Saree love in the Netherlands

Rules like ‘fat girls shouldn’t wear light and starchy tangails just because it might makes them look even bigger’ are bullshit. Pick whatever YOU think is beautiful and my one styling/draping tip is not to follow any rulebook..

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Photos: Vincent Boyer (Say hi on instagram @vincetravelbook)

2014

Photos: Koel Banerjee’s family archives

From wrapping big gamchhas and shawls as sarees to mimic the older ladies of her Bengali household, to being a true connoisseur of handloom beauties, Koel Banerjee has come a long way in her saree journey.

We caught up with her on summer day in Netherlands for an adda about her love and celebration of the six yards as well as her thoughts on the various rules that people have around wearing sarees.

In between sumptuous food and endless giggles she said, “Born in a middle class joint family in Calcutta I have always seen all the female members of the family wearing only sarees, since my birth I have been literally surrounded by sarees”.

Her earliest memories include her Mother’s tomato colour organdy saree with spaced out small checkered fabric appliqué flowers on the body with very thin lace borders which she remembers vividly, a saree bought from New Market in Calcutta.

She said, “I used to love most of my mom’s sarees but this one in particular is engraved in my memory”.

Koel’s grandmother was endlessly entertained with both her grand daughters’ love for the six yards as well as playing dress-up in sarees and she bought them one kid sized saree each.

Her grandfather, a freelance photographer documented the saree shenanigans in the afternoons while the household was quiet during siesta, “I was his favourite muse and was about three or four and during my first saree photo session”.

As she left her idyllic childhood behind for studies and moved overseas it became harder and harder to continue with the saree love on a daily basis. But then Koel decided to to join the 100SareePact, a saree movement started by two friends who wanted to wear 100 sarees in 12 months and tell their saree stories.

Koel said, “Earlier I used to wear sarees for special occasions only, like birthdays/anniversaries/Durga Pujo, but ever since I started my 100SareePact journey last year and successfully reached the target in an year, it gave me immense motivation and strength to keep going. Geographical location, weather, profession, age, body type etc are all excuses we make up in our minds”.

She revels in wearing her saree loud and proud while globetrotting as one half of an expat couple, “I feel beautiful and feminine in a saree which usually doesn’t happen in any other attire. And also the fact that I am wearing my culture and tradition makes me feel proud too. Oh and not to miss that I love to be the ‘odd’ one out in a crowd…especially out of India”.

Her one buying tip to newbie saree enthusiasts is to go for handlooms to start with, “The most important piece of advice is to not let anyone else tell you what kind of sarees you should wear. Because you need to see and feel how a drape falls on your body rather than someone else tell you that”.

In her opinion, “Rules like ‘fat girl shouldn’t wear light and starchy tangails just because it might makes them look even bigger’ are bullshit. Pick whatever YOU think is beautiful and my one styling/draping tip is not to follow any rulebook. Just mix and match with any blouse/top/tees etc. with any colour you feel. Though I have never tried draping a saree without an in-skirt but I have seen a few who look stunning draped in a saree on jeans or trousers or dresses. So just be your own stylist”.

In these photos Koel is wearing a linen with different shades of thread in warp and weft which makes large checks of combination hues in the body with a lovely silver pallu and a thin silver border. She said, “I am crazy about silver zari and that is one reason i chose this saree”.

She says that her biggest saree wearing inspiration is her mother, “She (Koel’s Mother) has always looked so classy and elegant even in the simplest and inexpensive sarees. And even now at this old age she looks the best amongst the three of us (me and my sister) when we all wear sarees for any occasion”.

 

Get in touch with Koel via her instagram handle @k_babushka

 

Sarees: A link to the motherland

We all have black and white photos in our houses of our mothers, grandmothers, maashis and pishees in sarees that in equal measures intimidate and inspire us. For those of us in the diaspora these photos along with vintage sarees are a safe deposit box of family history, draping inspiration and a search for identity — a lifetime of gathering pleats and draping the pallu.

