So when I started writing this I probably deleted my first statement 5 times because I just did not know where to begin. There are so many things to talk about Deepika Shetty that you just can’t figure out how to start- should you talk about Sadee Saree first , or how she MAXed all social media channels to successfully document her debut novel The Red Helmet or how she is persevering hard to get global attention on the issues of elderly plight -doing all this while being the Arts correspondent at The Straits Times ! This one will be a long post , so I suggest you get yourself your favorite beverage Masala chai or a tall latte if you please and yes maybe a slice of your favorite cake too !
A bit about Deepika in her own words
“In 2014, after distributors showed little interest Deepika used social media to successfully market her debut novel, The Red Helmet. Set in 1980s India, this inventive and irreverent novel speaks of love, loss and the journeys it compels us to make.
Trained as a print journalist in India, Deepika has been based in Singapore since 1995, where she now works as the Arts Correspondent for The Straits Times.
She is also the founder of Sadee (Our) Saree on Facebook, a page that has been widely credited with the global revival of sarees. But the big reason why her name pops up in numerous discussions these days is her active social media campaigning for her Aunt – Sukhi. In May this year, as she relentlessly documented Sukhi’s Story, she brought to our attention the plight of the elderly, the extent of abuse and became the change we often talk of being. And succeeded in getting justice for Sukhi, unjustly denied for several years. Last year, she received the inaugural Glittering Woman award for her contribution to writing and social causes. Before her return to print, she worked in television for six years fronting South-east Asia’s first television book show. “
Sadee Saree , the inception .
I Was A Saree Virgin, seriously I was. This was the first note I wrote in May 2013. And then my editor friend Keith Fernandez dropped by at my Singapore home and told me I had a story. That I was onto something, had a rather hatke way with words and that the saree narrative needed to move beyond my personal Facebook page. Boys are always right about these things.
I wore a saree for my wedding reception in 1995. Perhaps three or four more times after that.I wasn’t ready, I wasn’t comfortable, I always felt it would somehow come undone and on one occasion it nearly did.I carried my nervousness as gingerly as my drape, my tentativeness showing in the hastily put together pleats, the slouched shoulders, the safety pins.I wasn’t confident and it showed.You could blame it on the better part of my life spent in trousers and jeans. Pity really.Then something happened late last year.I opened the cupboard, where I keep my mildly fancy clothes.There they were, five sarees my late mother owned, handed down to me by my father, on one trip to Dehra Dun.I have no idea why I had never bothered reaching out for them but that evening I did.My mother was a teacher and an artist.The sarees she possessed reflected her personality.Fun, funky, easy to drape and comfortable enough to take you through the day and night.It was sometime around Diwali and a movie screening that got me to try one.It was incredible. For someone who had never known sarees before, I was ready to go in under 10 minutes. The pleats were perfect, the pallu flowed and it stayed just the way I had draped it.
I went for an art opening, then the movie screening and then a drink and something happened.
I don’t know whether it was the rush of my mother’s memory, this feeling of a part of her being so close to me or the drape or how perfectly it split my body.Perhaps it was all of it and I just knew it – I had found love.
On August 15, 2013, while I was still struggling for some closure with my debut novel – The Red Helmet – I ended up starting Sadee (Our) Saree as a Facebook page. It has been my most successful social media experiment to date and has taken me in directions I never imagined. It is today a wonderful global community driven by one simple objective – to celebrate women everywhere using the saree as a narrative device. As a journalist and as a writer, I have long felt that our world is too celebrity obsessed. You either have to be a Bollywood star or a Page 3. But our stories are everywhere. They exist beyond our metros. They exist in all languages. In fact, they are special because often when they arrive the English they use is not. I am not bothered by these things. This imagined perfection of language. I am the seeker of stories – in crevices. Stories forgotten. Stories we choose not to look at. Stories that shape us, that define us. I am serious about celebrating them 24/7.
What does a Saree mean to you ?
Something a Little Black Dress not. I arrived into the world of sarees real late. At the age of 43, to be precise. I am 46 now. It all started with my late mother’s sarees that had been given to me as a wedding gift by my father. All he told me was that whatever happened I should not part with them. They languished in my wardrobe for years. I have no idea what made me reach out for them. I was the girl who used to even show up at Diwali parties in blue jeans. My high point of fashion before I discovered the magically mysterious world of sarees was a Ritu Kumar salwar kameez.
