Tuesday, September 30, 2008

A sari state of affairs

Kerala, to me, had always evoked pictures of ladies in gold-bordered white mundus, beautiful backwaters and coconut trees. Reality could not have been more different – Ernakulum was no different from any other dusty Indian town caught in the big town v/s small city identity trap. There were coconut trees, but no more or no fewer than you found anywhere else in India. But, the greatest disappointment was the clothes, or rather the lack of expected clothes. Every single lady I saw, from the secretary of the Chairman of the Port Trust to the lady hawking vegetable under the shade of a tree, was in a brightly coloured synthetic sari.
Synthetic saris in the heat and humidity of Kerala? Utterly ridiculous, right?
Wrong!!! Apparently brightly coloured synthetic saress made sense – they were cheaper than cotton mundus, were much easier to maintain, and did not get crumpled in less than an hour. The argument must have been compelling for so many ladies to have made the sartorial switch from the garments favoured by generations of Malayali women, but I was never convinced. White is a reflective colour, and cotton a material that breathes – nothing makes more sense in a place like Kerala than a white cotton mundu. But I guess nobody really has the time or the inclination to maintain cotton clothes any more.
This happened was a couple of years back.
I noticed a continuation of the same phenomenon during the Ganapathi visarjan processions in Mumbai. There were women attired in colourful saris dancing gaily. But where was the traditional Maharashtrian nine yard sari? Everyone, young, not so young or old was in a single coloured georgette, chiffon, satin or synthetic sari, decorated with sequins and machine embroidery done with gold thread. Kan cholies had given way to heavily embroidered blouses with interesting necklines.
It is the same trend at society weddings – anyone wearing a sari is in a flimsy sari with heavy embroidery. At one time, not too long ago, the only choice a bride made was on whether she wanted to get married in a Benarasi or an Kanjeevaram sari – now, I have actually forgotten the last time I saw a bride wearing something other than a ghaghara choli with very heavy embroidery.
Nobody even seems to want to wear handlooms any more.
Baluchari, paitani, , chanderi, sambalpuri, tangail – even the names are sheer poetry – they are all gradually getting replaced by the saris that have no heritage, no tradition, and no particular merit. Embroiderers are replacing weavers at a rate so fast, I wonder how long weaving traditions will continue.
Again, I understand why people would rather not wear handlooms – they are difficult to maintain, and do not drape as well as the more clingy material. Whether you have a figure to flaunt, or want to pretend you have that figure, handloom saris are not for you. Even the best draped handloom sari always adds a couple of inches to your hipline, and totally smothers your waistline.
But why is nothing being done to save our weaving traditions? People prefer other materials for the saris, but is there any reason why an authentic handloom border and pallav cannot be stitched onto a chiffon or a satin sari? Surely our fashion designers can make it fashionable to flaunt our traditional weaves, if only in the form of a gorgeous pallav?
When it is so obvious to a person like me, why are the people who actually work with weavers not being able to think of it? Two days later, we will be celebrating the Birth Anniversary of Gandhi-ji. Everyone will pay lip service to him, and forget all about him. Along with all that he stood for, we also seem to have forgotten the weavers who’s cause he expounded.
At the rate at which we are going, soon, there would be no weavers left in the country. And that would be a very sari state of affairs indeed.

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