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Dear Sabyasachi, There's More To Culture Than Knowing How To Drape a Sari (Or Not)

PS: I know how to drape a sari and understand the grace and eloquence the garment comes with. Had I not known it, I still wouldn’t have felt ashamed of myself.

Kriti Tulsiani |

Updated:February 14, 2018, 10:31 AM IST
Dear Sabyasachi, There's More To Culture Than Knowing How To Drape a Sari (Or Not)
(Photo: Official Instagram account of Sabyasachi Mukherjee)
As much as I stand for a simple court wedding in debates, I’ve secretly hoped to own a Sabyasachi and be a Sabya bride on my big day. I have spent hours ogling at the designer’s finely crafted collections on several social media platforms. I have thoroughly watched his videos and read each of the accompanying captions. I have even followed Brides Of Sabyasachi on Instagram to make sure I don’t miss out on a single real bride dressed in the finest. And perhaps like million other girls out there, I too am a fangirl.

So, like an avid follower, I watched his Instagram story when he announced he is set to speak at the Harvard India Conference and was hoping for some liberal words of wisdom from the fashion guru. "I think, if you tell me that you do not know how to wear a sari, I would say shame on you. It's a part of your culture, (you) need to stand up for it,” he said when answering a question on difficulties women face in draping a sari.

The comment created waves on social media and as much as I was disenchanted, I was hoping you’d come out with a better response and maybe, just maybe, put things in perspective. But you, on the other hand, maintained that because the question revolved around sari, women got involved and it wasn’t a gender issue. “What was intended to be a comment on celebration of our clothing history and heritage became a debate on feminism. This is not a gender issue. Since the question was about the sari, women were involved,” you said.

"My observation came from the fact that I often meet those who say it with a hint of pride on how they don't know how to wear a sari and I find it very dismissive of our heritage. It's a personal point of view,” you said.

But it really doesn’t remain a personal opinion when you’re representing India at a global platform. Or does it? In the same conference where you said it’s shameful for women to not know how to drape their traditional garment, a person in the audience brought in the question of tying dhoti in India. "Indian women have kept alive the sari, but the dhoti is dead,” you said. And I didn’t hear the word shame.

First things first. No person - man or woman - gets to judge the other for their preference of clothes. So while it's commendable that you didn't feel the need to shame men for their failure of not keeping the dhoti tradition alive, it's also disturbing that you did, end up, shaming women - intentionally or unintentionally. When will we understand that the problem doesn’t lie in what women choose to wear, but what others make out of it? What I wear is not a representation of my culture or my roots. And simply put, it has more to do with my comfort and choice rather than my culture. I may feel more comfortable in a skirt, or jeans, or a pair of shorts, but that doesn’t disconnect me from my roots.

I would like to slip into a sari when I feel like it, or not when I don’t feel like it. Judging someone for not knowing how to drape the nine-yard garment is as terrible as judging someone for knowing how to. There’s nothing more graceful than a sari, but that again, is subjective and nobody else’s prerogative than the one who chooses to wear it (or not). Sure we applaud Bollywood names and other stalwarts when they sport Indian attires at global platforms, but we also don’t belittle the ones who don’t.

The yardstick of Indian-ness and being culturally rooted is also subjective, in case that had to be spelled out. You think wearing a sari defines my Indian-ness and I, for one, think that should be the least of our concerns. We might be proud of your contribution to the fashion world and its business dynamics as a designer, but unless someone is living under a rock, they know it’s only meant for elitists and the rich as not everybody can afford a Sabyasachi in this lifetime. (Or even if they can, the mere practicality of its worth and cost ratio, would not let them). But again, that’s subjective. And even if you would have been at the fore of affordable fashion, none of it would have given you the right to call it a matter of shame for women, or men, or anyone.

In the past one week, women have been judged on platforms far more significantly than the usual living room banters. They have been scrutinized for laughing demon-like and they have been judged for drinking beer and now, for what and how we choose to wear clothes. And while I thought penning down an opinion on this would be creating a mountain of a molehill, your words “It's a relationship of misunderstanding” stayed with me and as stern it might sound, the misunderstanding here seems to be deeper than the clothes we choose to adorn. Perhaps the patriarchal mindsets can make-do with some understanding now, no?

PS: I know how to drape a sari and understand the grace and eloquence the garment comes with. Had I not known it, I still wouldn’t have felt ashamed of myself.

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