I was supremely uncomfortable when I draped my first saree seriously. But I watched the impact it had. Soon as I was reaching for my second one, third…documenting the feeling of being in each saree as I went along.
Every saree made me feel different. Every saree was a story waiting to be told. Every saree gave me a different persona, a different personality. I just could not wait to drape the next, the next, the next.
As the journey continued, stories kept unravelling, sarees kept arriving, designers I had never heard of before my saree life became friends.
Some days when I think about it, I feel like I am still walking in a serious saree dream.
Saree you could wear to work everyday (and I often do) –
Raw mango by Sanjay Garg and Kerala’s Kasavu. Both are functional, light, elegant. Above all, perfectly suited for Singapore’s tropical weather. Above all, these sarees make feel O Womaniya. I was gifted Sanjay’s Sooti recently. I swear some days I sleep in it. I lovingly call Raw mango a Global Weapon of Mass Distraction. They are the first sarees I pack each time I travel. I also never travel without at least one Kasavu. I find them amazingly versatile. You can dress them up or dress them down. And mix and match with any blouse under the sun or the moon.
Saree you would wear to a friend’s wedding.
Depends of the time of day or night. If you had asked me a couple of months ago, I would have never imagined I would be saying this. I mean when the Kanjeevaram Platinum standard is Rekhaji, where does anyone else stand a chance.
I had been seeing Gaurang’s sarees on the ramp and they looked amazingly fantastic. As a Sardarni married to a South Indian, I have actually been petrified of Kanjeevarams and told Gaurang that the first time I met him. That much as I liked seeing them on the ramp, I wasn’t sure it was for me. He told me with the ease of a designer who has converted many women to the lushness of Kanjeevarams. “Wait till you try mine.” I did and I have been hooked since.
(Sending you the shot of Gaurang’s black Kanjeevaram in a separate email)
Saree you would wear in your next book launch?
Meri Dilliwali Girlfriend Devika Garg who has been a huge part of my saree journey brought Anavila into my world. She had sent me shots of one of her ramp shoes. Again, it wasn’t love at first sight. I loved the styling. I loved the models but I wasn’t so sure they were for me. Funnily enough (or maybe not) I had criticised one of her looks on Sadee Saree. I had said what I had felt about it. One morning I woke up and Anavila was on my saree page. One of her Singapore-based friends had told her about it. We started exchanging messages, one thing led to another. I got to try one of her sarees and I was hooked.
An Anavila is an experience quite unlike any other. The linen falls in ways other materials do not. There is this under-stated elegance in her drape that makes me want to reach out for them all the time. It is the saree I greatly enjoy being in. I keep reaching out for it over and over again. I drape them for award ceremonies, for work, for parties…for just about everything. I call Anavila the perfect Journo saree. It completely fits my sensibility and suits my aesthetic.
Saree you would gift to Madhuri Dixit or Madhubala or any other actress it could be Hollywood too!
I would only ever gift it to Madhubala. I am completely smitten by her. I would pick a weave from India’s very heartland. Something that has not been over-exposed, a weave waiting to be found…because when Bollywood drapes it does launch a thousand other weaves. Which is why I hope more star stylists would pay more attention to the richness and incredible diversity of India’s weaves and the stories they tell us.
Your most favorite saree ever !!!
This is impossible to answer.I love my Anavila as much as my Bailou as much as Gaurang as much as my Raw mango as much as my Kasavu as much as my Taaant as much as my Chanderi as much as my Maheshwari as much as my Snna…it is a loooong list…really
The Saree You are Lusting For…
Kunbi. The Wendell Rodricks reloaded version. I hope he is reading this!!! It is sold out all the time.
How many sarees do you have ?
Never paused to count.
Here is a glimpse of a few from her wardrobe…
Another Dilliwali girlfriend, gallerist Bhavna Kakar has started something of unscripted tradition. She gifts me a saree on my birthday. We first saw this on Tisca Chopra and lusted after it together together. Bhavna had the saree couriered in time for my 46th birthday. As my own wretched luck would have it, I ended up spending it in hospital. I did get to drape it a few weeks later when I was doing an artist studio visit. Soon, I became a performance art piece…just like this.
