When I accepted my (volunteer) job in India I already knew I had to wear Indian clothes at all times. It was not a thing that worried me at all. But the problem came when I actually was there and I had to go and buy my first churidaar. In fact I could choose between a salwar, a churidaar and a panjabi. By then (I had been like 12 hours in India) I couldn’t tell the difference among those garments, so I went with an Austrian girl who was there in the same organization. She had been there for nearly a year so she could help me find some proper clothes.
We went to the city centre where we could find plenty of shops. My first surprise was when we had to take off our shoes to get into the shop. For me (I’m a delicate kind of person when talking about cleanliness) it was quite an ordeal. But in we went! While we were having a look at the different clothes a shop assistant was perfuming the shop with incense. That made the experience less traumatic!We visited like 20 shops. No matter how beautiful the fabrics and the models were, on me they looked terrible! But I had to buy something. I could not wear my jeans and T-shirts! I decided on a churidaar. It consists of loose trousers topped by a kameez (tunic) and a dupatta (veil) to cover your head and shoulders. But the second surprise was when it had no sleeves and we had to go to a “tailor’s” to have them stitched. The same shop assistant who had been scenting the shop took us. We had to go into a building three blocks away, up some filthy winding stairs full of people, along a dark corridor and finally out onto a balcony. There we were welcomed by the ‘tailor’ who, while we drank some tea we were offered, sewed the sleeves to the kameez.
At first I felt uneasy and odd. Whenever I finished my working day I changed into my western clothes. In big cities you can see Indians wearing ‘normal’ clothes. But they are always decorous. Women never show their shoulders. But I lived in a secluded village far away from any kind of civilization. So imagine me! With all my summer Spanish clothes which left nothing for the imagination. It was the women themselves who covered my ‘indecent’ parts! They nicely told me that that was quite gross and lent me their veils to conceal them. I remember once I had to go headlong to school and I didn’t have time to change my clothes. I can perfectly recall the kid’s faces when they saw me wearing my ‘Spanish’ clothes.
But little by little I became more conventional and they also stopped making a fuss whenever I used my clothes. They learned that the suit does not make the man! In the end I preferred wearing Indian clothes even when I went on trips. People looked at me less and complimented me more!
And it was not only the churidaar! Every day I had to (it was not that it was compulsory, but they were happier that way) put flowers on my hair, bangles around my wrists, anklets with bells around my ankles, a bindi between my eyebrows,… But that deserves another blog!
But the greatest ‘adventure’ was sarees! On special occasions (and in India there are a lot since the celebrate the Hindu festivals, the Muslim ones, the Christian ones,…) they always talked me into wearing one. I tried to avoid it by all means, but it was impossible! I ended ‘disguised’ with one of theirs!
They are really pretty; I mean when Indian women wear them. They have a gift for that. They seem elegant, stylish, sexy, majestic,… But me…! I didn’t know how to walk and I couldn’t sit comfortably. They are really hot. The blouse is really tight and then you have like 100 metres of cloth around your lower part and over your shoulder! And what about going to the toilet? That was an agony! Not to mention the intense labour of putting it on! (watch the video). I needed help to put it on and to take it off! And getting on the bike? Mission: Impossible! I once did, though!But the funniest thing was when the children asked me about the clothes we wore in Spain. I couldn’t stop crying when I began to tell them what we wear on the beach. I say began, because I couldn’t finish! And I didn’t even mention the top-less sunbathing, just the bikini! All of them (but the girls in particular) tried to cover their ears not to listen to me and their eyes not to see the picture of a bikini I had drawn on the blackboard! They kept on saying ‘No sister, no sister!’ so that I stopped talking! I had to; some of them were about to suffer a panic attack!
And on another occasion a friend and I were sunbathing top-less on the roof top of one of the buildings at the boarding school. We had warned the children not to come up, but you know what kiddos are like. There they came! Poor little things! They didn’t know what to do or where to look at when they saw us. One of them began giggling, the other one just turned round and glared at the blue sky and the other just ran away eager to tell her mother what she had just seen!
It’s amusing how they don’t care about showing, for example, their bellies (it doesn’t matter how big they are) but they don’t like showing (or seeing) other parts of the body. Another culture discrepancy, I guess!
You can find how to drape a saree here: