Saree Saat Samundar Paar (Saree across the Seven Seas)

While I was living and working in India, I used to drape a Saree to work almost every day … and then we moved to Canada 11 years ago. I landed in Vancouver with two suitcases, but so strong was my love for Sarees that I packed seven of those along with other things. I am happy to report that I have since added some more to my collection, from subsequent trips to India :)

The first few years in Vancouver were spent studying, working, settling down and building a life here. The Saree was an annual affair – Diwali or Karwa Chauth, and some years – not even that.

A few weeks ago, one of my high school friends started talking about Sarees, so there were a lot of pictures and stories on my Facebook feed. This made me nostalgic. I started going through old pictures of myself wearing Sarees and posted a few on Facebook, but it didn’t satisfy me. I needed something more and kept thinking about how I loved to drape a Saree every day, and yet years go by now without my even touching one.

One day, after returning home from work, I opened my closet and looked at the beauties (Sarees) that had been imprisoned in there for more than ten years. That was when the thought of draping a Saree to work twice a week during the warm summer months came to my mind. We live in Edmonton – winter here is about seven months long, with lots of snow and sub-zero temperatures. I would not like to subject my beautiful Sarees to twenty centimeters of snow, or to salt, sand and gravel.

The next step was to find blouses to wear with my Sarees. I will be the first to admit that I have not been very active in the last few years and have gained extra pounds, which means that I can’t fit into some of my blouses that were stitched years ago. A brilliant idea struck my mind just then – crop tops are in fashion right now. I would not wear a crop top with a skirt or pant, but it is perfect to wear as a blouse. Divine Intervention!!!

I checked a bunch of stores online and ordered a few crop tops from Zara, Hudson’s Bay Canada, and Sears Canada. The one that fit perfectly, and which I fell in love with instantly, had a blue base and white polka dots and was from Top Shop. I could imagine my first ensemble coming together gradually.

The weekend was spent with Saree to work thoughts in my head and repetitive question to the husband – is it ok to wear a Saree to work?

Monday, June 20th – I woke up late – of course! It was Monday morning – what was I thinking?

I picked out my Bomkai to go with the polka dots. My husband used to travel to Odisha for business when we were in India, and the Bomkai was a gift from one of those trips.

I would be lying if I said I was sure of myself. I wasn’t! There was a lot of nervous energy even while I was getting ready, considering the fact that the last time I draped a Saree was almost two years ago in October 2014. I was also worried about whether my employer would be OK with my being dressed in a Saree instead of formal business attire. I know a Saree is considered formal wear in India, but it falls under ethnic / traditional wear here in Canada. There were a lot of questions in my head. Would people stare at me in the bus or while waiting for the bus, since I take public transport to work. Would people make fun of me? Would I be OK in a Saree for the whole working day, as I was not used to wearing one for so long any more?

There had been two instances earlier when I had dressed up in a Saree for work initially but then changed into a dress as my courage had failed me. This time I said to myself “Just do it! It is not the end of the world, only a different dressing style.” 

I am happy to say that all those negative thoughts were pointless. I have received compliments every day I have worn/draped a Saree – from strangers in the bus, from friends, from acquaintances, from co-workers, and even from people who work in the same building as me but with whom I have never spoken before. Some co-workers even asked if I could help them drape a Saree one of these days.

I am thankful that I work in an inclusive organization that respects and values its employees, and is accepting of non-mainstream cultures and traditions.

In my urge to do something different, I did some research looking for platforms, groups and hashtags for Saree lovers outside the Indian sub-continent, but did not find anything. Hence, I created:

This is for all people who do not live in the Indian sub-continent, but still love and drape their Sarees with pride. Please send me your pictures with a little story, and I will post it on Facebook. Let’s spread some Saree love :)

As I have looked through my collection and draped my Sarees over the last few weeks, I have realized that there is something special about each and every Saree – it could be its weave or style, or its fabric, or its having been a gift from someone or even a special occasion when I acquired it. I love draping cotton and silk Sarees – they might need extra work to maintain, but when it comes to comfort – I love them. In my personal experience, a chiffon, georgette, crepe, or satin Saree might look more flattering on me but it is not very easy to carry through the work day. I admire women who can carry georgettes and chiffons all day without a single complaint.

Another thing I have felt in the past few days is that draping a Saree is like writing code – either you get it right the first time or you don’t. It is pointless to try and fix the pleats, just like it often doesn’t help trying to fix the bug in the code. The best option is to start from scratch again.

This twice-a-week Saree ritual has been fun so far:

The first one below is a Bomkai (handloom Saree) that my husband bought for me from Priyadarshini. It is a weaver’s organization that works directly with small-scale weavers at the grassroots and helps remove the middlemen.

 

Bomkai from Priyadarshini in Odisha
Bomkai from Priyadarshini in Odisha

The next one is a georgette Saree with Zari work that was a wedding gift from my father’s co-workers, all the way from Lucknow. I teamed it up with a tank top that my sister got for me from Fab India.

