If you’re someone who wears saris on and off, you’ve almost certainly heard that question. And chances are, you’ve answered it quickly with a ‘good reason’, e.g., I’ve to attend a wedding. / There’s a puja in my cousin’s house. / It’s sari-day in office. / I have a lecture to deliver. / There’s a meeting with some (stuffy?) bigwigs. Or the latest legit one – for the #100sareepact. Some people, sometimes, say, “No particular reason. I just felt like wearing one. Just like that.” And get puzzled reactions.
You’ve also surely come across women (perhaps you are one of them yourself!) who make urgent pre-event enquiries among friends about who all will wear saris, in fact, if anyone is going to wear a sari or not, to ensure that they aren’t alone or in a minority as sari-wearers.
It would seem that the women of today are sweeping saris off to the sides of their wardrobes and their lives, lest people get the impression that they may actually wear them for pleasure, and be at ease in them. Things seem to have reached a point where a woman who chooses to wear a sari, and doesn’t declare it a chore to some degree, opens the door to suspicion as not very independent/not very modern.
Saris have become something of a symbol of the oppression of women, and true enough, they may impose certain limits on movement, and may be heavier to bear than some other garments. A few questions leap to mind: How many of us are engaging in the full range of motion even in non-sari attire? Don’t pencil skirts, stilettos, or tight tops restrict range of movement? Don’t many carry off (literally) heavy jackets, boots and leather garments without breaking a sweat?
The widely accepted explanation for the hesitation to wear saris is that they are not comfortable. At least not as much as tight jeans and synthetic tops on a hot day, or narrow high-heeled footwear, apparently. And draping them needs skill, and/or practice, hence the legitimacy of the excuse ‘I’m not used to them’. We undertake several learning activities, such as driving, which take a lot of ‘getting used to’ with attendant (ideally reducing) risks during the process. Sari-draping is unlikely to pose as many risks, or even need as much attention for as long.
We are fast becoming (if we haven’t already become) a society that curbs recourse to traditional ways for people with professions to progressive thinking. You are exercising choice if you wear skinny jeans, or hot pants, or palazzos, or kurtis, or spaghetti-strapped tops, or Pakistani-style parallel pants trimmed with lace, but not if you pick a sari and an un‘worked’ blouse to go with it.
The lives that women lead today call for multiple roles, skills, and naturally, a variety of outfits for a variety of activities. No single type of outfit could do for everything, even putting aside the certainty that the wearer and viewers alike would get bored out of their skulls with one type of outfit forever. So, a wide range of outfits it is, or should be. And that range could easily include saris, without any hesitation or apology.
Isn’t one of the greatest advantages of being an (unoppressed) Indian the easy access to the wealth of fabric and sartorial styles that the place has nurtured over the centuries? And isn’t the sari a star player in that wealth? Why not embrace that huge variety, try a few saris, ‘get used to it’, and evaluate them then rather than a priori based on received notions of comfort and choice?
Observers: Ditch the question ‘How come you’re in a sari?’, and replace it with remarks (if compliments) on the outfit or the wearer.
Sari-wearers: If you’re asked this question, either don’t bother to answer it, or inform the asker that you prefer it to going nude in public.