Thursday, February 4, 2010

Sari struggles

I've always thought I would like to try wearing sari but the problem was finding the right occasion. However, I've been invited to a rather flash wedding in Bhubaneswar - so I'm on a roll. Hand-woven saris from Orissa are famous across India particularly Sambalpuri (a type of ikat weave) and Bomkai (that includes intricate embroidery) and after visiting numerous Orissa stalls at a textile fair, I eventually plumped for a dark red and gold Bomkai one. An essential part of the sari is the blouse (choli) that sits underneath it and you have this hand-made for you from a piece of fabric included with the sari you've bought. Unfortunately, the local tailor had a month-long waiting list and it took a lot of pleading using every word I know in Oriya before he agreed to make an exception for me and do it in five days. The major problem, however, was how on earth you put the thing on. Lesson 1: Dillip offered the services of his wife as a personal tutor. She speaks about as much English as I do Oriya but fortunately she turned out to be a really patient teacher. First she put one on herself – it took about 30 seconds. Next she put one on me – 45 seconds. I was then invited to try myself. Disaster! A sari is about 6 metres long and it's all too easy to get lost in amongst all that fabric – quite literally! To begin with you wrap it once around your waist and tuck it into the underskirt (saya). You then abandon yards of cloth on the floor and concentrate on the other end where you take over half your height in length and fold it into 3 or 4 even folds – try doing that with a metre wide strip of fabric that you're already half wearing. You then throw this over your shoulder to form the palu that trails down your back. Oh - and I forget this every time – you need to loosely wrap the sari round yourself again before you start folding or you have to abandon your carefully-crafted pleats and start again. You then tighten the loosely wrapped bit across you chest and under your arm before returning to the previously abandoned fabric. You fold this into 7 to 10 even pleats (depending on how fat you are) and tuck them into the saya and "hela" as you say in Oriya. Confused? I certainly was. After several attempts I thought I might have cracked it but practicing on my own left me randomly enveloped in fabric and looking more like a sack of potatoes than the elegant effigy I was hoping for. Lesson 2: Geeta offered her services but she tied it in a completely different way to Dillip's wife and brought the pleated palu from the back to the front rather than the front to the back. As I was discovering, there's more than one way to skin a cat. Lesson 3: Back chez-Dillip, I had another lesson this time with my own new sari when I was informed that it's always much easier – particularly with heavy saris such as mine - to rope in a friend to help with those pleats. Sarah, who's also coming to the wedding, doesn't know it yet but both my modesty and my glamour depend on her ability to fold yards of material into perfectly even folds. Roll on Saturday.  To see more pictures click here.

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