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Amrita’s mother (on the right) with her younger sister Nina both in saris though they would not have been past their early twenties

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Amrita’s mother with her as a baby – staring curiously at the camera while she smiles at her child with love
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Amrita’s mother (on the left) with her younger sister Sweta
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Amrita’s mother (on the extreme right) and her sisters-in-law on the roof of her ancestral home just after her parents’ marriage

This post is written by Amrita Dasvarma based in Byron Bay, Australia and the photos are a stunning repository of her family story taken by her camera enthusiast father Gouranga Dasvarma.

As a little girl growing up outside of the land of my birth, the sari to me was a mystical garment – yards and yards of cloth – silks, cottons or chiffons, block-printed or bordered with intricate zari work, which my mother, with a flick of her wrist and dexterous fingers, would drape around herself in a matter of minutes.   Not a button or zipper or safety-pin in sight, just pleats and folds and voila!

For my mother, saris were a coveted garment – she tells me stories of how at age 9 or 10, while other girls were running around in skirts and dresses, she would sneak saris out of her auntie’s wardrobe and put them on, racing to her friend’s house before getting caught.  And then by the age fifteen, saris became the school uniform.  

It boggles my mind even today how much she, my grandmother, and my aunties manage to do in a sari – from bending over a boti (an old-fashioned scythe shaped cutting knife used in traditional Bengali kitchens to chop vegetables) to running after an over-crowded bus on a Kolkata street to hop on as the driver slowed down (never to a complete stop,) to tending to the needs of family members, from toddlers to elderly in-laws.  

My mother for me is my most intimate link to the land of my birth – India.  She taught me how to wear my first sari, usually when dressing up for folk dance performances or one of Rabindranath Tagore’s dance dramas – Shyama, Chitrangadha, or for Saraswati Pujo or the week-long Durga Pujo.

I love looking at old black and white photos of my mother and her sisters in their saris – they stir in me a nostalgia for a time of glamour and femininity long gone.  And it saddens me that I am more comfortable in jeans and t-shirts than in my native sari.

The #100sarisin100days and #sareenotsorry movements flooding Instagram make me think – perhaps I could put on a sari now and then – why should I be intimidated to wear my heritage as countless women have done before me, as countless women still do?  Why should I only stick to special occasions – pujas, festivals, weddings, name ceremonies, dance performances, to pull out the saris I have been gifted?  And perhaps, over time, I too will be able to throw a sari on with the grace of my mother (and without the help of safety-pins?)

 

Shibori saree in the rice fields of Bali

To each of us in the diaspora scattered across the globe the saree is living symbol of our connection with our identities, linking us to millions of women in the past and the present. Today we feature an expat Indian, the lovely eShmruthi in her shibori saree frolicking in the spectacular rice fields of Bali …

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Photos by Kannan: Say hi on instagram @kapturesbyk or on facebook 

Smruthi’s recent saree experiments started from a sudden urge to connect back to her roots. Having been born and brought up in Tamil Nadu, she moved abroad for her masters like many of us.

A dreamer and seeker by heart, she has always found herself pondering over the intricacies of life. She says, “Sometimes, the questions for why life happens in a certain way will remain unanswered but I obsess over Steve Job’s words that looking back we will all be able to connect the dots”.

Unlike many though, Shmruthi’s last five years were spent hopping between several countries including France, Belgium, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan for studies and work. She continues, “My quench for adventure and travel was fueled and I discovered a new side of me through these experiences. And somewhere along the way, as I was creating a new identity I got terrified of losing my real identity. Sarees are now my reassurance and connection to my real self, the one who grew up seeing my mom don one every day to work”.

And thus started her saree journey with a resolve to wear a saree at least once a week. She says, “My goal was to get comfortable in wearing this integral piece of my culture and be confident in owning it. I started wearing my sarees in Singapore to work, dinner with friends and of course temples”.

But the one occurrence where she surprised even herself was, when she wore a saree during her vacation in Bali. “My two passions – travel and sarees, coming together was an incredible feeling. It didn’t hurt that the pictures came out so beautiful too 😉 I am now daring enough to do this in my future travels too,” she enthuses.

Her advice for all strong, independent women living outside India who have this ache in your heart whenever they think of home is: “Give the #sareepact a chance. You will be surprised how much it will make you content and close to home. Just as it does for me!”

Connect with her on Instagram @shmruthi