I’ve been waiting all winter for the hot, sunny days to return because that’s what feels most natural to me. It may have something to do with the fact that I can breathe better in warm weather, can swim (which always keeps my mind & body healthy) and don’t have to struggle with fabric allergies along with usual food and respiratory allergies. It’s COTTON SEASON again!
The saree is a Bengal cotton handloom, of the kind of delicate lightness only that state knows how to craft. I thought it deserved the traditional drape as well. Accessorised with wooden earrings & bangles. I hope I can also borrow the badass attitude from my Bong sisters.
About 10 days ago, I returned to the site of an early trauma. I was doing this because I thought it was the only way to reconstruct my narrative (in simple words, create a new habit of how I responded to attack). It was an unnerving experience, with bullying, ganging up and slut-shaming (for my saree-wearing). But this time I was able to discern how it came from people’s limited ways to express themselves & relate to each other. I was able to walk away rather than internalise the hate piled on me as I used to, when these people last knew me.
That doesn’t mean the burns didn’t sting for awhile. Over a week later, I found myself thinking more than I have in recent times about whether I should wear a saree or not, considering the level of hate it attracted in that week. I finally went ahead with it, albeit very nervously, my delay making me late for the writers’ event I went to, with Ms.Shanta Gokhale.
I’m glad I did, anyway because it was a reminder of where I find my true tribe, my identity and my home. It’s with other people who love words and stories. It’s other women who persist in the face of gendered aggression, but in steady, non-combative ways. And it’s with people whose lives are filled with purpose, rather than self-loathing and misplaced hatred (which is what all bullying is).
This is what I wore. Mom called it ‘a freedom fighter look’ which made me . Later in the evening, a reader commented “Aren’t you one though? You are always ready to fight for our rights as humans.” Another person in an unrelated conversation on the same day, called me one of the most empathetic people on Twitter. Both of them were balm for my emotional bruises and they helped me articulate why I like sarees. It’s because the saree expresses the feminine and the individualistic with strength and without aggression. It feels right so it sits right.
#IWear: South cotton ikat saree with a cotton peasant blouse & obi belt. The necklace is a 25 year old minakari set that wasn’t very expensive even back then.
We glorify anger. We present and consume revenge sagas, hate politics. This is an easy narrative because feeling hard done by is a universal experience and few other things incite people to react as blindly. We justify rage reactions, arguing for the right to be furious and citing catchphrases like ‘tone policing’ and ‘right to expression’. We dramatize and applaud wrath.
We even turn emotionally shut off, violent, abusive people into role models for masculinity and how the ideal human being at the top should be. Behaving the way your oppressors have behaved with you only makes you part of the problem. Yet, we prize anger like it’s a value.
First, there is dealing with your own anger in a healthy, constructive way rather than allowing it to make you a ravening monster. And then there is navigating a world that prizes wrath.
You can’t avoid angry people or situations that make others and you angry. But you can remember that anger is always, ultimately poisonous. And choose, keep choosing not to consume it. When you do, spit it out like any other rotten thing you may have eaten, sneeze it out like that fiery bit of chilli you breathed. Cry a little, wipe your tears and breathe afresh again. You can own your anger.
What about the anger of others? You do not have to be defined or cowed by other people’s wrath stories. Hold your precious self above the world’s reactions. Protect your hard-earned peace of mind, body and spirit from from those who have not yet learnt how to do that for themselves.
There are people who will treat you badly, because they think they’re owed a revenge opportunity against the world. It is not your job to educate them. It is not your place to deny them their life lessons. But it is your job to get out of their way. Maybe that is your life lesson.
Have you been hurt badly? Betrayed? Fooled? Discriminated against? Violated? Injured? Destroyed, ruined, shattered? So have I. So has every human being on the planet. This doesn’t nullify your pain or mine. It doesn’t make it bigger or worse or more worthy of attention, consideration, empathy, respect. It doesn’t make it easier because contrary to popular belief, misery does not love company. But how you respond to it, is up to you.
