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IN SEARCH OF A CHOLI

Sathya Saran  (click here to know more about this blogger)

When I was a kid I realized that getting a blouse stitched for a sari was a big thing. My mother would mull over how her blouse should be cut; the neck line, length of sleeves, whether the fabric cut out from the sari needed a lining... every little detail was a matter for discussion with the tailor, who would take down notes alongside the little drawing he made in his well thumbed notebook. He must have been a meticulous tailor, fond of his craft, for my mother wore impeccably cut blouses with each of her wide selection of saris. Which were, anyway, what she wore all the time.

As we moved around the country, our tailors changed. We left the meticulous tailor of Gauhati behind and moved to Hyderabad where we found a tailor who had a very strong opinion on what he wished to make rather than what we wanted of him. Luckily for me, I had by then entered college and exchanged the half-sari and blouse I had worn as part of my transition into saris for the churidar kurta. I delighted in the fit of the churidars as the old darzi who hammered them out on his machine created one in every color to match my kurtas and loved the way their length showed off the gathering of churis at the ankle. The choli-stitching tailor was left to express his opinions to others. I had no need to subject myself to them.

Then there was the duo of Andhra tailors in Nagpur. They were brothers who looked as unlike each other as a blouse to a pair of pants. One of them was a good cutter.. the other was obviously terrible. We discovered this when my sister and I got our blouses made and one set was like a second skin and the other was a gunny sack! Despite our efforts we could not find out which was which and thus had to go with the luck of the draw. We quickly switched to salwar suits again.

Stitching a blouse for a sari should be an easy job, if one knows how. But encasing the map of the human torso in cloth is an adventure not for the faint hearted. There is many a slip possible between the shoulder and the armhole, and necklines can be dangerous challenges, which boggle the wearer by either being constructive or shapeless, unless a sure hand has guided them along the vast plains that lie along the collar bones. Only someone who has wrestled with a choli and failed knows the pitfalls yawning in her path. Anything can go wrong. And the despair of a woman holding up a badly stitched choli cut out of her finest piece of cloth is paralleled perhaps only by that of the cook who burns the milk meant for the wedding feast. I still feel a pang of dismay when I remember how, when the tailor came back with the blouses ordered for my trousseau, had fitted them perfectly to my size but given me sleeves to fit my mother's rather rounder arms. For years afterwards, I wore those blouses with my saris, almost creating a fashion statement with what I named my postbox sleeves! 

Actually speaking it is a lot of fuss about nothing... this preoccupation with sari blouses. When I grew out of my older ones and did not dare to approach a tailor in Bombay to get new ones done, I managed wonderfully with two blouses in crinkled tissue, one gold, the other bronze, both with loose, open cap sleeves. Surprisingly, they went with almost every sari. And for when they did not I had a black three-fourths sleeve blouse that I had bought readymade somewhere. Which brings me to the blouse story as it is today. Ready-mades are the simpler option. I have found them off the streets in Calcutta.. some so thin of material as to be almost non existent, others of sturdy cotton; many embellished with piping and colorful buttons. Something to suit everyone, and most fit well, unless one is very out of shape.

In malls there are counters that specialize in cholis. Most are sequinned and they come in a variety of styles from the tie-back to the sedate. Investing in a couple of all round colors should serve the tailor-less very well. Even shops like Fab India have started selling ready-mades to match their variety of beautifully woven saris. But not having tried them.. I have no idea how well they fit. I remember too on a trip to Ahmadabad visiting a designer who specialized in cholis. They were embroidered, sequinned and beautifully fitted, and most important of all, wonderfully priced. I quickly snapped up three, and still have them, and though one has faded a bit due to excessive washing, it still has plenty of informal wear left in it. 

Today, with the sari staging a kind of comeback... one sees saris more often than say ten years ago at social dos... its partner the choli has come back into focus. For those who can carry off the halter and the cross back or even the body suit.. the sari becomes more of a seduction than it usually is. And a good designer will often offer to craft one to match a sari. But a well-stitched long sleeved choli a la Sabyasachi's signature blouses or a smart long-waist fitted blouse top with high neck and cuffed sleeves as were once worn in the hinterland can be as singular a statement of style. 

Which brings me to the crux of my story. Tailors, like many other practitioners of crafts, are a vanishing breed. At least those passionate about their work, and able to cut a fine garment that can fit like a work of art and flatter the wearer, are few and far between. If you are among the lucky few who has access to one, please count your blessings and get enough blouses stitched for the entire clan while the going is good. Otherwise, chances are, you will have to trawl through the malls to shop for mass-produced blouses that look faintly ostentatious, or like me, press a handful of cholis to do double duty for an entire wardrobe of saris!
 

SATHYA SARAN
Sathya Saran
 
09-MARCH-2014
 
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3 Comments
 
21-MARCH-2014 Geeta Castelino
Very well penned... in complete agreement with my thoughts... and luckily I have found a masterjee past more than a decade who is awesome with his finishing/fittings...a Bliss. lovely write up, Sathya :))
 
 
10-MARCH-2014 MEHER CASTELINO
Very interesting and echoes my thoughts completely. I have a major problem getting the right fit for a choli. Either the tailor wants me to wear what he thinks will look good or he will make a mess of what I want to wear. I now go for body suits which fit no matter what size I am.
 
 
09-MARCH-2014 Avininder Singh
Wonderful Reading.... Even a Man can wrestle with it and come out knowledgeable....
 
 
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