Saree is a Raw mango by Sanjay Garg.Gajra is freshly made. As Sadee Saree, I am a huge champion of all things hand-made. I always buy my Gajra from a lovely little road side flower shop in Little India. I don’t even have to say it any more. The guys just know exactly the length of flowers I need for my hair
The story of this saree: In the clear light of day I am reminded that my obsession with textiles & Sarees has gone on way longer than I have known. My father was posted in Cuttack when I first started buying sarees 30 years ago. I showed no sign or inclination of ever draping them. And my father would always complain about the money I was making him spend on these sarees. But I just could not stop myself. Last night I reached out for this 30-year-old Saree for Astad Deboo’s show in Singapore. Staying in it for many hours I was reminded – that a weave is a weave is a weave…30 years on she’ll still have a story to spin. #sadeesaree #odisha#india #singapore
I am with dancer and choreographer Astad Deboo.
A Kasavu with a Kutchi Blouse and clearly not Ek Chutki Sindoor at my bestie Asha Popatlal’s Diwali party. My hair is dunked in a bucket load of Kama’s Maha Bhringadi. I am a huge global Champi Champion. All you young girls – listen to your Mamma Mias and oil your hair. Right now!!!
Getting back to the party, Asha has these crazy floor fans which always do crazy things for Sadee Saree.
(The rest of my Kasavu love explained above)
Snna by Swati and Sunna…for all the drama Mammmaaa…They are doing really fun stuff with weaves and have some amazing blouses to go with them.
This is my one and only Gaurang Kanjeevaram. Soon after I got it, I draped it for 3 nights in a row. There is something about his swish of silk…I swear.
I am so happy you picked this. Because these sarees are impossible to get for leave or money. When my writer friend Amita Sarwal was leaving Singapore she gifted me some of her rare weaves. That’s how this saree arrived in my collection. It is from Bengal. Bappaditya Biswas of Bailou told me this weave has pretty much died. This is why we must keep supporting our weaves. If I am not wrong, this saree dates back to the 1960s. It is pure gold.
Again thrilled you have this in your picks. Something I made my father buy for me when he was posted in Cuttack. He always wondered why I was making him spend his hard-earned money on sarees I would never drape. Dates back to the 1980s. I often team it up with a cropped top. Love it to bits. Takes comfort to a whole new level.
My pal Devika Garg ‘forced’ me to buy this at Dilli Haat. I am grateful. It is almost like my saree uniform now
This was when Sanjay Garg had his first show in Singapore. Almost everything had sold out. Which is how I ended up in a blouse clearly many sizes too big for me!!! But it is a very special moment, never mind the idhar-udar saree and well…the blouse ke side effects. It feels special when they hold your book like that. And well…that’s Mr Raw mango himself…I had never imagined this would happen in this lifetime.
Again Raw mango by Sanjay Garg. He had done the saree and the blouse for my book launch. I wasn’t sure this was the colour for me but my artist friend Narayan Chandra Sinha had this hand-crafted neckpiece. The hair pull back was his idea too.
Advice for the Sari Novice
First things first, I am no expert. Yes, images are deceptive.2. It is not difficult. The blouse needs to be fitted.3. The petticoat super-tight. Like tight to the point where you can barely breathe because it tends to loosen a bit through the evening.4. The pleats must be in the centre. The saree loses its charm if they are on the side and it doesn’t fall right.5. I dislike the over-drape. In my style book, the pallu flows. The pattern stands out and it does look beautiful. You can casually pull it up whenever you wish to.6. Relax. Nothing is going to happen. Remember an entire generation of women ran entire households in them. All you are going to be doing is showing up at a cocktail party. You can’t go terribly wrong.7. Stand tall, breathe right. The saree will look better.8. I dislike the skirt saree. It is too skirty, it is too perfect.
What are the future plans for Sadee Saree?
To just keep going with the flow…Sadee Saree will take me wherever she is meant to. She has a mind all her own. She is not the listening type. She does not like best laid plans. A little bit like her creator I think…this Sadee Saree.
To follow Sadee Saree on Facebook click here.
More about Deepika on her website