Himanshu Verma Talks About How A Saree Is Gender-Fluid
The art curator is so passionate about sarees that he runs an annual festival to showcase them — and he wears them regularly too. ‘
What is The Saree Festival about?
It’s an annual event that tries to bring together different styles of sarees — from handlooms to digital prints — and ways of draping them. We have a series of performances followed by a mela, where various types of sarees are exhibited and sold. We are only in our third year. Last year, we expanded to Mumbai, and Bengaluru and Chennai are next on the list. Eventually, we’d like to hit Tier-2 cities like Jaipur and Pune too.
Usually, men are either passionate about sarees in the sense that they design beautiful ones, or they appreciate women wearing them. What makes you want to wear them too?
I’ve personally been exploring sarees for 10-12 years now. What got me fascinated was their fluidity and ambiguity. I try to wear my saree as a man. I don’t think I am cross-dressing. Sometimes, I sport a full beard while wearing a saree. In India, male and female costumes have been very closely linked from ancient times, and I feel the saree is an open-ended garment. It’s not stitched; it takes the shape of your body and feels like an extension of wearing a dhoti.
What kind of response does the festival generate?
Our attendees are mostly people who have been wearing sarees for several years now, and a lot of younger women who are getting interested. The men who come are usually just accompanying women or buying gifts for them. None of them have really tried wearing a sari. We are swimming against the tide here. Pop culture defines the saree as an archaic garment, and very few men even wear dhotis in an urban context these days.
Tell us about your personal collection of sarees.
It is very tiny. I have 70-80 of them and I regularly add to the collection. I buy from wherever I travel. My favourites tend to be the ilkals from Karnataka or the southern cottons that are never in fashion, because people find them too simple.
Whom I’d like to see in a saree
I feel he has a great air of machismo around him, and he also wears other traditional clothing well, so to see him in a sari would be interesting.
He’s an artist I have been friends with for long. He wears a lot of skirts, but hasn’t attempted the saree yet. I would be curious to see him pull it off.