The Saree that I draped next is a very simple machine printed silk Saree that was bought for less than Rs 500 in the year 2001. This one is special because this is the first Saree that I bought while going through the MBA Program at IRMA in Anand. The blouse again is a tank top – one that my mother bought for me in Palampur. Apart from draping Sarees, I am enjoying being resourceful and paying attention to other items of clothing that have been neglected for some years.

Mix and match fun!!
Mix and match fun!!

The week of June 27th was a short week with the Canada Day holiday on Friday, July 1st. A friend was planning to surprise her husband with a birthday party on the weekend. In a normal scenario, I would have worn a dress, and that was the plan till I got out of the shower. One friend messaged in to tell me that she wore a Saree to a party that Friday just for me. The friend hosting the surprise party also messaged that her mum was wearing a Saree, and that was when I also decided to wear one. I had to work my way backwards to find an actual / traditional blouse that still fit me, and then match it with a Saree. We had to pick the food from the catering restaurant, get to the venue and set everything up before the birthday boy arrived. I knew the timing was tight but I was a woman obsessed with thoughts of a Saree. I teamed up a pastel color Saree with a bright color blouse. This is a silk Saree from Bangladesh that had been lying brand new in my closet for eleven years. My mother-in-law bought this for me from an exhibition at Aga Khan Hall in Delhi.

With my one and only, who makes it all possible!!
With my one and only, who makes it all possible!!

I have funny memories associated with the next Saree. It is a handloom Saree in cotton that I had bought in Mumbai many years ago. I was working with NDDB in their Regional Office in Mumbai at that time. This office is by the Western Express Highway, right next to Mahananda Dairy and opposite the Bombay Convention and Exhibition Centre. In my head, opposite means across the road, but this was a mighty busy road as it was an express highway with heavy traffic. My mum was visiting me for a few weeks at the time, when one day we noticed a sign board for an ongoing exhibition. What happened next was that two girls got very excited about the Sarees, but were scared to cross the highway. We got into an autorickshaw to get to the other side – a 200 meter distance was covered in a 2 km loop – but that was fine – safety is paramount! The collection displayed in the exhibition was very good, and we bought a bunch of Sarees including this one :)

Handloom Cotton Saree
Handloom Cotton Saree

This one is another favorite from my MBA school days. We were doing a Management Training with MYRADA, a non-profit organization that works with PLAN International. We spent one month each in two of their vocational training centres – at Hosur and HD Kote, working with the staff and women’s self-help groups. I can’t remember clearly what city I bought this Saree at, but I do remember that I fell in love with the border and the color combination. It is a South Cotton Silk Saree and is handwoven. The Saree and the border are woven separately and later interlocked to obtain a temple design. I wasn’t happy that the drape didn’t come out tidy. Oh well! Better luck next time :)

Mustard and Red!!
Mustard and Red!!

There was a surprise baby shower to go to. As I mentioned earlier, in a normal scenario, I would have worn a dress, or maybe a Kurta ... but a Saree, no! Well, life is funny and we do strange things. I went for a Saree and tried to convince a few other girls in the group to do the same, and two of them agreed. This one is a Phulkari Saree, and I paired it with a crop top from Forever 21. My sister knew that I love Phulkari, and she got this for me from her trip to Amritsar. Actually, I am lying ... she got this pink Saree for herself and a green one for me. I liked the pink one more and my mum convinced my sister to let me have the pink one. Aren’t I lucky? To have such a generous mother and sisters :)

Hot Pink Phulkari Saree
Hot Pink Phulkari Saree

This Chanderi Silk Saree is my mum’s. When I sent her the pictures on Monday July 11th, she said she was unaware that I had this Saree with me in Canada. I said “Mum, wait and watch the show. You will get to see a few more of yours that you thought were in India.” The blouse for this one is a crop top from Forever 21, with elephants printed on it.

For the Love of Saree :)
For the Love of Saree :)

The Saree I wore on July 13th is in Satin Silk or a similar fabric – it looks very flattering but doesn’t stay in place like a cotton or silk Saree would. Mum and I bought this one at the exhibition in Mumbai, all those years ago. Unlike the black cotton one from Jul 4th above, this Saree was still brand new, and I draped it for the first time on July 13th. Any guesses for the blouse – Forever 21, where else? When I was done draping the Saree, I felt that the pleats were falling a little longer than usual, so it would be better to wear heels. My husband often says to me that “You like living on the edge”, and I kind of agree. Instead of wearing my normal heels, I picked up a pair that was bought in India many years ago and hadn’t been worn for many years since. It felt a little weird but I thought, “Maybe, it is just the style”. He locked the house and started walking / running towards the bus stop. As I walked, I felt that something was not right. Looking at my feet and back at the short distance I had walked – realized that the sandals were falling apart, having lost multiple small pieces. I called him and we went back into the house so I could change into my usual footwear, and of course we missed the bus and had to wait twenty minutes for the next one. If it is easy, I don’t like it!

Black rocks :)
Black rocks :)

I will do an update post after a few weeks, till then thanks for reading :)

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