Sorry Sabyasachi, but the Sari is Not all it's Cracked up to Be

An Open Letter to the Esteemed Saybasachi.


Sorry Sabyasachi, but the sari isn't the glorious symbol of fine Indian culture that you make it out to be. And if you think less of an Indian woman if she doesn't know how to drape one, you are as rotten as the archaic, unfair and oppressive system that imposes this garment upon married women even as married men are free to don any outfit of their choice.

As a teenager, I always viewed the sari with a mixture of disquiet and longing. Longing, because of course it's a beautiful garment, and disquiet because it seemed unnecessarily complicated to wear and even more difficult to manage. Now as a grown woman, I can confirm that my disquiet was quite justified.

Yes, I can drape a sari but it is still the most uncomfortable outfit I have ever worn. And given a choice, I would probably never wear it. But you know what, Mr. Sabyasachi, I don't have an option. Like many other Indian woman, I am expected, nae, compelled to drape this tedious outfit on every festival, wedding, social function and even when older relatives come home. It is as though my modesty and virtue are concealed somewhere within the folds of the sari's pleats. And if I were to commit the blasphemy of wearing a salwar kameez (let's not even get into western wear), I would somehow be bringing shame on myself and the entire family.

Today, for me, the sari has become a symbol of oppression and subjugation. I am a modern Indian woman, born and brought up in Mumbai. But now I notice how in so many pockets of the city and beyond, women wear nothing but a sari. If you think that's because they are in love with this traditional Indian garment, I weep for your foolishness and naivete. Try and observe the envy with which they see girls skipping around in jeans, skirts and dresses. For them, these garments are as distant and unreachable as the shores of a foreign country.

Even in villages, you will see men strutting around in trousers and shirts. But no, married women must have their heads covered by a sari pallu. What gives society or any individual the right to dictate what another adult should wear? Perhaps men like you, who put mere clothing on a pedestal, even as that very item of clothing becomes a compulsion - inextricable from the role of a 'cultured' Indian woman.

Let me put it very frankly - a sari is inconvenient and uncomfortable. Yes, it is graceful and alluring. But maybe you should try spending a day and night in a sari before making the kind of judgmental, unfair statement that you did. How women cook and sleep in a sari day in and day out is beyond me. Even if it's made of cotton, a sari is just too much fabric to handle in the sweltering Indian weather. In your high society, women don saris for an hour or two during a party, and then go back to their comfy westerns. Not all women have that privilege.

Words like 'heritage' and 'culture' don't sound good coming from a privileged man who never has to put up with the dark and repressive side of Indian culture. Even today, women are expected not to speak up, to not cosy up to their husbands in public, to be demure, religious, great cooks, housekeepers and care-givers. Any other talent is immaterial and inconsequential. Any inclination towards atheism or tomboyishness is to be nipped in the bud. Kyunki log kya kahenge?

Lastly, to learn how to wear or not to wear a sari, to do anything or not to do it, is a woman's choice. And we couldn't care less what you think of it. So please keep your entitled and insensitive comments to yourself.

P.S.: I notice in your apology that you wanted to "call out women who say the sari makes them look older". You know what? Many kinds of saris do make us look older. And being a woman, I hate it. In a typical middle-class Indian family, married women cannot don strappy blouses and show off their busts the way celebrities do. The kind of saris they drape and the way they have to drape them - it IS boring. And just because you owe your livelihood and your renown to saris, it doesn't let you walk away from this reality. My own mother dislikes wearing a sari. And no, she has never worn a western outfit in her life.

Why just saris, I'd say CULTURE is not all it's cracked up to be. Some things are best left behind. And old is NOT always gold.

Peace.