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It was World Saree Day earlier this week, and it reminded me of what a saree means to me, personally and politically, taking me back to when as a new bride, a saree had been ‘mandatory’!
Ugh, I hate wearing sarees!!
I remember this line being stuck in a loop inside my head as I would drape and fix sarees 24×7 during our week-long stay at my in-law’s place right after the wedding.
My in laws weren’t exactly thrilled to have me as their daughter in law and honestly, that was understandable. Contrary to their wishes, I had insisted on a small scale, non-ritualistic wedding, and didn’t follow any of the religious customs that they were expecting. The fact that their son didn’t want those too, didn’t matter because it’s always easier and more comforting to blame the outsider.
And so, there I was, trying to have it both ways: On one hand, very firm about getting the wedding that we both wanted and on the other, trying my best to follow other smaller ‘rules’ to make the partner’s family happy. Oh, it was hard!
I was told even before the actual wedding, that I will have to wear sarees constantly during my entire stay with at the in laws’ place, starting from the wedding day till the day we leave for Bangalore, because that’s how everyone expects the new bahu of their family to be.
At first, I was resistant; no one tells me what to wear! But eventually, I gave in. Sometimes, we have to lose smaller battles to win the actual war, I told myself, as I reluctantly agreed. I love sarees, I wear them even without occasions quite often, so how bad could it be, right?
Well, I was wrong. I didn’t buy too many sarees for my wedding because I knew I wouldn’t wear them much once the wedding got over and it felt wasteful to spend so much money on them. So, for everyday wear during that time, I had to choose from the tall stack of crisp taant sarees that I received as presents at the wedding. They were mostly not as per my taste, very prickly due to over-starching and ballooned me up to look like a cartoon character.
I hated them with every fibre of my body. Every day, the tight strings of the petticoats would cut a bit deeper into my fleshy waistline and I’d count days for this to end, while applying Boroline to those wounds at night. I felt incessant waves of rage and sadness, not because I had to manage sarees day in and day out or got cut by those petticoats, but because I could feel hate rising within me, for something that I had loved so tenderly, for so long, probably ever since I was 7 years old and ‘owned’ my first saree.
The morning we left for Bangalore from my in laws’ place constitutes one of my happiest memories from that time. I finally brought out my comfy black jeans and a green cotton-silk kurti, and paired it with my long coat and a scarf to fight the cold of mid February Bengal. I became myself once again after what felt like a million years, I just couldn’t stop smiling. It was the smile of relief, but more importantly, it was the smile of gaining full control of my body once again.
It was World Saree Day earlier this week, and it reminded me of what a saree means to me, personally and politically.
Saree to me is expression and empowerment, saree to me is choice. When I ‘choose’ to wear a saree, it makes me blossom. It makes me feel beautiful and complete. But when someone else dictates what I wear, I feel powerless and withered, forced to present myself on someone else’s terms. And there is simply no joy in that, not even if it’s an exquisite saree worth a million dollars.
So, eventually, it depends on us, and the level of privilege we have, because unsurprisingly, that is what decides whether we have full control over our very own bodies or not. Do we let the saree enslave us or do we make it empower us? The new bride in me was confused once about how much power she should or should not hold, despite being privileged enough.
Because aren’t we all consciously and unconsciously conditioned to give up our power in order to gain approval of our new families? But not anymore. Now I know that I will always choose empowerment and make wearing each saree, a sartorial celebration of my own free will.
A version of this was first published on author’s Facebook handle.
Image source: shutterstock
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Sanchari Bhattacharya is a writer and a relatively new artist with an M.Phil in
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