Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Why "pretty blue salwar?"

Or, more specifically, why title my blog something that references directly concepts of ethnicity, nationality, multiculturalism, and identity, and can provoke some fairly contentious response?

Or, even more specifically, why title the blog something which begs the question "can a white (non-desi) woman wear a blue salwar?"

Well, to start off, I can -- if one interprets it literally. That is, it goes on over my head (though technically the salwar part pulls on from the feet and is tied at the waist) and my body does not burst into flames a la Glauce.

That's the easy answer.

Can a white (non-desi) woman wear a blue salwar in Hyderabad? Yes. The tourist blogs claim I'll be taken more seriously that way. In the photos I've seen of the place I'm going to work, everyone's wearing salwars and kurtas, so my guess is that I will be following suit.

But I bought my blue salwar three months ago, as a birthday present to myself. I've never worn it in public.

So the real question is "can a white (non-desi) woman wear a blue salwar in America?" And if so, where?

To a Bollywood film showing at a local theatre?
To an Indian Student Association event?
To the Namaste Grocery?
To a classroom or rehearsal hall?
To Wal-Mart?

I feel like the answer is "no" and yet I don't like it.

There's another blog post I want to reference, in which an American (desi) blogger describes her experiences wearing salwar, and the various readings of this particular piece of clothing. It's a post about tension and misinterpretation, and passing judgment without understanding. And yet, in the comments, a white woman writes "may I wear salwar too? they are so beautiful and comfortable..." (Edit: The link is here.)

It's... I don't know. When I wear it (if I wear it) I want it to read "I am educating myself about India," but it's going to look like it reads "I am exotifying India." And that seems to be the inherent problem.

I'm going to keep puzzling through this, although right now I am out of time.

Here's the other half of the answer, in case you were wondering. It's called pretty blue salwar because that was the name of the actual thing, when I bought it on ebay. "Pretty pretty blue salwar," said the link. I clicked, and the rest is history.

(Edit: Click here for Part Two.)


Vi said...

Come to NJ. Plenty of places where you can wear it! :)

AB said...

It was interesting to read your comments about wearing a salwar to Wal-mart in the US. My wife is a white American and she often wears a
to work and everywhere else. She also has many salwars that she wears here like any of her other western clothes.

Thambi said...
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