Thursday, 26 April 2012


I am a man obsessed with my country of birth, India. One who has walked across India has walked across the world, twice. There is so much of mysticism, marvel and awe in each and every aspect finding an existential position in my country. My way of looking at seemingly normal things are quite different. Like an inquisitive child, that is more interested in the internal mechanisms of a Mattel toy rather than its ethereal appearance, I delve into the interesting inside of things by mentally dissecting objects and situations in front of me. 

This time around, what flashed across my mind was the science behind India's greatest fashion icon, The Saree. No matter how many fashionistas and new age divas have comfortably adapted to western designer attires, we all know that Indian women look their flattering best in the saree. The Saree is generally a single 6 yard cloth that is draped around in different styles. These are seamless wonders whose beauty is greatly enhanced by its wearer (as long it is of the female kind). 

The World's Longest Saree 

The earliest reference to Saree can be traced back to the Indus valley civilisation, circa 2500 - 1800 B.C. when Indus valley priests used drapes which bore uncanny resemblance to the present day Saree. We must all remember that even ancient Indian civilisations held women in extremely high regards and the vedic age witnessed their glory reach its zenith with greatly admired and respected women scholars Mytreyi and Gargi. 

The word Saree is derived from the Sankrit 'Sati' which means a Strip of cloth and subsequently the common man's Prakriti language changed it to Sadi and after several change of tongues it became Saree in Hindi. 

I recently found out there are several ways in which one can drape around a Saree. 

1. Worn in The Nivi Style, mainly on important occassions by women of Andhra Pradesh
2. The Bengali & Oriya style by women of that region
3. The Dravidian style by women of Tamil Nadu
4. The Kastha style by women of Maharashtra.

(Source Courtesy: 

Since ancient ages the Sarees have been woven by skilled weavers by hand and the same is still very much in vogue and in high demand and also fetches a handsome sum of money for the seller. Saree weaving machines or power looms provided access to sarees woven out of synthetic materials as well and catered to the burgeoning demand, both in the domestic and international markets. 

The natural fiber, Cotton was the main and probably the only source of fabric for weaving the Saree. This material provided much desired relief to the victims of India's scorching heat. 

Not intending to make this topic all knowledge and thereby dull, I take you all to my days as a kid. Being the only kid, I was forced to move around with my parents whenever they felt the urge for some shopping. Impatience and a short attention span are the true traits of a kid and my nature was tantamount to these qualities. As a small boy, I felt my most harrowing experiences were when my mum & dad used to walk into these huge showrooms specializing in the sales of 'latest' Sarees. First of, I always used to wonder what all the hype and hoopla around this long piece of cloth was about. All of them seemed to look the same, only they came in some different colours and patterns. I used to liken them to the window drapes that we had put on in our home. 

The average time my mum spent at each of these Saree shops was roughly about 2 hours - the show time of any regular Hollywood potboiler. The salesperson across the counter used to have a smile stitched across the face and had the patience of Mother Earth herself. Dozens and Dozens of these 9 yard wonders were pulled off shelves and spread across under the scrutinising eyes of my mum. 2 - 3 heaps of Sarees later, my parents have a telepathic conference and just decide to walk out of this showroom! This was a typical 'cloak and dagger' situation for a 9 - 10 year old kid like me who was all the while hoping that we would walk out as early as possible with a satisfactory selection made. All hopes are dashed when we leave empty handed after investing my childhood's precious 2 hours, obviously on a weekend. Not to forget, my dad's face who looked like he was palpitating just imagining the fierce thoughts across the salesperson's mind when he begins folding back the dozens and dozens of Sarees back to the shelves waiting for an impending thunderstorm. So then, we make trips to another half a dozen Saree shops in the city's central business district and finally after 5 - 6 hours and a lunch break a selection is made and we return home with a tired kid, an anger gulping dad and a visibly happy mum. 

These were the 'normal' outings but things went more wrong, whenever there was a marriage or a betrothal ceremony in the family inner circle. It was time to enhance the shopping budget and go buy one of those expensive Sarees spun out of Silk! The shops housing these upper class of clothing material are huge and have more than a dozen smiling attendants just waiting to serve. My mum who I usually gave low marks for her general knowledge and awareness on current affairs, always astounded me with her in - depth know- how when it came to Sarees especially of the silken kind. 

Names like Kanjeevaram, Mysore, Dharmavaram so on and so forth just rolled out of her tongue and only the grown ups seemed to understand. Obviously, for me the only difference from the earlier harrowing experience was here the wait was to get longer and more painful and the heaps got even bigger. These expensive cloths woven out of worm discharges had Gold and Silver embroidered into them in intricate patterns. The 'borders' had patterns of flowers, elephants, peacocks and other colorful creatures. The colors of the sarees are mentally cross referenced with the existing wardrobe at home and the colors of the gems on the jewellery. Careful attention was given to ensure that the selected color and pattern does not match with any of the sarees in possession of my mum's friends and relatives - both close and distant. Obviously one cannot be caught dead with a matching pattern and color. That would be disastrous. After many rounds of screening, some are short listed and many more are rejected. After at least 3 - 4 hours the selection is made, which is apparently the best buy for the pre- decided budget. 

My teenage years gave my heavenly respite from all this tamasha since these were the days of rebellion and rejecting all of my parents' requests to accompany them to these shopping escapades. Home was dominion and I ruled it. 

The nightmare of saree shopping haunted me once more when I was a bachelor with an engagement ring on my finger. I had replaced my dad and I was the one carrying the palpitating face. Imagine the above exercise for one saree and a similar expedition for a dozen. It is 12 times more the trauma!Of course, I had the able assistance of my well experienced female family members, but I had to rest my posterior for hours in one of those plush air conditioned saree showrooms. 

Men, I have realised are lousy when it comes to selecting a 'surprise' saree for either their mothers, wives or sisters. We just do not have any idea about the color, the fabric, the design or the prices. When alone, we are the most gullible of customers and we end up buying stuff in our over enthusiasm to impress the females. I have had this experience when I along with a guy friend of mine went shopping for Sarees for my wife, my mother in law and my sister. Recalling our respective experiences as children, we did manage to spend some significant time ( I would qualify 30 minutes for 5 sarees as an excellent investment) and bought half a dozen. We had even managed a good bargain and there was also an 'unlimited exchange' period on the goods. Later, I would find out much to my embarrassment that the Sarees we had bought were not worth a dime and they would look very unflattering on the recipients if they ever decided to wear them at all. Our gifts were politely rejected by all the beneficiaries and now our maiden selection of sarees are the denizens of the cold dark recesses in the closets. 

Even worse, we realized much later that both I and my friend were swindled beyond hope and there was no way we could correct our errors since we had both made the purchase in Agra - notorious for fooling hapless tourists like us. 

This is a science that no man can conquer and it is left best with the females. After flushing down a couple of thousands of rupees, I have wised up and I make sure that it is best not to surprise your wife, when it comes to getting a saree for her. 

The End - of My worries. 

Roses are Red
Violets are blue
Just 6 yards in my saree
Make it 9 will you

- Anonymous.