Baroness Sayeeda Hussain Warsi has caught my imagination for two reasons. Firstly because by being inducted as the first Muslim minister (that too of Pakistani origin) in the British cabinet, she seems to have done the impossible in post-Time Square climate, a fact that says something about her accomplishments, whatever they are. The youngest member of the House of Lords, she was apparently conferred the title of Baroness of Dewsbury three years back, on the recommendation of David Cameron. “Humbling” is how she described her latest achievement.
Secondly because she happens to be the daughter of a Pakistani immigrant mill worker and yet made it to the highest echelons of power in a white, Christian UK, without trading her salwar-suits for Western outfits. Now that is what I call gall and confidence.
Another woman I really admire for the same reason is Usha Uthup, the Indian pop diva of the ‘80s whose oomphy voice was all the rage of the night clubs despite her uber traditional image: temple-border sari, huge bindi and flower on her hair. In fact, the bindi had become such a part of her image that I remember Uthup saying in an interview that if by chance she decided not to wear it, she would be promptly reminded, “Madam, you forgot your bindi.”
Atta girls! To my mind these women have really done a Gandhi…remember the “naked fakir”?
Whether it’s the sari or the salwar-suit or the abaya, I feel ethnic dresses have a charm and elegance of their own. I don’t know if the abaya is a symbol of repression, I‘ve never analysed the issue too closely, but to me Emirati women look utterly feminine and graceful when they sashay around in their flowing abayas, designer or not. Ditto for Emirati men, who absolutely rock in kanduras. By the way, whatever happened to the Indian dhoti!?
With more and more people going for Western wear even when there is no need to, I feel the ethnic attires will be confined to museums within a century, at least in India. It’s due partly to the influence of Bollywood, which is blindly aping Hollywood dress code. The only exception that comes to mind is Aishwarya Rai, who is seen in a sari more frequently, even though for reasons best known to her she didn’t wear one at Cannes. Rani Mukherjee and of late Vidya Balan are two other Bollywood stars who show a preference for the six-yard wonder.
I think Indian politicians, both men and women, do a better job of this though. Doesn’t Rahul Gandhi look cool in his crumpled kurta-pyjama?