You would think that coming from a country of half a billion Indian women, I would know how to wear a sari. After all, when they wake up in the morning, most of them can tie seven yards of cloth around themselves as if they were performing one of those mundane morning rituals - such as making their morning coffee. Or frying a dosa. I cannot fry a dosa, or even make the batter from scratch. I can rarely remember the ratio of water to coffee that goes into the cone-filter coffee maker, which mostly sits idle. And I have never woken up, tied a sari around myself and moved through my daily chores with ease.
Except for special events (which mostly involves a visit to the temple for Diwali), I rarely don one. And even when I do, instead of walking around gracefully and following the folds of the pleats in the front of the sari, I totter around as though someone had stapled my feet to pieces of cardboard. I keep it together with safety pins because I don't want to join the hordes of urban tales about saris unravelling in public, on stage, or worse, at the temple.
That stuff is complicated. Some even call it art. Systematically wrapping all that cloth around yourself and still being able to walk freely while using your arms for anything but holding up yards of material may look easy, but it is not. I believe it runs in the family. Or at least in my generation of cousins. For a while, when my cousin worked in the travel industry and had to wear a sari to work once a week, she would pull out one of six that her mother had pleated and pinned. We called it the "home-made version". You tuck in the right bits for the lower half and create a sort of pleated skirt, while piling the remaining fabric over your shoulder.
Then came the modern day tutorial. Designed for me, the one living so far away from the reach of parents and relatives that my cousins initially would take photos of the aunts tying it around themselves and send me photos. Then we chanced upon the internet version, which teaches you how to go about wrapping it yourself without looking like a mummified corpse. We called this the "ready-made version".
I've even worked out a plan for when I am stranded in a hotel room with no access to the internet: call guest services and - in India at least - a lady from the hotel will pin you up. In a foreign country? Call a friend's mother. They always answer the call to tie a sari.