeezing my double Ds into a midrift blouse with my muffin top exposed…whilst being wrapped in fabric like a human burrito.
But I agreed. I knew it would make mum happy.
Before I knew it…mum was wrapping me in 6ft of fabric. Tugging. Pulling, Tucking. And there was…PINNING. So, so, so much pinning. Where the heck had she gotten so many safety pins from? Every now and then she would prick me and then yell at me for moving…’STAND STILL NIKITA’. And so I did. I didn’t move a muscle. Then I got yelled at again; “STOP being so stiff…relax’.
This went on for 20minutes and then we were done. One problem – I was busting to go the bathroom. But I was busting. She the scolded me for not going to the bathroom before she draped the sari. Let me just tell you, going to the bathroom with a sari on is NOT EASY. Hoisting 6ft of fabric into my arms whilst sitting – takes really co-ordination and strength.
The hours leading up to an Indian function in the Sheth Shack were always very tense. Four women. Saris. Cholis. Bangles. Complaining. Shouting. Complete chaos. I love how Dad always (and still does) went missing in action. He would ‘feed the dogs’ and somehow end up watching the cricket. Or ‘help getting things into the car’ and somehow end up cracking open a beer and drinking it in the garden. Poor guy – he just wanted any excuse to escape.
Ok, lets back to my experience of wearing a sari for the first time. We all piled into the car, ready for a 50minute drive to the function hall. We immediately knew we were close to the destination when we saw other Indian families walking around in their indian clothes. Dad parked the car and IU felt a sense of dread. How the eff would I get out of the car without stacking it? I opened the door and in a mermaid-like fashion, swung my legs out of the car… mum yelled out ‘Nix, make sure you walk GRACEFULLLYY’. Yes, I got it. Walk gracefully. Don’t fall. I was mentally prepared…. to embrace the Diwali festivities and the onslaught of random aunties pinching my cheeks…at least I had gulab jamuns to look forward to :).
The garba started. I had never done garba in a sari before…the lengha allows you to move freely – but, my legs felt like a pair of chopsticks – almost tied together. I started off slow. I got faster as my confidence rose…I began was twisting, twirling and prancing. And then it happened….I felt something come loose. Before I knew it….6ft of fabric started to unravel and pool around my ankles. My eyes darted around the room – scanning for my mum. Everyone looked the same. Black hair. Brown bodies. Jelly tummies. I shuffled off to the side….my sisters and family friends struggling to breathe as they laughed loudly. My face went red and I felt hot. Then someone grabbed my arm. It was a kind (random) aunty. She whisked me away and took me into the bathroom. She helped me; “Oh beta, who did this sari for you? It is not good…”. I believe ‘sari-draping’ is a silent competitive sport amongst the aunties.
Needless to say, I spent the rest of the night fixed to a chair, only getting up to refill my plate of sweets.
But let me tell you, taking off a sari is a GREAT feeling. No more rubbing. Poking. Itching. I felt FREEEEE. My pjyamas had never felt more comfortable in my life.
Since then, I have worn many saris. I don’t get to wear the often – only for indian new year and weddings. But when I do – I genuinely love it. I feel proud (not just stylish) when I wear one now – it is a statement of my culture. The beauty of saris extend beyond the physical appearance as they tell a story of family, feminine power and indian culture. I believe they are a celebration of a woman’s identity and her role in the world.
For me saris are tied to an inherent sense of nolstagia – they also hold a great sense of cultural personal significance. I remember my aaji (paternal grandmother) and nani (maternal grandmother) always wearing saris. I remember when I was little, I would sit and intently watch my mum drape a sari on herself before she went out.
Even though globalisation has lead to the evolution of fashion over time, a sari is still fundamental in Indian culture today. Saris are now crafted in bright colours, with the finest of jewels and materials. They are a source of self-identity and expression. I guess there has been a shift from function to fashion. There are so many different types of saris – all dependent on the region of india. The world of saris is definitley something I was to expand my knowledge on…
Next week, I am off to India. 10 days. Just my mum and I. The whole trip only has one focus: to shop for saris for my wedding. In all honesty, a part of me is already dreading the tugging and pulling…. the intense (and slightly sleazy) indian shop assistants that will throw every sari at my direction, in hope that I will like it. But then another part of me CAN NOT WAIT. It will be a trip that I will remember forever. I am excited that I am staying at my mum’s childhood home. I am excited to see what wedding saris I will end up with. I am excited for the indian street food (here is to hoping I don’t put on 5kg – not the best bridal preparation). And… I am excited to experience this all with my mum by my side.
And…here is some sari eye candy for you….