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Wednesday, May 22
The Indiana Daily Student

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The stress of a sari

HYDERABAD, India - I’ve never found it so difficult to dress myself in the morning than on the days I’ve worn a sari.

Sometimes I wonder if it’s patriarchy at its finest that keeps women putting on these very beautiful but very complex dresses. It certainly takes away free time.

The six meters of fabric have to be wrapped, folded and fanned in specific ways; pinned and tucked into a petticoat; and finally tossed over the shoulder of a bra-like blouse that resembles something like a genie’s belly shirt.

No wonder people think women take a long time to get dressed. Thankfully, the final result looks fabulous.

Despite the sari’s obvious aesthetic appeal, I have to wonder why women wear such a complex, restricting dress every day. While many urban young people wear a simpler salwar kameze, women over 40 from all walks of life can be seen wearing a sari daily.

The doctors wear saris; the people in slums wear saris; women working construction wear saris; brides wear wedding saris.

It’s almost a cultural uniform.

But it’s the uniformity that is disconcerting. One of my professors was talking about saris and how, originally, every region of India had a different way of wrapping a sari.

There was no uniformity in style that can be seen in the wrapped, fanned, rewrapped, over-the-shoulder protocol of the present. The only rule was that the sari fabric was not to be cut. In this way, wearing a sari was diverse, if widespread.

Additionally, women did not have to wear blouses. Still, in some villages there are women who do not wear the sari blouse, either out of habit or tradition or personal comfort. I can understand this; most of the time I don’t want to wear the blouse either.

But still, something changed. During the time of colonialism, the British largely looked down on the blouseless sari as being clothing for women with loose morals. This was a problem for Indian women because nearly everyone wore saris.

This was also a problem for the British because they felt inclined to bring missionaries and moral structures that were often not culturally sensitive or understanding. Regardless, the sari blouse was soon introduced, and some women stopped wearing saris.

However, around the time of independence, people moved away from enforced British thought in search of ideas that were intrinsically Indian. This forged a single national identity out of several regions that were previously removed from one another in style, dress, language and climate, among other things.

At this time, the sari was reclaimed as being the clothing of the noble Indian woman, and the way to wrap a sari became uniform throughout India.  

As a result, now literally everyone and her mother wears a sari, excluding men of course. And while I don’t understand how they do it every day, there certainly is aesthetic appeal in this complex, colorful cultural uniform.

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