This was a challenge many, many years in the making. I first thought of doing it, when I read A Sari for a Month for Newsweek by Shoba Narayan. I loved the idea, and since then, it remained in my mind as something I would do one day.
What’s the big deal for an Indian born and raised, 50-year-old woman to wear a saree for a month? It’s not a big deal for most women of my age, especially if they were raised in India, just as I was. Even today, I have cousins, both older and younger, who wear a saree and feel no constraint and are completely at ease with it. But for me, it was a challenge.
I have always loved sarees. Loved their vibrant colors, their stylish drapes, the way the cloth felt. Talk to me of elegant women, and I immediately think of a saree clad woman. My mother, aunts, and cousins all drape it well and look so refined and put-together in a saree. However, my love for sarees lasted only till I left the shop with it; wearing one was never my choice. I didn’t know how to drape a saree well, and I was never comfortable in one — and it showed. While I love the pottu, I dislike the other jewelry accessories that go with a saree. I wore sarees as infrequently as I could, and eventually, I got worse at draping, worse at walking in it. Even with pins, the sarees unspooled. And driving — why did I get married if I have to drive even while wearing a saree? Part of the problem was that I did not have the kind of sarees I could be comfortable in for many hours. Mine were either super heavy Kanjeevarams, or super soft ones that spooled all over if I moved just so. I got so used to comfort wear — my faithful sweats or a pair of jeans — and left my sarees hanging in my closet like prized pieces of art. There was always the guilt, though, and then the inevitable what are my girls learning from me about the saree and, by extension, about India and Indian clothing?
Well, I did find out what the girls thought of it. We were talking about clothes, colors etc. and my daughter said (I paraphrase) “Sarees are not comfortable and are for old people — young people would never be able to wear it.” When I reminded her that her grandmothers lived in a saree day and night and did everything, far more than we did, she said, “Exactly. Old people can be comfortable in it. You wouldn’t be able to wear it all day and be comfortable,” Challenge accepted.
I would spend 31 days (1 month) in a saree. All-day, every day. I did give myself some outs:
It was winter in California, I would wear the saree with sweaters. No Jewelry. And, of course, I would now display my favorite big round pottus. I would wear the saree from my morning shower till my night shower — typically after my cup of tea in the morning, until I was ready to go to bed.
I gave myself three sick days, days when I could not wear the saree for health reasons. If used, I would make them up at the end and keep the challenge. I used one.
If I could do it in sweats, I would do it in a saree, but if I could not do it anyway, then it’s not on the “saree.”
So how was my journey? In two words, very comfortable.
Once I decided to do it, a switch went off. This is what I had to do, so I was going to do it and be comfortable.
I give huge merit points to the sweaters. Without the uncomfortable blouses or the constraining jewels, it was me in a saree and not a foreign being. It was night and day in comfort compared to all my previous experiences.
What did I do or could not do? I did everything I would normally do, and then some. I increased my physical activities dramatically. Things that needed me to move more. I upped my dance aerobics by three times what I used to do. I did more hikes, more walks. The household chores, the work — all of it.
One thing I wish I had done more of — I did not go on video calls as much. I did go on some, but not too many. There was the professional side of me that did not want to use up meeting time to explain my challenge and attire to non-Indian colleagues. In all fairness, even before, I never did video calls. So no one thought any different when I didn’t switch the video on. I do not think what I wear has any bearing on what I do or how I work or how I think…but that is a different challenge I guess :)
Did I see many questioning glances? But of course — you can’t go hiking, shoe shopping or walk in the rain in a vibrant saree and expect no one to notice. There were many eyes on me, but they didn’t make me or the folks with me uncomfortable.
Would I do this again? In a heartbeat. But I would not call it a challenge!
So, the changes that came in because of this: I can now drape a saree well. I still do not look as great in a saree as I have seen others look, but I do not look sloppy or uncomfortable either. My biggest win is that I do not use pins at all. Not a single one. Not even when I do aerobics or hiking. That is a huge win, as I have never seen my mom use pins either and it always bothered me that I needed them. Well, not any more.
The other big win: thanks to my large-hearted friend Shama, who loaned (and now says she gifted) me 10+ sarees for the challenge, I now know the sarees that I am comfortable in. Things I like, can drape, and can live in. I also have a closet full of them. WIN
Today is day 31. Am I going to miss wearing a saree…well, no, not really, but I liked it while it lasted. Loved dressing up every morning, the whole process from what will I wear to finding sweaters that match, the daily photos, etc. I have happy thoughts associated with a saree. But I can’t wait for sunrise tomorrow and to don my well-worn sweats and t-shirt as I get ready for another workday.
What is the one thing I hope you get out of it? Exactly the lesson that my kids got and acknowledged on day 10 of my challenge — sarees are the perfect combination of elegance and comfort. You can do anything in them and do it more elegantly than you would in any other attire. If I can do it, anyone can. Wear it with grace….. for 31 days.
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