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Hindi film actor Ayushmann Khurrana appeared publicly online in the famous Indian drape. (Photo: twitter@ayushmannk)
Hindi film actor Ayushmann Khurrana appeared publicly online in the famous Indian drape. (Photo: twitter@ayushmannk)

Opinion | The saree has got women as well as men all wrapped up

Millennials have apparently taken to the #SareeTwitter trend with great selfie confidence

Adva Vilchinski tweeted about it on Wednesday, her last day in the country as an Israeli diplomat. So did Sharmistha Mukherjee, president of Delhi Mahila Congress, who happens to be the daughter of former President Pranab Mukherjee. “#SareeTwitter" has been trending online for a week now, and the enthusiasm does not seem to be flagging. Initially, it seemed like another Valentine’s Day or Father’s Day. This day or that, these online things come and go. However, as I lived past more sunsets and sunrises, I began to realize that this wasn’t just another fad. Women were voluntarily posting pictures of themselves on the social media platform in that age-old exemplar of traditional Indian attire called the “saree".

Now it appears, Indians of all sartorial tastes have jumped into it, be it women from various walks of life, or men from Mars who’re not quite from another planet—they’re not just posing with their spouse or girlfriend, but actually posing in sarees themselves. Hindi film actor Ayushmann Khurrana is one of them, happy to appear publicly online in the famous Indian drape that defies size specifications but whose length is measured in yards, a unit many of us associate with cricket. But then, maybe this is not entirely inappropriate, since a saree can be even tougher to negotiate than a Jasprit Bumrah delivery on a seaming pitch. It is probably the only sort of clothing that requires a tutor (a mother, typically) to help wear it, often needing more than one practice session.

Bengaluru-based Anju Maudgal Kadam, founder and “chief nurturer" of the “100sareepact", whose members pledge to wear the sarees in their wardrobe at least twice a week, finds that this campaign has changed her life. “We meet, we support each other in every way we can. Lasting friendships have come from this," she says.

Even the All India Mahila Congress has tweeted its support for the saree wave, posting pictures of the late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and her granddaughter Priyanka Gandhi Vadra hurdling over barricades in that long piece of cloth.

One woman even corrected a foreigner happily posing in one, saying she was wrong in her belief that she was wearing Odisha’s Berhampuri saree; and that its origin lay elsewhere. In less amiable circumstances, the 6-yard “one size fits all" length of cloth that we see worn day in and day out can kick up a controversy—especially in a country where one is never too far anyway.

The venerable The New York Times was well roasted when it published an article in November 2017 linking an observed rise in saree wearing to Indian politics and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “Hindu nationalism". But why would anyone bother about an opinion in that newspaper? Sartorial commentary is best done domestically. Film actor Priyanka Chopra recently found herself under criticism from both sides of the gender divide for posing in a saree that allegedly looked like anything but one. She also faced social media flak once for appearing in a Western dress with Modi. Among Delhi’s twitterati, meanwhile, the troubles of Tiranga TV seemed to have got briefly overshadowed by Barkha Dutt posting a #SareeTwitter picture of her own.

Everyone isn’t an enthusiast. My wife tells me it takes too long to wear and is too much to handle. Before I could decipher what that means, another tweet asked, “Why isn’t wearing saree a sport yet?" I kept shut, unwilling to offer my wife any help. I prefer being a silent admirer of the saree, wondering at the number of ways something that needs at least two other reinforcements (a petticoat and what’s called a “fall") can be worn.

I am told that getting the right “fall"—which I thought was a strip of cloth stitched onto the lower border —is important each time a saree is worn. This is another “fall", it transpires, a literal fall of the drape that always needs to be elegant.

Elegance makes it a fashion statement. Says Nupur Dayal, a graduate of the government-run National Institute of Fashion Technology, and a fashion designer, “The saree is not only feminine, it is also the only stylish ensemble, pragmatic and graceful to sensuous, powerful and cultural symbol."

The saree has gone chic. It wasn’t always, though, no matter how hard film directors Shekhar Kapur and Yash Chopra tried stirring up the mystique of chiffons on the late actor Sridevi in Mr. India and Chandni, respectively. It takes millennials to make it contemporary, and they are doing it. Farewells and annual days, those solemn occasions for one-time classmates to turn up in sarees, are not the only occasions now. It takes no occasion at all to wear one. Its comfort and grace are enough. Or, maybe, it’s a rebellion, a kind of reverse rebellion.

Is it also to do with new India: the freedom and will to do as I want, when I want? Is it an expression of a new feminism? It could simply be a celebration of womanhood, a modern kind whose stamp is now visible on the wrestling mat, on the gymnastics floor, and in outer space. Whatever it is, millennials are taking to this trend with great selfie-confidence.

But what do I do with Red Chillies Entertainment asking me to “share your favourite saree look with us"? No, I shall not give in and do an Ayushmann Khurrana. In any case, I have refrained from “liking" any #SareeTwitter tweet—because, as an Amul advertisement said, “Saree duniya dekh rahi hai" (the whole world is watching).

Dhirendra Tripathi is senior editor at Mint

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