Google “how to wear a sari,” and you will receive more than 9 million results, many of them videos that demonstrate how to pleat and wrap a sari in one of the more than 80 documented styles. Surprisingly, googling “how to pee in a sari” returns more than 1 million results, and now this post will be one of them. Way to optimize that search engine, huh?
When I first came to India, I was perplexed about why the five-star hotels have bathroom attendants who turn on the water faucet and hand me a napkin to dry my hands. Well, at the United States Marine Corps birthday ball, I learned these ladies serve another important function: rewrapping your sari. When the attendant saw my sari, she said, “No, this is wrong,” and proceeded to rewrap me. After the rewrapping, I had a much easier time moving, largely due to the three hidden safety pins placed strategically about my pallu (the part you place over your left shoulder). For an American woman, the logistics of pleating the pallu can be challenging. As I watched the attendant flick the fabric back and forth between her fingers, I was amazed at how easy she made it look. Of course, she wears a sari every day as part of her uniform, and has no doubt performed this gesture thousands of times, but the speed is still impressive. Five minutes later, I went from drab to fab. Easy peasy.
I bought my sari a few weeks ago at Burlington’s at the Taj Mahal hotel. I walked in to look at a kurta and walked out with a sari. Burlington’s, like the other shops at the Taj, caters to foreigners visiting India who want to take a piece of India home with them. The prices reflect that, but tell them you stay in Mumbai, and they are willing to bargain. After buying a sari in India, the question becomes what do you do with it when you have returned to Texas and don’t remember how to wrap the damn thing? Burlington’s has a solution for that: cheat the sari by pleating the skirt and using hooks and snaps to ensure the skirt does not fall down, which is the biggest fear of any Western woman who wears one. While I like the cheating for ease of wear, it does limit the wrap to the traditional Nivi drape. Other options, like the beautiful Bengali drape, are not possible with the cheated style.
I decided to wear the sari to the USMC ball despite the fact that I knew 98% of the women at the ball would be in Western attire. In India, even Indians wear Western dresses to these events. But, I decided to buck the trend because the sari is far more comfortable to wear than a typical ball gown. Due to our holiday, we are not going to be able to attend the Reliance Diwali festivities, where I had planned to wear the gown. This party was going to be my only chance. And, we are in India after all…
Besides, the ball was not about what I was wearing. It was about celebrating the 237th birthday of the United States Marine Corps and honoring those who have served, fought, and died for our country. When people learned that Brian and I were attending a USMC ball, they were confused. Brian is not a Marine. Why would the Marines have a ball in Mumbai? Well, the US consulate in Mumbai has a small detachment of five young men and women who oversee security. Like all Marines, they love to celebrate their birthday and invited other consulate employees and members of the American Women’s Club to celebrate with them. The detachment was formed only about a year ago, so this was their first birthday ball, and, in typical Marine style, they put on one hell of a party: three-course dinner, fabulous dessert buffet with birthday cake, commemorative glasses, and great dance music.
It was a great night, filled with pomp, tradition, and appreciation for those who serve. The Consul General, Peter Haas, was the guest of honor and spoke of his personal gratitude for each Marine in the detachment. He was also the first to receive a slice of birthday cake.
The slicing and serving of the birthday cake is a hallowed tradition at the ball. The guest of honor, the oldest Marine, and the youngest Marine all received ceremonial slices of cake. The symbolism of the oldest Marine passing a slice to the youngest represented the passing of knowledge and experience from one generation to another. The moment was beautiful and poignant. And, as I found out later, the birthday cake was quite tasty, too. So, Happy Birthday, Marines! Oorah!