Where have all the cholis gone?


It is reliably learnt that United Nations is going to declare one day in a year as World Choli day. On that day, there will be seminars, exhibitions, discussions, documentaries and other media focus on a versatile item which is on the fast-disappearing list. What was an indispensable object in every Indian lady’s wardrobe is suffering a slow exit due to utter indifference of the younger generation.

What is this ‘choli? And where have they all gone? To answer this question one has to delve into the history of the article in question. Choli is a tailored upper garment used as an indispensable accessory to a sari. This is of any material-cotton, silk, velvet, synthetic yarn and it is cut and stitched according to the wearer’s whims and fancies or to the fashion’s current trend.
It is well known that diaphanous cholis have always been used by Indian women from the days of yore as is evident from sculptures, paintings and literature_ going by the Sanskrit name ‘Kanchuka’. It used to expose and embellish much more than it used to conceal.
When British took over India, swamping the country with their Victorian norms and taboos, the artistic choli underwent a drastic change. It became a dowdy item called blouse/jacket with long sleeves, high necks and low hems. Even Raja Ravi Verma painted all his Goddesses in the politically correct blouses.
Once India gained independence, the necklines became gradually deeper, cleavages were hinted at and the hemlines went higher exposing a delectable strip of flesh at the mid riff. As for the sleeves, they would go higher, lower, get puffed or sometimes altogether disappear depending on the dictates of Bombay Film Industry.
Once the women’s liberation became an accepted fact and glass ceilings were broken through, the effect was more noticeable in blouses, by then called ‘cholis’, the name connoting a form fitting garment. They appeared in all forms, front open, back open, with hooks, with buttons, with knots or with laces, with backs, without backs, with bodice, without bodice, lined, padded, ventilated, windowed, with borders, without borders, noodle strapped et al. The rigmarole of finding a suitable match for the sari was done with when the innovative weavers started weaving the blouse piece along with the saree. There were plain ones, checked ones, embroidered ones, appliquéd ones, multipieced ones.A raunchy song about ‘choli’ picturised on Madhuri Dixit, Neena Gupta and group created such a furore that the matter went right up to that august forum, the Parliament. As expected, the protests were most vociferous from those who had not seen the movie nor heard the song. However, with the wrong publicity the popularity of the song shot to dizzy heights leaving the producers laughing all the way to the bank.
But now with the younger generation preferring the Salwaar Kameez , Jeans and Kurtis, the demand for sarees has come down. When such is the case with the main dress, what to say about the accessory, the poor‘choli’?!
No wonder United Nations wants to honor this vestige- of –Indian- culture-on-the-verge-of-extinction by allotting a day for it.

(Inspired by World Sparrow day)

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