This weekend, I got to fulfill one of my lifelong dreams: I got to wear a sari. You’re probably thinking that this shouldn’t have been a difficult dream to accomplish; couldn’t I have just bought a sari and worn it? The answer is no, because based on what I learned this weekend, I would have had no idea how to put it on, and also, as a white person, I really can’t just walk down the street in a sari. There needs to be an occasion, and this weekend, I got one.
You might also be wondering how wearing a sari got to be one of my dreams in the first place. Growing up, I always had a lot of Indian friends, and being a person with no discernible culture myself, I was fascinated by theirs. Visiting their houses was always an adventure in delicious new foods, interesting artwork and grandmothers wearing gorgeous saris. In high school, there was a yearly “Culture Day”, where students were invited to wear traditional clothing from their cultures, while I got to spend another day wearing my uniform. Junior and senior year, one of my Indian friends took pity on me and lent me a salwar kameez to wear, which was beautiful, but to me, still lacked the mystique of the sari.
It was being a white girl who hung out with a lot of Indian people that led me to identify with Keira Knightley’s character in Bend It Like Beckham (because I certainly do not play soccer nor do I have her abs). The soccer scenes were fine, but I was much more interested in the scenes of Jess’ sister’s wedding, with the colorful saris and constant supply of Indian food.
It was a shared love of Bend It Like Beckham that was one of the things my best friend S and I bonded over freshman year of college. We were constantly quoting lines from it at each other (“Why did that English woman take Jessminder’s shoes?” “Lesbian? I thought she was a Pisces!”) and we were briefly on a sports team together (though it was rowing, not soccer). I was honored when seven years later, S asked me to be a bridesmaid in her wedding, and thrilled when I realized what it meant: I would get to wear a sari.
My adventure began when S sent me the fabric for the sari blouse, and I had to go to “Little India” to get it tailored. A very polite Indian man took my measurements, and I had to resist the urge to ask him to make “these mosquito bites look like juicy juicy mangoes!”
Two days before the wedding, S’s parents hosted a party that satisfied all of my Bend it Like Beckham fantasies. It seemed that every Indian person in New Hampshire had been invited to their house for a marathon of henna, cooking, dancing and music. (Actually, most marathons are shorter than this party; we got there around noon and didn’t leave til midnight. This party was so long people changed saris multiple times during it. This party managed to include both a traditional Indian ceremony where people wished for the bride to have one hundred sons, and birthday cake and singing for the groom’s father. This party had all the bases covered.)
The day of the wedding arrived. We were herded up to the gorgeous country estate S had chosen and the bridesmaids began the epic task of ironing our saris (you try fitting seven yards of fabric onto an ironing board!). S arrived, and was gloriously Kate Middleton-esque in her self sufficiency, because the rest of us had our work cut out for us getting into and staying in the saris. I’d always been under the impression that you wore a sari by wrapping the fabric around yourself a zillion times; turns out it only goes around once and the rest of the fabric is used in a set of elaborate pleats I could never have created on my own. The whole contraption is tucked into a petticoat and manages to stay together with only three safety pins. It took two of S’s mother’s friends fifteen minutes to get me squared away; S had her own sari on in a matter of seconds and looked radiant.
We watched an abbreviated Indian wedding ceremony (the highlight of which was watching S and her groom pour a mysterious liquid over a small fire while the priest chanted; S later explained that the liquid was clarified butter and “it smelled delicious. I wanted to eat the fire.”). S and I changed out of saris and into dresses for the reception; S had a stunning sequined dress she wanted to wear, and I needed to put on something I could dance in without tripping over myself. The reception was a delight – perfect weather, delicious Indian food (including garlic naan worth fighting over), and an excellent music selection that ranged from traditional Indian songs to Florence and the Machine to Salt n Pepa. It was a wonderful day about so much more than the clothes I got to wear; I got to watch my best friend marry a man she loves, and I would have worn a burlap sack or any of these dresses and been just as happy for them.
Image via StarPulse