My first foray in the art of sari wearing happened last January on the occasion of Republic Day. As the school manager himself – we were still on talking terms in those early days – commissioned the purchase of two saris for me, I could hardly refuse. I grudgingly agreed to turn up on the day swaddled in yards and yards of clingy teal synthetic cloth around the bottom half of my body, whilst I feared exposing my white fleshy mid riff. On the upside, at least clad in the teachers’ uniform, I would not stand out quite so much when the parents would arrive to watch their children’s performances to mark the ‘auspicious day’.
Taking me under her wing, Malayalam teacher supervised buying the necessary underskirt and as she was handy with thread and needle, she saw to the sewing of the blouse. After casting a mere appraising eye over my body, she dispensed with measurements and, indeed, turned up the next day with the sari blouse ready for fitting. I let slip a sigh of relief, at least I was not yet presented with the finished product. Malayalam teacher applied a few nips and tucks, made adjustments in the appropriate places and another day later, a properly tailored blouse arrived. Properly tailored of some sort… The blouse would only fasten after squeezing all air out of my lungs and tight sleeves threatened to cut off the blood supply to my lower arms. And clearly, Malayalam teacher had overestimated what would fill the pointy boob cavities she had provided. Why would anyone make those ‘cups’ pointy? I studied my boobs carefully and could not see the point!! So on that occasion, I resorted to a well padded bra that just about let me stretch the blouse enough to pull the fasteners together. It seemed to do the trick and to be honest, by the time all the layers of fabric and the pallu (the bit that hangs aimlessly at the back) had been adjusted, the front of the blouse was well and truly out of sight.
Although I felt I had done my bit in the sari wearing department, the discovery of a ten-year old sari tucked away at the back of an under-the-bed drawer during my clear-out of the house in May, opened up new possibilities. Bought on our family trip to India in 2003, the sari had been destined for cushion covers, or maybe a bed spread… Either the deep burgundy red had looked less appealing at home or at odds with the prevailing bluish shades in the decor, than on my body in the Indian sari shop under the watchful eye of a persuasive shop assistant. as it got mothballed and forgotten about. To be quite honest, I believed it had long since been disposed of. Excited by the prospect of finally wearing this sari if the right occasion arose, I packed it in my already bulging suitcases and took it with me to India. The only things left to negotiate were the making of the blouse and draping the fabric in the required fashion around my waist and top.
After my ‘churidar’ tailor refused to tackle the blouse stitching first on account of ‘being too busy because of Onam’ and a few weeks later on account of ‘not being in the business of making sari blouses’, I was a little stuck. I did not want another blouse with pointy bits at the front… I scouted the school for a suitable seamstress. As most Indian women can wield needle and thread, I approached New Maths Teacher, who in her maiden state had more time to do the necessary needlework than her married counterparts. So what if she did not feel the need to take my measurements?? I gave her my one and only blouse as a perfectly fitting sample which had turned out well, although I explained I preferred the blouse to follow the natural contours of my upper body.
Two weeks passed and the long awaited blouse appeared. I was itching to have the fitting as this time I selected a sleeveless blouse model. A bit on the risqué side for Kerala, but being white and Western, I would probably get away with it. Unfortunately, the fitting stage did not materialise, as New Maths Teacher presented me with the finished product, which did not fit at all… It nicely followed the contours of my upper body, but lacked room for my arms and neck… I groaned and reluctantly bought some matching fabric to have the blouse made somewhere else. I remembered A (the teacher who lived with me for a few months) talking about a little tailor shop she had used to make her sari blouse just before she left, so I ventured out with lots of hope. Taking the disastrous blouse effort as a sample of the style I was looking for, I felt sure of success. Could they please take measurements and only use the ill-fitting blouse as an example of the model I was looking for. Measurements duly noted, I left and felt at peace in the belief that surely this time using the expertise of a ‘professional’ tailor, my blouse was in good hands. I returned two days later to another blouse that would not stretch around my rib cage and sleeveless holes big enough for two people… Another sigh escaped my tight lips, how could it be so difficult to get this right??
For a while I gave up on the sari wearing, defeated and deflated by the numerous attempts to get a blouse made. Maybe it was not meant to happen… And then I got invited to Art Sir’s wedding and there it was, the perfect opportunity to show off my best frock, if only I could get a blouse made. Drastic measures were needed. I bought a matching fabric – the original part of the sari had shrunk dramatically in all the efforts to produce a wearable blouse – and thought that black would do the trick. Taking no chances, I bought enough fabric to fashion two blouses: one with and one without sleeves… I did not venture into the tailor’s with a sample blouse but insisted on being properly measured this time and indeed, three days later the blouses were waiting for me.
Best to try them on before paying, I thought. I was ushered into a back room to avoid the gaze of nosy passers-by as the shop looked out onto the road. But I had the benefit of the input of ‘Woman with Mask’ who peered at my attempts through the caked and creamed up layers of her ‘facial’ . She spoke good English which was a bonus. Watching me pulling the blouses into place and squeezing every breath from my lungs to be able to close the blouse fasteners, she nodded approvingly. ‘And the pointy ends over my boobs, surely this was totally wrong,’ I argued. ‘No, no,’ she explained, ‘you are wearing a churidar bra, not a sari bra! With the right bra, the blouse will fit perfectly!” A sari bra??? Why had no one else mentioned this before… I have since consulted the internet and googled ‘sari bra’, unfortunately so far the internet has remained stubbornly silent on the subject… There is no evidence of such a garment as a sari bra… So I will just resort to extra padding and hope that the sari itself will cover any unsightly bit of the blouse.
So I proudly wore the sari for Art Sir’s wedding, after two teachers spent the best part of half an hour dressing me using copious pins to hold the fabric in place. I managed to stumble up two flights of stairs constantly treading on the superfluous material at the front and held the whole thing together just long enough to see the wedding through… By then the heavy silk had started slipping downwards, exposing more and more of my white mid riff. So I went home, on the bus, and got changed into the more practical churidar… The effort involved in wearing a sari for longer than an hour or two was too much for me. Saris are definitely nice for special occasions, but day to day??? Not for me!!