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Let women decide if and when they want to wear a saree. Who are the men to decide upon a saree dress code at work for women?
If you were active on social media in the last few years, you might have come across a couple of your friends who took up the ‘100 Saree Pact‘ challenge. No doubt, it was beautiful to watch the many variations of the outfit – be it in textile, design, technique, the draping styles, the matching and contrasting blouses, intricate jewellery, hairstyles and not to forget the various poses exclusively for the camera.
Come to think of it though, 100 sarees is a lot! But then, of course, what are mothers and mother-in-laws and friends for?!
Little did I know, I would be in an unforeseen and unexpected ‘100 day saree pact’ challenge myself. Now this is what I love about life. The quality of unpredictability and randomness. Always expect the unexpected!
Anyway, this is how I ended up in an involuntary ‘100 day saree pact’ challenge. Here goes the story!
We moved back to India from the USA in the mid of June ’16. And within three days of our arrival, here I was teaching final year management graduate students in one of the graduation colleges in the city. I took it up more for the experience of ‘going back to college life’ and more so as a challenge as I had no teaching experience at all. Give me a challenge and I cannot resist it! So, here I was in this college, teaching 16-25 year old somethings, all about management. The teaching stint was absolutely fantastic and memorable. Overall, I got an overwhelmingly positive feedback from the students.
The biggest challenge of the job for me was the saree dress code for the faculty. A Saree!
My concerned husband insisted I remain firm about not wearing a saree. My understanding mother-in-law, a teacher herself, felt that they should exempt young women from such daily torture. And my friends – well, they asked me if I was working in a government school or college. Anyway, there was absolutely no bargaining on that one. It was a mandatory rule – the saree dress code.
To begin with, I barely had ten sarees. And, most of them were not fit for college wear. Either they were the expensive richly ornate pure silks and heavy weight bridal and party wear, or the simple, light weight breezy chiffon and georgette sarees. And almost all my blouses were sleeveless. So, you can say that the saree for me, was strictly occasional wear reserved for those very special occasions.
So, the first thing I did was borrow all my Mum and Mum-in-law’s sarees as well as blouses. I got the blouses tackily adjusted. For more than a month, I went to teach in those ill fitting blouses and borrowed sarees. Till one day, I realised I could no longer wear those blouses as I had narrow shoulders compared to my mother and my mother-in-law. Finally, I invested in some basic blouses in the shades of black, brown, maroon, cream and green. I also stitched a gold blouse for college functions. I would interchange these blouses in classic colours with a variety of sarees. That was my faculty wear.
I have a love-hate relationship with sarees. I love how they look on me. They are very flattering on the Indian figure type. It enhances your beauty and you feel feminine and sexy. Little surprise that in all our movies, the dream song always involves the heroine in a saree.
A saree will always be my first choice as party wear, be it a wedding, anniversary or any formal function. It looks regal, classy and timeless. The saree is simply a beautiful piece of creation.
Now, much like stamp collecting, saree collecting has become my new hobby thanks to the saree dress code! I absolutely love going to these handloom exhibitions for their mind-blowing range of sarees. Last year, I bought a Bandini and a Mangalgiri cotton saree and I plan to include more styles to my collection in the coming years.
But as a wearer, I can vouch for the fact that as beautiful as a Saree is, it is one of the most impractical outfits that has ever been created. I hate how the Saree feels less of a garment and more a bondage for womenkind. Especially as a work dress code, it should be kept optional and not mandatory. Those who are comfortable and love to be in a saree all day long should just go ahead and do so. But for those far and few in between, why should the majority of women employees suffer in the bargain?
So, let me do the honours and list out why the Saree is a sorry tale!
“A saree commands the respect of students”, I was told. Which, I personally disagree with. If only it were that easy to garner the respect of students. I think gaining respect is a lot more deeper than draping a nine yard piece of cloth around your body.
Today’s generation of students are very different from when we were in college. They are a lot more bold than the previous generations ever were. Including the girl students. They are way more aware, outspoken and individualistic. To gain their respect is definitely not as simple as draping a saree and demanding respect.
A saree looks dignified and respectable. Okay, agreed partially! But that again stems from either a rigid cultural mindset or being a historical ignoramus or both.
