Sunday, March 11, 2012

All Of Six Yards: इसमें तो है सारी बात !

I went for a walk fulminating over an article in which Vidya Balan's wearing of saris during her public appearances was portrayed as a disturbing issue for Bollywood's fashionistas.Of course, Bollywood has popularized the ball gown and the dress and at any given point in time, malls in the metropolis abound with women   dressed in frocks. For a lot of women, the frock conceals age, highlights well toned and maintained figures,  provides  cool comfort and probably meets with M.S.Poonia's requirements of being able to get clothed in under five minutes. M.S. Poonia is the author of a piece ,Political Economy of the Saree   published in Manushi. Nona Walia was probably still unfocused after the Holi haze when she said that Balan was trapped in a sari, because surely leading ladies in Bollywood aspire to be actresses first and clotheshorses later? Manushi's editorial decision was definitely influenced by the extended North Indian Winter chill. Editorial damage control after reader outbursts is decidedly stranger. It wonders whether the responses to the article would have been as aggressive if MS Poonia had been " a female feminist instead of being a male one." For starters,Poonia doesn't sound like a male feminist. He recalls the Police Officer from the South who insisted that women dressing in anything other than saris were inviting rape. The only difference between Poonia and  The DG from Andhra is that the former is convinced that saris promote  easy access to rape, aid death by drowning  and prove to be obstacles while escaping  pursuit by ferocious animals.  What a relief  that both these cops   are not invested with portfolios to supervise women's dressing  because  between the two of them they  have  in effect  denuded  the female populace of all items of clothing, providing substance to the belief that men  constantly undress women in their imagination.

When  Shashi Tharoor,  of the clipped Stephanian English and  Page Three  elan wrote an epitaph on the sari as a dying garment, he was forced to withdraw the ill conceived obituary, reeling under the pallu backlash. Many women  have their saris and love them too, and the stretch of sari wearing is not to be undone either by  suave Tharoors or  police officers who are fully dressed  in five minutes to mark their attendance at the alarm parade in training school. Which brings on the curious question:  why exactly is there a "get ready in five minutes drill" at  police academies? Must be part of some ancient voodoo rite because the average police officer is seldom available at any moment of unprecedented crisis within the half hour?

Take heart, Mr. Poonia. If your mother did not teach you to wear a sari, it was in keeping with  heterosexual practice in patriarchal societies where  daughters alone are required to learn this skill.  So let us assure you  that  regular sari practitioners wear their saris in under five minutes, even if their mummies have not taught them to do so. No one takes two months to learn to wear a sari, because it does not involve  rocket science. Wearing a sari has nothing in common with  an alarm parade rehearsal  since after having clothed themselves, women, unlike police officers on show, undertake  a whole lot of  duties  most days of the week, whether they run homes, work in the fields,  in factories, as manual labour or as skilled trained personnel, in rural and urban areas.  And these days enough sites on the net will educate you into the mystery of  the different ways of draping  a sari,(  yes there is more than one way to drape a sari and  is region  specific)  and keeping it in place, which has flummoxed you. For  sari-aspirants such as yourself, let us divulge a secret. The safety pin was invented a long time ago. Most sari clad women despite your fantasies do not have wardrobe malfunctions, which occur with moderate regularity in the case of stitched clothing.

Incidentally, the sari is a preferred mode of dress south of the Vindhyas, which is why your  soul mate in the Andhra police  wants women to wear them all the time. Saris, as an informed observer has pointed out are worn in a variety of ways and without petticoats and blouses, and  have a longer shelf life than most stitched garments, and often cost much less. If our grandmothers heard you on the sari's inability to cover the body, they would be baying for your blood, so try to  discreetly study how women in  real India wear their saris. We realize that your insights come from an overdose of the ramp.

The average sari is  a longer-lasting garment  and serves as a great multitasking  accessory for women.  The edge of a pallu makes for an effective impromptu purse into which keys and coins can be safely  stored.  The loaded pallu edge also enables  effective self-defence. All that is required  is to swivel the pallu end towards a would be assailant.  Old saris  are used by women as makeshift cradles to allow small infants to sleep.  Grandmothers with nine yard saris would use soft fabric not only to wrap babies with, but  also to mop up a whole night of  baby piddle very hygienically, using fresh sections of the sari each time. Imagine the districts under your patrol without this environment and baby friendly technology. Our streets and drains would choke with disposed-off diapers and Johnson and Johnson would be producing mountains of  diaper rash creams  with no room to stock any other cosmetics.

 Did you know Mr. Poonia that women in Bengal handcraft quilts and bedsheets for infants with old cotton saris, because they are so soft? Are you aware that the exquisite craft of Kantha came into being because women worked with coloured yarn from old saris within households to create aesthetic baby sheets? So the next time you see a  dupatta or a kurta with kantha work, stand up and salute the sari.  Saris double up as handkerchiefs and  sunshades and provide privacy by allowing breastfeeding mothers to screen themselves if required.Sometimes(surely you must have seen hindi films,)  pallus are even  torn up to serve  as very efficient instant bandage-strips.

Your doctor friends must also be aware of contact dermatitis  that can  result from  tightly tailored clothing , metal accessories ranging from wrist watches to spectacles , synthetic garments and shoes for example?
 Have you all  made any comparative study?  If not, refrain from unleashing unfounded fears upon an unsuspecting populace with your skewered data from 140 women. You could shelter meanwhile under a jaipuri cotton quilt made from a mul sari or alternately use  a traditional double sheet(the dohar) which also devolves from old saris  expressly stitched  for cool comfort.

 And Mr Poonia, overweight and obese people on an average are that way because of ill health and poor  lifestyle choices. Ideally both men and women need to remain fit , not simply to measure up to your aesthetic standards but because of the benefits of  great health. For the record, men  and women who are fit look better in anything they wear,  irrespective of whether it is saris or  khakhi uniforms.
 There are many terrible things about patriarchy. One of them is that  many men still presume to speak   authoritatively about what women should wear, and  many women rush to defend such men and extol their thinking. However Mr, Poonia, with apologies to  Susan Seymour, isn't it unfortunate that there is no garment to measure the development of  a male from puberty to adulthood? Or does this never happen? I am confident that Foucault would have intuitively responded to the sari and understood that  each weave has its own history, and   that each sari tells its own story.   We wear sarees  Mr. Poonia, because they are there!