If you choose vindication, you let the person who hurt you, be a continued part of your life. If you think revenge, you add to the pettiness, the fear and hate that no doubt, drives the person who violated you. If you hate because of this, you make this hurt your identity rather than one of the many things that happened to you.
And if you lash out and attack those around you, you add to the weight of injustice in the world, except now you are also a perpetrator. You live in this world. This is your home. And you’ve just added to the garbage that someone else dumped in your living room. Who lives with the stink?
I’m not saying ignore your hurt. No, acknowledge it. Give it the respect that profound emotions deserve. Don’t be in a hurry to convert it into bitterness, rage or cynicism. Wars came from hurt but poetry also came from hurt. You get to decide what you want to create with the stone you’ve been given – a weapon or a statue.
Courage/strength are not appendages one is born with. They’re active, conscious, minute-to-minute choices. Not to treat the people who’ve hurt you in the same way. Solutions over one-upmanship. Healing over revenge. Growth over gossip. Being yourself over being toxic. Choosing constantly. It’s tiring too.
The high road is a choice one makes for oneself, regardless of circumstance, background, gender, caste, class, age or any of the things we hide behind. No one else can rescue you or carry you up that road. You don’t do it for moral brownie points. You do it for yourself. Walk the high road because that is the path that YOU deserve to walk on.
I was fascinated by the saree as a child. Unfettered by stitches, lacking the artifice of buttons, a saree was freedom.
I’ve struggled with gender boxes my whole life. Every damn thing, a fucking war. Short hair. Tattoos. Red clothes. Short clothes. Boots, not sandals. Science projects. Marketing jobs. An analytical mind. Single status. Silver, not gold. Diamonds I paid for. Sci-fi. A love of graphic novels. English poetry. Silent performance. A business. A band. A breakup. A failed engagement. Boundaries. These became my trophies.
Warriors don’t wear shyness, they wear war paint. I RAGE, oh how I rage. I rage with the eloquence of Alanis Morissette. I rage in the shriek of Gwen Stefani. I rage with the mellow harshness of Tracy Chapman. I rage in all the ways of women who refuse to be pretty.
But sarees, these speak of modesty, of tradition, of maternal memories, none of which identify me. I’ve struggled to find my self in a saree. Should a love of this garment mean I trade in my warrior card? Must I pay for the respect accorded to a saree with my right to rage?
How do I not lose the essential me in the drapes? How do I keep a palluv from stifling my scream? How can my inner supernova burn through the folds? How do I keep my steel from drowning in cotton? Always a war. I found my saree self in the bitter eloquent long locks of Alanis Morissette, the dark chocolate wrath of Tracy Chapman and Gwen Stefani saying don’t speak in red lipstick.
My colours are clashing screams. My patterns are silent drama. My folds are parodies of shame. This is who I am, in a saree, in a dress, on stage, on screen, on a page, in relationships, in my sleep. It looks like in the next second, I’m going to turn & run sat you so you want to get out of the way real quick. You won’t want to be caught in the fire gaze of those eyes. Someone called this a superhero pose. I’ll name it Angry Girl of the Indie Rock Persuasion. I wear the label, it doesn’t wear me.
Today I didn’t feel cool, collected or in control. I left home less put together than usual (hair still wet, no lipstick). I impulsively changed my Saturday plans. I stumbled into things, upturned a glass of water into my plate, dropped my phone, pulled a chair onto my saree and bumped into people. It prompted my friend @shaunwilliamsi to remark that he’d never seen me this clumsy before.
I gawped at beautiful women wondering if they were judging me or laughing at me. I froze with a stiff smile at a acquaintance who had never spoken to me before, hugged me and asked me to dance.
My wise @deveshm told me to just let go and enjoy being the teenager that I never was. I remember why I never was this – because I hated it. It’s hard, really hard to stand in that place of vulnerability, without the defenses of perfection or control. It’s terrifying and I’ve never stayed in it a second longer than I had to.