The saree is the epitome of modesty, value and respect in the Indian culture. But, it is deemed indecent in different countries. And mind you, what we have is the highly watered down version of the original saree. The modern day saree is still too racy in many cultures and countries. Like say, Malaysia, Nigeria,Pakistan and even our very own Manipur.
For the historical ignoramus, the saree was never designed to be decent, dignified or modest as per today’s societal standards. It was designed to be an all-out tease. The midriff, the navel and the back were meant to be exposed. The navel especially was meant to be flaunted to attract attention. The navel was to be displayed proudly as it was symbolic of Lord Vishnu’s navel which was the source of all life, fertility and creativity.
The original saree had no blouse. From the land of Kamasutra, the creation of the saree was definitely not meant for the purpose of covering up and being modest. It was the ultimate tool of seduction, meaning to tantalise and evoke interest and desire in every male in sight. Visualize Mandakini in ‘Ram Teri Ganga Maili’, Zeenat Aman in ‘Satyam Shivam Sundaram’ or Kareena Kapoor in ‘Ashoka’! Take one good look at the women portrayed in ancient Indian temple sculptures, and you will realize that our ancient Indian women enjoyed maximum freedom. The saree was an unabashed celebration of womanhood and its beauty.
The process of covering up and being more modest started with the Mughal invasion and it intensified during the British Raj. It is only then we had petticoats and blouses and the watered down version of the modern day saree that we have today.
This modern, supposedly tame version of the saree is still a tease. It is not uncommon to see bra straps through thin blouse material. Unless, you are careful about choosing a thick blouse material, the regular blouse materials are thin and semi transparent. The way the saree is designed, it is bound to attract attention to your midriff, your back, and the side view of your entire upper body. Which also happens to be, by the way, the inspiration to sleazy songs like ‘Choli Ke Peeche kya hai’. Now, choli ke peeche kya ho sakta hai? Duh!
All that you can do in a saree is eat, walk and sleep. Climbing steps is a pain. Doing any form of exercise apart from walking is unthinkable. Forget jogging, running up the stairs, doing those flexible yoga poses, jumping or just being physically free! Going to the restroom to answer nature’s call is in itself an event. And it is sheer misery during ‘that time of the month’! You are simultaneously leaking and sweating profusely down the there. Torture at a wholly insane level. Is it really worth living your whole life in that bondage they call a ‘saree’?
In this era of smart phones, smart watches, smart technology, smart people, smart everything, the saree is anything but smart. A lot can be done with the touch of a button. How I wish, it worked the same in case of a saree!
For starters, the draping, undraping and the folding of a saree are all laborious rituals in themselves. God save you – especially if you are working woman who is also married with school going kids. For this outfit is a perfect recipe for disaster. I am not saying it is impossible but why invite further problems and bottlenecks to your morning rush. Work smart, not hard!
Yes! This is an outright rant and my call for gender equality and justice.
Why should sarees be made compulsory for women employees and men conveniently made to get away with more comfortable, practical and mobile Western wear such as formal shirts and pants? Why aren’t they being subjected to draping a dhoti and wearing a turban and coming to work everyday? Why are only women supposed to uphold Indian tradition and culture and values while our male counterparts get to make all the rules for us and escape scot free?
There are so many options for women to choose nowadays – smart professional looking salwar kameez which are way more decent and comfortable than the saree, or smart looking western tops paired with pants and a blazer and more. There are thankfully more practical and smarter outfits that the saree.
Yes, there are women who have carried off the saree beautifully and with utmost grace. I admire and love all the sarees worn by Sonia Gandhi, Sushma Swaraj, Amala Akkineni. They look classic, cool and very sophisticated. In the glamour business, Rekha is my undisputed Saree Queen. Nobody comes close to this goddess of beauty when it comes to adorning the saree. Her gold kanjeevarams, red lips and jasmine flowers are an all time classic favourite.
The moral of this story is ‘Let the choice of Saree as work wear be made by the wearer of it – the woman and not any male authority. Let women decide how often they want to drape the saree to their workplace – be it everyday or occasionally.’
For all these male authorities and law makers, I have one challenge for you! Try draping, wearing and living in the saree for one whole day.
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Published here earlier.
Image source: flickr, used for representational purposes only.
Winner of the Rashtriya Gaurav Award (2019) in association with the Government of Telangana for ‘
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