Growing up, I wanted to be a boy.
I blame Enid Blyton. I spent a large part of my childhood wanting to be George from the Famous Five, under the assumption it was cooler and more adventurous to be a boy. After all good girls were supposed to cook sardines and keep the tent clean whilst the boys had all the fun. So I refused to wear dresses, had really short hair and climbed trees like a monkey.
My parents would chase me around the house, with much tantrum throwing if I had to wear a pavadai for a wedding or anything traditional. I was a nightmare.
I was once supposed to be a fairy at some award function at my father’s golf club. I agreed to get up on stage and present an award to the president of the golf club as long as I could wear jeans under my dress. They let me, and to my embarrassment I did it, I was the 7 year old with jeans sticking out of a fairy skirt !
Then I grew up and realized how wonderful it was to be a girl, but femininity eluded me. Awkward as I was, I grew breasts and got my period. Being a girl seemed like a new thing, and I took my time. I had to teach myself to sit with my legs closed when I wore a skirt and was prone to wardrobe malfunctions, but eventually I got the cat in the bag.
( I think)
The one thing I could not master was draping a saree on myself. This has been a serious handicap, making me nervous whenever I wear one, forcing me to sit pretty when I would rather be walking around.
Every time there was a wedding in the family, I would stand like a doll, while my harried mother ran around me coaxing the sari, adjusting the folds and then she would stand up and look at me with pride. I would invariably not be happy with the results and ask her to do it again. This time around she would be annoyed, I would be annoyed and we would eventually storm to the car fuming.
Over the years she has been gently nudging me to learn the art of saree draping. I tried and failed miserably. When my grandfather turned 80, we had a little ceremony to celebrate him having seen a thousand moons. My flight from Ahmedabad was delayed and everyone was already at the venue. I tried draping the saree, but ended up winding it around myself very tightly. My cries for help were ignored by The Other who continued to watch TV and then unceremoniously dropped me at the venue. ( did I just write an ode to this person ? )
I could not walk. I stood at the gate and stared at the path leading to the hall with dread. It took me an excruciating 10 minutes to hobble there, and I was forced to smile and talk to people, till my mother found a little room and retied the saree. Phew !! Then I was the life of the party.
When cousin JD got married, there was a lot of dancing. I was wearing a favourite pink saree, with little pink circles and pink heels. After a while, my feet hurt and I decided to remove my heels. Big mistake! The saree swept the floor, I tripped on it, others tripped on it and I had to bundle it around myself and rush to the changing room, my mother in tow.
In truth I love the sari, I find it elegant and sensuous. So I decided to learn how to drape it. Once my mind was made up, it was surprisingly easy. The small handicap of being a left handed person and having to use my right hand to make pleats was overcome, but has to be perfected.
The first time, my mother watched and I wore a saree for my cousin’s thread ceremony. I was elated, I could move, I could bend and in the worst case I could re-tie it myself.
Now I was ready for the next step, I packed a few sarees and took them back to Bangalore.
I picked a day, woke up early, and pulled out a cotton saree nervously. A block printed saree from Ahmedabad, in black and white. It looked beautiful, but my stomach was churning. What if the saree disengaged itself in the office, what if I can’t walk… what if ? what if ? I steeled myself and unraveled the cloth.
Everything went according to plan. It was a breeze. The cotton was pliable, the pleats were passable and I walked with a spring in my step. The lack of safety pins I thought was a wardrobe malfunction in the pipeline, but seems like I am on the right track.
I am now very proud to say that not only have I worn the saree to work twice, and I traveled to work wearing the saree by bus.
More saree days ahead !
ps. Now the saree has joined the list of presents that will always make me happy, next to books and chocolate.