March 21, 2010

I fail as an Indian woman

It is not that I don't respect, love, cherish and admire my country. I strive to be a good daughter, sister, granddaughter, cousin, niece, etc., etc. I aspire to be a good wife, daughter-in-law, and mother. I respect my adults, greet them with a polite namaste, am seen and heard as required (more or less depending on the company), and I help my mom out in the kitchen. I can make chai, having learned to brew a near-perfect cup by age 9. I have accomplished a full and proper meal, received approval from my fathers critical taste buds and joked that now we can, finally, call the ladke-waale over.

But the one thing, the one quintessential act that, in my mind, defines an Indian woman, and that I can not accomplish, is wearing a sari. The last time I had a sari wrapped around me for longer than 5 minutes, I was 4feet something tall, had an abominable boy-cut hairstyle, and was wearing a t-shirt instead of a blouse. Since then I have made two separate attempts with saris of two different materials and failed miserably at wearing and carrying the beautiful garment properly. The yards of material sit awkwardly on me, slipping and tugging and falling every-which way. Instead of feeling elegant and poised, I feel bulky like a great war-ship, ungainly as if I have forgotten how to walk, and very uncomfortable as I am not used to having half my torso exposed (covered as it is with material that has come loose from I don't know where!).

It's a silly thing, perhaps, especially in the modern world. I am, after all, living in America, on the path to becoming a doctor and have grown up in jeans and t-shirts for most of my life (except for the frock-years, oh lord!). I like dressing up and being girly, but I would any day rather wear my jeans or salwaar kameez, and I always complain about the lack of pockets in dresses and desi clothes.

But a part of me feels incomplete as an Indian woman. How can I call myself such, when I can't even don the traditional garment, in pubic, for any length of time. Even my younger sister has worn a sari through an entire puja function.

Yes, I have grown up in America. Yes, we are a fairly modern and liberal family. Yes, nobody has ever expressed specific expectations of my wearing a sari. But I am still a bit traditional at heart. I would like to wear a sari when I go with my parents for a formal talk with the to-be in-laws. I would like to wear a sari when I am getting married. I, too, want to feel elegant and beautiful, not clumsy and awkward, in a garment that millions of Indian women have been wearing for centuries now. The sari may not be the most important identifier of an Indian woman, but for me, it is an essential part of her life.