I have fond memories of the sari. Coming home to bury my face in the softness of my grandmother's customary white un-starched taant, keys dangling at its end, inhaling the scents - a heady mix of incense sticks, paan and kitchen spices. Watching my Maa wrap herself in silken splendour, the intricate motifs shimmering under the lights, the aanchal flowing over her shoulder like a cascading waterfall.
For me, it was not just a sari but a six-yard fantasy. As a young girl, I badly wanted one for myself, to feel the swish of the silk as I would glide around the room feeling like a princess. It is in a sari that I took my first step into womanhood, ready to take flight from my cocooned existence.
There was a time when I used to wear one every day - not because I was a six-yard fanatic - but simply because it was the dress code at work. Initially I found it a menace. Having to get up early in the morning, spending anxious moments in front of the mirror to get the pleats right. Walking in an ungainly manner, tripping over the pleats at the most inopportune moments. I felt it cramped my natural athletic style of climbing three stairs at a time. So petrified I was of my sari coming undone that I would overdose on safety pins. Yes, I singlehandedly managed to make even the lungi look elegant. One look at me and my friends would shove me into the cabin, bang the door shut and re-tie it for me. Slowly, I mastered the art of draping - a tuck here, a nip there, the subtle dip that brings out the essence of femininity so beautifully.
Very few attires hold as much mystery and allure as a sari. One can wear it a little low to show-off our newly discovered washboard abs, pair it with a backless blouse to bring out the diva in us. And, on days we feel like Mother Teresa and crave for world peace, we can drape it to cover every visible inch of our body. Now, which other garment can match such versatility?
And the mind-boggling variety of patterns, weaves and hues it comes in - each with its distinctive legacy. From flirty Chanderis, to elegant Gadhwals, to the opulent Banarasis, to the gorgeous Dhakai Jamdanis, to colourful Ikkats, we are spoilt for choice.
Nothing can parallel the joy of buying a sari - beautiful cottons that bring alive the magic of weavers and their looms, the feel of silk as you trace the intricate patterns with your fingers and the silent gasp as the showroom salesman unfurls the pallu with a flourish - just like a magician, presenting his grand finale.
A well-draped sari is a sure-fire head turner. In fact, it is the only garment that does full justice to the Indian woman's curves. Your belief is reinforced when you see a firang lady draped in one - she looks like a pencil wrapped in a kerchief! Then why is it that the cosmopolitan naari prefers giving it a miss? You will find her in pants, harem pants, hot pants, jodhpurs, shorts, skirts long and short and the occasional churidar kurta, but she will invariably give the traditional yarn a skip.
In my glamorous village Gurgaon, spotting a woman in a sari is akin to spotting a tiger in the forest reserves of Sariska! Strangely, when she gets together with her friends, all she does is crib about saris collecting dust in her closet.
I understand one has to adapt to changing times and for everyday wear, the sari is getting cumbersome. It is no more a practical option. It is far more convenient to slip in to a pair of jeans. I am no different, even my closet is crammed with pants and dresses.
The jooda is almost extinct, tying your hair in a plait is considered too behenjee and we wear saris only on special occasions. Sadly, our tastes are veering towards the gaudy, heavily embellished creations that will make even a peacock blush. In our slavish pursuit of brands and bling, numerous textile arts are dying a slow death. Isn't it ironic that at the state Emporia Complex, which showcases our country's distinctive handicrafts, I see more foreigners than Indians!
Thanks to lack of patronage, weavers who created fantasies with their skilled hands are compelled to take up other professions.
Maybe the death of the traditional sari is more of a big city phenomenon, where the sophisticated femme is eager to conform to global trends. She'd rather blend in than stand out. So how can we expect our gen-next girls to be any different! For most of them the six yard fabric is an alien concept. How many of them can differentiate a Pochampalli from a Patola or for that matter Kuchipudi from Kathak? I don't think my daughter will ever wear one until she is threatened with dire consequences. When I was her age I would forever be pleading with my Maa to let me wear one of her gorgeous saris to a family wedding. I can't foresee my progeny doing the same.
Agreed, as an evolving society we cannot afford to waste time on bemoaning a past that had to be sacrificed at the altar of progress. But isn't it our ethnicity and cultural roots that sets us apart from the surging mass of humanity that drinks coffee from Starbucks, drools over Haagen Dazs ice creams and swears on Calvin Klein jeans?
To all the young girls reading this post, allow me to sound like your Mom this time. Agreed that change is the essence of life, but why let go of your Indianness, your rich heritage! Yes, we have brown skin, we put on fat at all the wrong places, we love our food spicy, our festivals are loud, our movies even louder - so what? It's time we felt proud of how different we are from the rest of the world.
And remember, it's only when our foundations are strong can we survive all odds - just like a well-rooted tree that can withstand the stormiest of weather and still hold its ground.