What women want

Published: Sep 01, 2019, 07:00 IST | Meenakshi Shedde

Lately, there has been a resurgence of interest in the saree. Take for instance, the Facebook group Saree Speak. Have you noticed how women absolutely flourish in spaces without men?

Guide

I once interviewed famous Chilean director Miguel Littín during the International Film Festival of India in Trivandrum, way back in 1997. Littín had a jam-packed retrospective of his films. Along with all the questions about his work, I asked him what appealed to him the most about India. "Oh, that would be the Indian saree," he exclaimed, describing it as "pure poetry. The women look so beautiful in it. It goes round and round, revealing as much as it conceals."

Lately, there has been a resurgence of interest in the saree. Take for instance, the Facebook group Saree Speak. Have you noticed how women absolutely flourish in spaces without men? With 115K members, it seemed to take women bonding over sarees to a whole new level. One of the women, posting some time ago, said something like, "My periods were over, I had washed my long hair and was feeling great. So, I put on this saree…" I was struck by the comfortable, private intimacy of a saree-wearer in a very public space. Another woman, a Christian I think, posted a video of herself in a traditional South Indian saree, playing Western classical music on the piano, while visiting relatives in the US. Lots of women post videos of themselves singing and pirouetting extravagantly while showing off their sarees at picturesque locations, then glow in the tsunami of 'likes' and 'loves.' Clearly, a lot of women are underappreciated, both housewives and career women. No wonder, people are not allowed to 'dislike' anyone or be rude on Saree Speak; only positive vibes, please.

Vini Tandon Keni, a saree aficionado based in Goa, started this Facebook group of saree lovers in April 2016. "As a graceful dress, the saree speaks for itself, and often serves as a perfect ice-breaker to start a comfortable conversation between two unknown women," says Keni. It now includes members globally, and they also have offline Saree Speak meets: about 250 members met in Goa last December. Visiting members were even offered home-stays by local members. In fact, the group has had around 30 meets globally, including in Hong Kong, Singapore, Sydney, Bangkok, Dubai, Doha, Abu Dhabi and Oman. These serve as a platform for members to make new friends, learn something and showcase their talent, such as singing and dancing. Saree Speak is on Instagram and Twitter too, with over 300 posts a day. The posts must be non-commercial: they are not allowed to mention the source of the saree. There are a number of saree-related Facebook groups, including Saree Speak, Global 100 Saris Pact (aiming to wear sarees 100 times in a year; "Do not add men"), #SixYardsAnd365Days, The Saree Soiree, 100sareepact (Venita Coelho recently wore her Amitabh Bachchan saree, that she had last worn over 15 years ago, when doing a narration to Amitabh Bachchan) and Kai Thari-Karigar (Kai Thari means handloom in Tamil). Most of these groups encourage women to wear sarees more often, support traditional weavers, and encourage the younger generation to drape sarees. Along with the saree revival, I loved how the women felt free to just be themselves. Many of the groups go beyond sarees to create a sisterhood. If you listen closely to their stories, there's the whole six yards out there, for a solid web series on What Women Want.

Meenakshi Shedde is India and South Asia Delegate to the Berlin International Film Festival, National Award-winning critic, curator to festivals worldwide and journalist. She can be reached on meenakshi.shedde@mid-day.com

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