Stories woven in sarees
The woman walking in is no doubt beautiful, but it is the saree she dons that catches our attention. It is a golden linen saree paired with a beautiful monochrome blouse matched with a Jaipuri bead and crystal chain. A smiling Jaseena Backer, a psychologist, could as well be modelling — so perfect is the entire look, but she is here to ‘spin a yarn’ about her love for the saree and how that love translated to a Facebook page — Saree in Style that started off with a few members, but soon caught the imagination of Urban Indian women across the globe. There are members from various climes, regions and religions and what links them is their fascination with the six yards. For every member in the group the saree turns into a six or nine yard medium to tell a story, share a memory, remember a nostalgic event or even be a treasured heirloom handed down over centuries. The group also engages in a lot of activities like a desert safari and performing Zumba, in sarees.
Jaseena and her co-administrator Beema Benazir, a lawyer, have 5,800 members in the group, but the duo is inundated with member requests. They add members only after careful scrutiny. “We want the members to give some knowledge about the sarees they don and we absolutely do not appreciate any sales in this group though we have designers amongst us.”
To Jaseena, the saree is not just a length of unstitched cloth and she explains her fascination for Indian wear, “Most women say donning a saree is uncomfortable and that it is cumbersome to find a matching blouse and then hunt for accessories. But who says one has to stitch a blouse? A t –shirt, a crop top or a regular top can all be converted to a blouse and you can wear a saree in whatever style you want!”
For those women who say it is a challenge to walk wearing a saree, Jaseena set a personal example recently along with 23 others in the group by walking in the sand dunes of Dubai in a saree. “Most of us are working professionals, but all took time out to meet at the dunes. We even had a 70-year-old mother of one of our members joining us at the dunes. I can say with great pride that not one pleat was out of place nor did any saree come undone. Some of us wore shoes and some sandals as per our comfort and what I want to stress is that comfort is in the mind. When I hear someone say ‘I cannot hold a saree’, I feel there is some immaturity in that statement because a carefully pinned saree will not come off.”
The group did not stop at walking the dunes; they went a step further by performing the Zumba in sarees in Kochi. Jaseena says that most of the members who came did not know Zumba. So there were instructors in place. Interestingly, Jaseena had called a couple of her friends who knew Zumba to take part, but they demurred saying they did not want to perform in saree. “Ultimately our members who turned up performed the dance routine to Bollywood music for two hours and effortlessly, I should add. The members wore whatever suited them beneath the saree like I wore jeans. What I want to prove is that the saree is not a restriction for any dance form. We had 10 members flying down from Dubai, two from Ooty, one from Bengaluru and others from various districts in Kerala.” The group has also conducted ramp walks in sarees with a Breaking a Myth round that had any member wanting to walk the ramp doing so. There was a homemaker who took to the ramp for the first time and another one who was bed-ridden for two years and had recovered. Beema and Jaseena’s mothers too walked the ramp as did the maids of one member and two transgenders.
Jaseena wants to get across the message that a saree need not be branded as a traditional wear and be locked up in the cupboard. She says, “Beema is a lawyer in the Middle East and she wears a saree to her Arab office after getting special permission.” Jaseeena says sharing pictures of rare sarees on Facebook is one way to encourage weavers. A Pledge a Saree campaign was also created in which members bought 80 sarees which were donated to the less-fortunate.