Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Indian Clothes in India! Hello, what's the occasion?

I breezed into the school corridor, one hand holding Ro's little one, and the other one adjusting the pale lemon chiffon dupatta as it slipped off my shoulder.

Outside my bedroom window this morning, the Laburnum had blossomed bountifully, its tender boughs heavy with the weight of bright yellow flowers. Summer, I had sighed, and reached out for a delightfully light churidar-kameez with the barest Lucknowi embroidery. 

'Wow, churidaar, Tara?', Maddy smiled at me as she came out of a room in a stringy top and cropped denims. 'Any occasion?'

'None', I smiled, waving past her filmy aura of Lou Lou by Cacherel.

Dropping off Ro in his classroom, I moved back towards the exit, when the principal, old Mrs Pol Pot, accosted me. 'We have an excursion to the Alliance Francaise, Mrs. Malhotra. We need some volunteers. Could you ask some of the mothers?'

Now, if you have a kid, you know the rule: when a stiff-lipped, hairy-faced school principal in shapeless linen togs asks you to ask other mothers, you prostrate on the ground and rush to offer your own services.

'Why, I would love to do it, Mrs. Reynolds', I offered. 'Would you be needing other volunteers as well?'

'Well, one other volunteer would be great', the principal acceded with a smile that hooked up like the slightest tick above her thin lips. 'By the way, you are dressed in Indian clothes. Some occasion?'

'None', I smiled, puzzled a bit by this question second time in the morning. Ok, so usually I turned up to school in daggy exercise gear or summery skirts. But a churidar wasn't so odd, after all.

I hurried out of the school gate and rushed to my car, glad for the air conditioning. It was not yet 9, and already the sun was a fiery daub across the hazy sky and the air was heavier than jute cloth. I grabbed a quick coffee at a Barista, enjoying the peace and anonymity of the morning, before heading out to Lower Parel to meet the graphic designer. 

Lata, the graphic designer, dressed in her usual attire of jeans and floral embroidered kurti, exclaimed as she saw me, 'Wow Tara! You look lovely in a churidar kameez! Any special occasion?' She grinned.

I was getting used to the question now, and observing bemusedly that had I worn a churidar-kameez on the Mall in DC or for a weekend shopping trip to Crystal City Mall, I would have got fewer raised eyebrows or curious questions.  

Lata and I went over the design of the cards for Saloniere Star, and after watching her fiddle with fonts and placements to finalise the design, I spent a wretched half hour fretting over the thickness of papers and whether to go for sparkling sheets in Midnight, Prussian or Sapphire. Gul had left the decision to me, and was spending the day contacting upcoming artists. But the card gave the first impression for our art gallery, it had to be perfect.

Finally settling upon Midnight sparkle to be printed in silvery white fonts, I left Lata and rushed back to Colaba for a farewell lunch Maddy had organised at a new restaurant she had been dying to try.

After being stuck behind a fume-spewing Suzuki and a motorcycle carrying a family of five, my car finally swerved ahead and I reached Colaba an hour late. The restaurant was quite posh inside, all uber-modern dark wood and glass and an indoor lotus pool set amid flagstones. 

'You're trendily late' Maddy trilled upon seeing me. 'But wow...'

I knew what comment was coming next! Indian clothes in India! I mean, come on, how uncool! So sub-continental, really. Totally hinterland, you know.

'Indian dress, I know, I know, but no occasion really', I grinned, preempting her, spreading my hands in disarming gesture, taking in Maddy's friends gathered at the table- all nearly alike in their glossily blonde and caramel highlights, stringy beaded dresses, glimmering pebble sized diamonds, and oversized logo-riddled totes casually strung upon the backs of their chairs, or worshipfully placed upon little bag-stools on the side.

'I only wear Indian clothes in weddings, you know', one glossy blonde pronounced.

'Its so hot in Mumbai, too hot for fussing with dupatta and stuff', another smoky eyed girl shuddered. 'And saris, never!' 

I thought of the row upon row of saris in my 'Indian Closet' in DC- from shimmering chiffon to beaded georgette to heavy pallav Benarasi designs. Desi folks abroad did wear a lot more Indian clothes than people in Mumbai.

Smoky-eyes conceded brusquely, 'Looks good on you, though.'

'Yeah well, thanks', I said, settling into my chair and accepting an oversized goblet of welcome house wine from a liveried waiter. 

At least, I knew what to wear to set myself apart, or what not to wear when I wanted to blend in.

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