Saturday, 5 April 2008

The Wonder of a Dupatta

It’s much easier to wear traditional dress while working in the slums than to decide which western outfit would be appropriate. I wear the SalwaarKameez. This is a long tunic over very baggy trousers. The ensemble is finished by a long wide scarf or wrap called a Dupatta. Not only is the outfit very comfortable, it feels wonderfully feminine, graceful and helps me blend in a little. Being 5’9” and fair skinned, I tower over most of the women in the slum, who average around 5’ and don’t really blend in, but the dress certainly helps. As I taught sitting cross-legged on the floor, the outfit was practical and ideal.

I have always loved scarves and have a collection of traditional African wraps, like my vibrant cotton kikois, which serve a multitude of purposes; sometimes a throw over a couch, sometimes a table cloth, always in a back pack when hiking (who knows when you’ll need a towel for the unexpected swim), and of course as a scarf or a wrap near a pool. You’ll have realised I'm not talking about a skimpy scarf, but a piece of cloth that is a metre wide and a couple of metres long.

As I moved through my experiences in Delhi, I realised that the Dupatta is an equally hard working piece of fabric. I first observed its usefulness when we’d been in a meeting for a while and a young child started getting fractious. He’d been pottering around quietly not disturbing anyone, but the meeting had continued too long and he was starting to bore. His mum called him over and pulled him into her lap. She pulled her dupatta over the length of his body, covering his head and he seemed to snuggle into the dark space created and promptly went to sleep. It goes without saying that it provides a wonderful space of privacy for a breast-feeding mother too.

I was not adept at wearing this length of fabric as the Indian women are, but as the weeks passed I did enjoy it more and more. I have included a few snaps taken showing it worn draped back over my shoulders, which is how many wear it, or just slung about my neck. The one I'm wearing in these snaps is very light, but I have others that are more robust.

The first week that I was in Delhi, it was cooler in the evenings and the journeys home in the open auto rickshaws meant that my dupatta served to provide warmth as I pulled it tightly about my shoulders. Later when it got hotter, and I was using the autos to get to the slum at midday it was very useful. At the height of the heat you get a wide range of smells - mostly not good, so the cloth was handy to subtly cover the mouth and nose to help mask the unpleasant wafts and just the dust that is kicked up all the time. In the evening when I was tired after the day, I pulled the dupatta over my head, using it as a head shawl, so that it fell and covered my face slightly and shielded me from the unwelcome advances of the evening sellers sticking their heads into the open auto as we waited at traffic lights in the busy traffic on the way home.

Of course, it served as light blanket to help me sleep at the Delhi airport, when my flight home was delayed by 7 hours. Draped as I was over a few chairs, I pulled it over the length of my body and shut the world out.

3 comments:

LisaM said...

love it! I discovered these great outfits in Brampton, Ontario (jokingly called "Bramladesh" because of the high population from the Punjab, India and Pakistan). Another bonus is that they're not only comfortable and practical, they're lovely too! Stumbled upon your page during a web search - hope you don't mind the comments. :)

Sue said...

Glad you visited!

Sue

sunshine said...

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Regards,
Deb