But the kind of strength that one projects with grace, with style, with articulation is just that – a projection. A performance. A mask. A wall. Real courage is to stand as your messy, uncontained self and face the world with it saying, “This is me. I have a place here too.” Today I was messy. Today I was brave. Today I was me.
Independence Day fell close to a weekend this year. And it was also a sunny, dry day in the middle of a wet August. I took the opportunity to pull out a garment that I added to my wardrobe on another Independence Day four years ago – the sari.
I won’t talk about all the merits of the sari and how it suits Indian weather and body structures. But I will say that it gets better and easier with practice. I’m almost entirely sari-normalised now in that I don’t consider it a special garment to be brought out only among fanfare and tripped around in awkwardly. I reach for a sari as easily as I reach for a pair of trousers or a favorite top. It does tend to reduce in the monsoon because of the filthy city I live in and the fact that I prefer cottons which don’t dry as easily.
But here’s the look that it only took me 20 minutes to get on, right before I went out on a family dinner for Independence Day!
Red and white cotton saree: Bengal cotton
Lace croptop: Lokhandwala market
Painted wooden earrings: Bangalore airport
* If you enjoyed this style post in video, check out the other I Wear posts and videos.
Mum bought me this gorgeous saree. It’s quite unlike the usual collection you’ll find hanging in my house. It’s silk but not a kanjeevaram or one of the classics. The pattern isn’t just geometric (which mum hates) but abstract as hell. And only when I draped it, did I realise it had added quirk by way of a different colour on either side of the pleat-bunch. Then I learnt from a friend’s comment on the Facebook picture that the pattern is inspired by artist Piet Mondrian’s style.
If you’ve been following my (admittedly sparse of late) style posts, you’ll already know that sarees with blouses-that-are-not are my signature. This one is a sheer, ribbed black top that mum got me a couple of years ago, that I haven’t worn since it looks a bit too tweeny-partygirl even for me. But with this saree, well, see for yourself…
Two of my friends got married this week. I attended a ceremony that lasted over 6 hours, included a pheras-around-fire ritual, several small in-family practices, a wedding dinner and reception. And this was actually an Indian Wedding Lite. I didn’t have much time to dress or even plan what I’d wear, considering it was a speed tracked wedding (7 days to organise, invite and conduct!). Also, it was in the middle of a weekday in oppressive, pre-monsoon June in Mumbai.
I went to my saree cupboard, of course. Sarees are my staple wedding wear. And the past year of saree experimentation have given me a mean confidence about a quick drape. I picked out an old favourite, my first ever Kanjeevaram saree, actually. I chose this one because its blue/green colour would be different from the traditional red/pink/purple hues that dominate Indian wedding guest attire. Also, with its stripy design and brown-gold border, it defies the kanjeevaram tradition of plain hues with gold buttis and border.
I’ve been struggling to find good blouse alternatives for sarees and the last year has been full of experimenting with tee-shirts, croptops and even a blazer once. But for a wedding, I wanted to go a little more traditional (convention having being defied adequately in choice of saree). I wore a chilli green readymade silk blouse that I found available under a brand called Ethnicity. The fit is good, the colours vibrant and the design, just the right blend of saucy and conventional.
And finally (or rather, primarily), the accessories. The jewellery would have to be gold or close (I went with minakari) to match the saree border. My regular steel strapped watch would clash with the gold/yellow/brown tones. My latest timepiece came in handy. I have a new Jord Woodwatch in an unusual Cherry wood shade. It went beautifully with my attire. The watch is entirely made of wood, including its strap so it didn’t conflict with the material/fabric ensemble either. Here’s how I looked:
Blue-green striped kanjeevaram saree: Nalli, Chennai
Chilli green silk readymade blouse: Ethinicity (available in InOrbit mall)
Minakari jewellery: Central Cottage Emporium, New Delhi
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