How the drape holds meaning and memory for the desi mind, body, and soul. A series of interview-vignettes, showcasing uber serious sari love, brought out via passion, history, politics, through interviews with people across the spectrum who love to drape it, and also, talk about it! Catch up with Chapter One‘s interview with impassioned crafts activist Laila Tyabji, Chapter Two‘s chat with filmmakers Shabani Hassanwalia and Paromita Vohra, Chapter Three‘s Sari Sisters Jaya and Swaati, and Chapter Four‘s focus on politics in the pleats with Sabika and Jasmine.
From being crowned Miss Yamuna during those final schooldays to being crowned showstopper these days — both online and offline! — popular writer and columnist Anuja Chauhan has been wearing the sari since forever, making it look like it’s the sexiest, classiest, most obvious thing to do. And only she can make forever look like it’s frozen in time. I mean, she’s never had to alter her blouses, for one — and can still fit into the ones she got made for her shaadi. I mean, Grr. And also I mean, how does she still remain sabki favorite? In conversation with Anuja Chauhan, on her why and how of sari matters…
Nothing evokes memory in the Indian consciousness like saris, would you agree?
Yes, I agree. My mum had that cupboard full of pretty silks and cottons and chiffons — all smelling of Charlie or Poison or Opium! Her choices were light and floral — I call those mummy saris.
My mother-in-law has a truly sumptuous sari collection — gorgeous southern weaves and lots of handlooms — some of which were handed down from her mother-in-law! I call those parliament saris.
I love both!
Which sari-wearing personality did you idolize, growing up? Is there someone you admire now, someone you feel is the ultimate in sari-wearing-ness?
I used to love the way the women in the Amar Chitra Kathas draped their bits of cloths and sexy cholis. They were the ultimate sari icons for me!
My favorite filmi sari is Priyanka Chopra’s Desi Girl.
Has your personal dynamic with the sari changed over the years?
I’ve had a big bindi phase and a no bindi phase — a sleeveless phase, a backless phase, a tee shirt/checked shirt phase…brogues, flat kolhapuris, clogs…chunky silver key chain…cross sling pouch….it’s so much fun wearing them because they’re so versatile!
If you were to describe previous generations’ equations with the sari, what would you say?
Very casual, very intimate. My grandmother wore a sari everyday — she called it a ‘dhoti.’ It was an intrinsic part of her persona. I’ve never seen her wearing anything else.
What stops you from wearing a sari — if anything?
I don’t like to wear saris when I have my period — but then I don’t like to wear anything two-piece when I have my period. Long, one piece dresses are my outfit of choice, then! Otherwise I’m happy to wear them most days.
What’s the one negative you’ve heard people say about the sari that you simply do not get?
When people say they’re not comfortable! Saris are very comfortable — we’ve just made a big hauvaa out of them — with all our safety pins and rigidly draped pleats and falls and petticoats and everything.
What’s your current favorite sari, Anuja?
A light silk, with a hot pink base and a border of yellow and black checks. It falls well and it’s amazingly eye-catching.
Do you think the sari is always in fashion? When was the last time you saw someone drape it in a way that made you go, ‘Woah! I’m trying that next time.’
They’re always in fashion, because they’re so versatile. I was looking at this Raja Ravi Varma painting a while ago and I saw how long those ladies drape their pallu — that’s why it falls so becomingly. And so I did the same thing and it looked so old-school-classy.
Have there been places, spaces, or moods that have influenced if and how you wear a sari?
A sari feels called for on a day you’re feeling pretty. Or the weather’s pretty. No other reason required!
Finally, if you had to think of a male counterpart for the sari, what would it be?
I think the Kerala lungi comes close. It’s always in vague, it can be worn short or long, and the boys wear it with so much panache.
Speaking of boys and panache, hold your breath for SareeMan. Coming up, in the next chapter of Sari Stories.
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Pooja Pande is a writer-editor who grew up in, considers home, and hence has a suitably complex love-hate relationship with the capital city of India, Delhi. Her first book is Red Lipstick, a literary-styled memoir on celebrity transgender rights activist Laxminarayan Tripathi. Find her on Twitter at @derrindo.