I am officially now the proud owner of two sarees – or should that be saris? Apparently both spellings are correct. But as mine have been bought by Nepali friends, and they say saree, I’m going to go for that one.
I’ve always thought sarees look incredibly elegant. The vibrant colours and shimmering beads are so eye-catching. And there is something incredibly flattering about the way the soft swathes of fabric fall and fold. But I would never have imagined myself wearing one. What occasion would there possibly be for wearing a saree? That was before I moved out here and started working and socialising with a lot of Nepali people.
It is an interesting cultural mash-up, being a British expat, attached to a large Nepali community, in amongst a local community of Chinese and Malay Bruneians. One of the real perks is being able to socialise and celebrate special occasions with friends from these different cultures. At Nepali special occasions, such as Tihar and Dashain, there are two things you can always rely on. There will be lots and lots of incredible food. And the Nepali ladies will all look incredible, glittering in gold, and dressed to the nines in their sarees. It is honestly like walking into a room of beautiful butterflies.
Lots of the British women also wear sarees at these events too. We don’t pull the look off as well as the Nepali ladies, but it just makes you feel so much more glamorous than wearing a party dress. I think it is at least in part because you walk taller and are conscious of holding yourself more gracefully when you are wearing a saree. Posture definitely makes a difference.
Sarees are essentially a long piece of fabric, pleated over a petticoat and choli top and then draped over one shoulder. Or that is how I’ve been dressed Nepali friends! There are apparently many different styles of saree, and many different ways to wear them, varying by country and culture. Putting on a saree sounds straight forward enough, but it is actually pretty tricky getting it just right so that everything stays where it should. In a shrewd response to that problem, out here you can even get what is called a ‘garrison saree’. These are made up to look like the real deal, but with the pleats and drapes all sown into place so that the clumsy and clueless can cheat the look. A clever idea, but I’m not convinced it doesn’t rather defeat the purpose. I know for a fact you would never catch a Nepali lady in one! I like that it takes effort to put the saree on and maintain the look. I just need to keep working towards being able to dress myself and not have to keep getting friends to help me!
My first saree was bought by a friend when he returned to Nepal last summer. He and his wife are good friends, and his wife has a wardrobe full of exquisite sarees, so I knew he would do me proud. Emerald green iridescent fabric, with a velvet trim and lots of silver thread work and beading, it really is a show stopper. It is also incredibly heavy! Trying to walk with elegance and poise when you are trying not to let the drape slip off your shoulder (for the nth time!), trip over the hem, or give away that you feel like you are reaching a rolling boil underneath the acres of fabric is certainly a challenge. Nepali ladies make it all look so simple and effortless. But then they are very familiar with wearing them. And the heavier, embellished sarees definitely make the task harder. Perhaps I had tried to walk before I could run….
So my second saree is still very beautiful but is far more simple and – more importantly – feather light. The idea being that I can learn the art of wearing the saree and then go on to more decorative options once I’ve cracked it. Time will tell I guess! The friends who bought it for me are visiting for a meal with us in a couple of weeks time. So the plan is to practice putting it on and then wear it when they visit, so they can tell me where I’ve gone wrong! What are friends for, after all?!