Saree Sisters on Tour in Sri Lanka

Trip Start Oct 26, 2007
Trip End Oct 26, 2009

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Saturday, December 29, 2007

My Bollywood tales continue, this time in Sri Lanka! 

On Christmas day, while enjoying our turkey dinner, and mingling with the 49 other guests at my friend Alison's dinner party, her friend Linda suggested we take part in a Bollywood photo shoot.  Linda is a makeup artist, among many other things.  She's an enterprising entrepreneur, and beautiful home owner in Sri Lanka.. all at the advanced age of 30-something!

Plans were made to meet at Linda's house.  Every home I visit in Sri Lanka is nicer than the previous one.  Linda's house-boy (you just can't have a home without one..) made cocktails for the soon to be saree-wearing ladies, and we then were made up for going under the bright lights of Broadway.

I've never had such layers of makeup on !  I felt like Joan Collins.. or that aging film star Carol Burnett used to play.. with the eyebrows drawn on her face, and makeup on askew.. (actually, our makeup was artfully applied by Linda!)  As most of you know, I don't wear much makeup.. so it was a hoot for me.   I kept thinking how much my niece Madison would have loved the session! 

It was such a fun afternoon.  Two days prior to the "shoot" Linda's mum Siv and I went saree material shopping.  Siv picked up a green and gold saree, and I found a pale blue rich looking one, in the bargain bin at the third store we stopped into.  My Filene's Basement scouring sessions have been indelibly stamped in my soul! 

The poor guy at the saree shop had rupees in his eyes when he saw us two foreigners approaching.  Generally prices are ratcheted up when a 'wealthy' westerner inquiries, but as the bargain bin items were pre-marked, it was hard for him to extort any more than the 1,000 rupees (5 pounds!  $10 bucks..) for the material I bought. 

I have gotten weary of the buying game.  Fortunately I do not need to shop much.  The assumption of the locals is that all visitors come to Sri Lanka to shop. Not me!  My case is too heavy as it is. 

I do have guilt around not buying more.. as I know how much a sale means to vendors (mostly those selling crafts, or items made themselves.)  I'm not inclined to shop at the big stores anyway, and prefer to patronise small businesses.  But I digress!

After procuring the saree fabric, we then had to have saree blouses made, as well as skirts/slips to wear under the saree.  Siv and I also had picked up a pretty pink saree for Allison. 

We stopped in at Siv's tailor, a woman whose road-side shop was open from 8am to as late at 10pm!  Siv's and my measurements were taken, and when I returned home I took Alison's measurements.  Saree blouses generally stop below your rib-cage, above your belly-button.. flashing your midriff.  I had misgivings about my belly rolls being on display, so requested an extra-long saree blouse.  The two tiny women seamstresses couldn't understand that at all.  When I explained I have a big stomach that I'd prefer to cover, one asked "Is baby?" hahaha.. No, is not baby.. just too much food and too little exercise! 

I returned later the next day to collect my Madonna cone-bra styled saree-blouse.  Despite taking my measurements it was too tight!! But they had sewn three seams, expressly for letting out if breathing room was required... which was, in my case.  Allison's blouse was very short (probably my mistaking her measurements!)  The seamstresses were wonderful, and laughed as much as we did along the way.  They charge next to nothing for their services.  Imagine getting a tailor-made gown (essentially, what a saree is) completed within two days, all for under a fiver.  Incredible.

Our scheduled shoot was moved from the 28th Dec to the 29th, and unfortunately Alison could not make the 29th, she was traveling to Colombo for a funeral.  As it happened, we were without the prettiest pink saree, and really missed Alison on the day.

So, we had our outfits!  Lara, Allison and Geeth's friend and neighbour up the road, collected me.  His wife, her friend and two other women were at Linda's, in readiness to help us gussy and glossy up. By the time I got to Linda's, she and her mum had their faces on, and their friend Pia was being made up.  They looked like triplets!  I was going to make it a quartet, and enjoyed the makeup application process, although Linda said I was a terrible model, and said I was fired more than once!  "Relax your lips" evidently does not mean pucker and pose!

After the makeup, it was time to don the saree.  Witnessing the production of wrapping and pinning a saree is an education in itself.  I was the most challenging model, as I'm so tall.. most women's sarees include a swatch of material that is draped either over their shoulder to the back, or front.  Mine was over my front, but because I needed so much material to reach down to the ground, my draped piece was a fraction of the length it should have been, and it caused great concern amongst my "dressers!"  I felt like a giantess, among delicate flowers! Don't mention drag-queens please, I have enough left-over issues from my youth when people mistook me for a boy, or assumed I was gay because I was not overtly feminine.  The book-loving, serious sister was I, whereas Cathy and Eileen were alternately the sexy and cute sisters!  I'm content to be the adventure seeking sister now, less concerned about what I look like (clearly from the photos!)  It's only taken 40 years!

My hair was done after the makeup session.  The girl who did my hair had curly and very long hair,so she was not daunted by my mane.  She did a great job of piling it on my head.  Next the sarees are wrapped around the body, folded so the fabric flows or drops down in an effortless, pretty way.  A lot of effort went into that effort-less look!  Safety pins are strategically placed on the waistband, the shoulder, at the front and back of the outfit.  I was not primed, pinned and prettified! 

All I needed were platform shoes, and I could totter off to the studio!  But platforms would have cost me precious saree inches, and also would have meant I would have broken a Guinness World Record for tallest woman in a saree in Unawatuna, as I towered over the enterage.  I had purchased a very cheap pair of sandals that matched, as much as possible, my saree.  Shoes in Sri Lanka, as far as I can tell, do not come in larger sizes than a European 7 (40), that's about an American 8 1/2.  I wear a 9 1/2, 10, or in the UK, an 8.  Fortunately these sandals were open toe and back, so it didn't matter too much that they were small.  I could barely walk, not because of the shoes, but because I was afraid of the saree coming undone!  We looked like penguins on parade leaving Linda's, and the sight of us trying to fold ourselves into the tuk-tuks was a scream. 

The photographer was a deaf local man.. he mimed the poses he wanted from us.. there's a funny photo of him swishing his arms and hands.. he wanted me to shimmy and shake!  haha, it was not easy posing for the camera when you worried about your saree folds and your sense of balance. But, I stepped into character and had a great time!  "You have modeled before?" asked Linda's mother.. hahaha!  Hardly!  Linda was the saree celebrity of the day, with the photographer lighting up when she took to the screens.  We all had individual sessions, and then joined together for group photos.. There was a near disastrous moment when I had to hike up my saree and jump over a little bridge in the photographers back garden backdrop.. there were goldfish and frogs in the pond.. I had to balance myself along a thin wedge and insinuate myself into a space between the wall and the person in front of me.. I wish we had pictures of us getting ready for those pictures!

After the shoot, we drove to a nearby hotel overlooking the ocean.  It was a gorgeous setting for we glamourously clad characters.  We shared champagne and laughed at our saree session which was such fun. 

I donated my saree to Linda's growing collection (she has a base in Sri Lanka, and no doubt will have the occasion to wear it before me!) and my bling-bling necklace and earrings I gave to Lara's wife.  She thought it was lovely (a bit sparkly for me, but it did rather compliment the elegant saree.)

I am so happy to have met great and generous characters through my friend Allison.    Life continues to be good!
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Roger C. A. Ferrao on

You all look great in lovely saris

The Indian Studio on

Pretty nice post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wanted to say that I have really enjoyed browsing your blog posts. In any case I’ll be subscribing to your feed and I hope you write again soon!

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