Aasha Mehreen Amin
A recent news report (August 27, 2009) in The Daily Star's business section says that the sale of locally woven saris such as jamdani and katan have gone up. This boost in the market for deshi saris has been attributed to the Prime Minister and some of her women cabinet members who wear locally woven saris, thus taking their popularity to another level. If it is good enough for the head of the state to wear, it must be something special. This certainly is heartening news as our local textiles need all the PR it can get to fight off the onslaught of foreign made saris that keep inundating the market and minds of the fashionable and rich. Sheikh Hasina in fact, has always been a brand ambassador for Bangladeshi-made saris for many years whether as Leader of the Opposition or as Prime Minister, something that one must give her credit for. Whether it is patriotism or just plain preference, people do take notice of such things and the PM wearing locally made clothes does wonders to popularise them.
Of course for the diehard jamdani and handloom cotton sari fanatics, they couldn't care less who wears them and who don't, they have held on to their passion for eons. No amount of psychological manipulation by foreign drama serials or billboards advertising of the monstrous malls selling foreign designer saris costing a fortune, will sway them. It is a matter of pride that these women wear locally made saris but it is also the high quality of the materials that have made these saris so popular. It is true though, once you wear a jamdani and feel that lightweight, delicate material on your skin and witness the transformation from dowdy to sheer elegance, there really is no turning back. It makes one feel like a maharani with its muslin base and intricate patterns that have survived for hundreds of years and woven by craftsmanship handed down from generation to generation. It is timeless and yet holds so much history, it is like wearing a rare piece of artwork and no garment can equal the exquisiteness of a good quality jamdani.
Our silks too are of the best quality, the gorgeous benarasis sport more tasteful designs these days and perfect as wedding saris or saris to be worn at weddings. While silks are usually reserved for cooler weather, the paper thin Rajshahi silks in subtle designs can be worn even in the summer.
Then there is the ever-reliable and most comfortable handloom cotton sari which will remain a winner for eternity. The cotton tanter shari has the remarkable quality of never looking gaudy, thanks to the weaver's innate sense of aesthetics creating perfect combinations-vibrant bases with muted borders or earthy tones with dramatic solid tones and gold zari work on the anchaal and so on. Wearing a cotton handloom sari is like being in total harmony with the environment and culture of this land.
But the fashion-conscious will always look for something novel and exclusive, thus designers' constant experimentation with patterns, designs and even textures on locally-made fabrics.
While the chic look of earthy-toned vegetable-dye saris have their fan-following, there are hundreds of upcoming designers who use their imagination to create unique saris using the ubiquitous block print along with hand embroidery, screen print, calligraphy, appliqué work and hand painting.
If it is variety and quality we are looking for there is no dearth whatsoever in those areas; it is the lack of proper marketing, the high rent of shop space and the hype created by Indian TV serials and films that create obstacles in giving our deshi saris the accolades they deserve. Perhaps the PM's example can be followed by all our celebrities (some of them have been doing so for many years), especially when they appear in drama serials, talk shows and films. It's time we made our treasures more public.
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