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Suitable Sari

By Rajesh C. Oza Email By Rajesh C. Oza
February 2014
Suitable Sari

with PostModern Gandhiji (PMG)

An advice column offering the Mahatma’s perspective on modern dilemmas


Dear PMG,

I came to San Jose seven months ago on a contract for software development. The work is wonderful because it allows me to take advantage of everything I learned about computer science in college and at my first job in Hyderabad.

The thing is I’m from a traditional family, and after a certain age, all the ladies regularly wear saris. Occasionally, I’ll wear a blouse and slacks, but I’m truly most comfortable in a sari.

At work, no one really says anything to me, except a colleague might say, “Hey, nice Indian costume.” And, once, someone “helpingly” suggested, “You don’t have to dress up every day.” That second comment was actually from a development manager who happens to be Indian-American.

I’m getting a bit self-conscious and wonder if Gandhiji faced any such feelings while traveling outside of India with his dhoti.

Dear Friend,

“If ever I am privileged to visit the West, I shall go there without changing my dress habits, save in so far as the climate may require a change.... My outward form is I hope an expression of the inward.” (M. K. Gandhi)

The above quote was published in Young India in 1928. Gandhiji had previously been to England as a student and to South Africa as a barrister, where he had dressed as a pukka Western gentleman with suit-boot-and-tie. During that era, many British-educated Indian men had taken on the modern fashions of their “imperial masters.”

As Gandhiji transformed into a post-modern man, choosing what to take from modern and traditional societies, he symbolically and spiritually had a change of garb. Whether with peasants, princes, or prime ministers, he stayed true to the sartorial identity he had fashioned for himself: dhoti, sandals, and, if needed in cold weather, a shawl.

The key word here is “true.” If you know who you are in this world, and you know what the world needs of you, then there is nothing stopping you from outwardly expressing yourself in an internally truthful manner.

Since moving to North America in the mid-1960s, my mother has worn a sari. These past five decades have seen her gracefully wear nine yards of cotton, silk, crepe, georgette, or chiffon day after day. Even through Canada’s flora-freezing winters, flowers would somehow bloom on Mom’s saris. Even on the smoggiest summer days when the Chicago skyline would be an eye-stinging blur, birds could be seen cheerfully flying on Mom’s saris. And especially when a manager at progressive Palo Alto’s Nordstrom department store insisted on compliance with an unwritten code to not wear a sari to work, Mom took her thimble, needle, thread, and commitment to her own dress code to the tailoring department at Macy’s, where the mango trees on her saris took root until retirement at the gentle age of 72.

So with Mahatmas and Mothers (yours and mine) as role models, be true to your “sar(i)torial” self.

[Dr. Rajesh C. Oza serves as a consultant to organizations and individuals requiring change leadership. We invite questions for consideration in the PMG column at raj.oza@sbcglobal.net.]


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