Is Auroville fashion taking on a new dimension?
Is Auroville fashion taking on a new dimension? Clothing in Auroville used to be a matter of covering and cooling, but in these more prosperous times, with space for wardrobes, ironing boards, and maybe even a washing machine, clothes are taking on a new dimension. For the ladies, anyway.
Cross-cultural dressing is in; in the snap of a finger, women can transform themselves for a trip to the Ashram in the discreet layers of a Punjabi salwar kameez and dupatta and then go back to the Californian look with jeans and tees, or better still, shorts and an itsy-bitsy top for tea at New Creation Corner.
The layered look is particularly popular with the older woman, but all that coordinating of bits and pieces of fabric can become quite time consuming. The hazardous bike trip to Pondy needs to be faced with large hats for the sun, goggles for dust, and scarves streaming behind that can double up to wipe sweat from the brow – then one is hardly recognisable.
This constant presence of dust and sweat leaves its mark on the clothes, and demands an almost military regime of laundering, that is, if you've set yourself some standards; if not, all the better. Laundry here is an organic process that is often not about getting things cleaner.
T-shirts and shorts gradually merge into a muddy coloured harmony; white undies turn into a sort of reddish grey. Clothes that would serve you for two years in Europe are exhausted in a season, especially if they are pounded by the amah. A washing machine is definitely gentler, but the process can last a whole day if the power goes on and off.
All is compensated for, however, by that fresh smell of sun-dried clothes and the constant miracle of its drying speed, except during the monsoons, of course. Then it's rush out when the rain stops to hang up the washing, and rush out again ten minutes later to rescue it from a downpour. Later, in full monsoon season, the laundry just sits around the house for days developing a wierd smell.
Monsoon time is also time for a wardrobe change with the magnificent billowing raincoats enveloping rider, bike and rucksack in strange shapes. Some speed by, reminiscent of those dashing couriers in war movies. Others, in the neon rainbow shades of Indian raincoats, ride by on bicycles, precariously balancing large black umbrellas. Peaked caps and goggles keep the rain out of eyes and, nowadays, even the occasional Wellington boots can be spotted.
Talking about footwear, wearing pretty sandals in India always seems pointless as you take them off when you get to your destination, that is, if you haven't broken your left one while kick-starting your motorbike. But unlike chappals (flip flops), they rarely disappear from the footwear piles lying outside the Solar Kitchen; only they look so vulnerable lying there.
Accessories are minimal here, despite the tempting wares of the Kashmiri shops in Kuilapalayam. Silver oxidizes too easily with the humidity and leather belts grow a grey fuzz and patches of mould and even your favourite outfits soon sport nibbled holes.
Thankfully, things are easily and cheerfully replaced at the Free Store in Bharat Nivas. It is Auroville's fashion centre with a constantly changing range of styles, sizes and shapes. Carefully arranged rows of white trousers or little tops invite you to transform your tired self. In a few months you can return them all with a blessing for their next owner.
It is the young tourists who brings a dash of chic with their chunky silver jewellery, voluminous Rajasthani skirts and skimpy tops. But the sudden exposure of white, pink or red sunburnt flesh can shock the eye that has become used to a certain decorous modesty, and respect for the erogenous zones of another culture. But all's not perfect; sometimes their hair reminds you of those long Indian train journeys when dust and sweat have congealed it into a sort of mat.
The fashion scene on the beach is another matter. It can get bizarre with tourists in their g-strings besides the Indian women in flowing saris. A big contrast to the New Creation swimming pool, where modesty and efficiency are the rule of the day, plus those compulsory unisex plastic swim caps that makes every Aurovilian look like an athlete.
But the beautiful Tamil women seem to have none of these dilemmas. They don't have the confusion of labels, the endless selection of styles, or the constant search for miracle fabrics. They have found their style in their sari and they stick with it, always looking fresh, elegant and colourful, and somehow, perfectly right. They are definitely the lucky ones!