The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga

Journey to India Chapter Five

Chapter I
Chapter II
Chapter III
Chapter IV
Chapter V
Chapter VI

NPR Postings by
Meredith Jagger
India Journal - June 4
India Journal - June 18
India Journal - June 29

 

Strength illuminates women of India

UTC professors Dr. William Harman, philosophy and religion, and Dr. Elizabeth Gailey, communication, lead a five week summer study tour in India. The trip was made possible through a generous grant from the University of Chattanooga Foundation, which covers approximately 75% of student costs including travel, lodging, and food.

What follows is a firsthand account and personal photos by Darris Saylors.

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The women of southern India, like much of the region itself, are memorable examples of beauty and nobility in human form. They are one of the first vivid images of India‚ the teeming palette of colors you will see on a journey there. They become in my memory a lasting testament to the country, traditions, and classic elegance, attributes so often overshadowed by sights of garbage-lined streets and poverty. For those of us lucky enough to evoke the most charming of smiles from these women, we discover how beauty can be adorned by charm. Memories of their matchless grace and poise have become for me unattainable models for how it is possible to lead a difficult, hard-working life and still to be beautiful.

Yes, I could romanticize Indian women because their enchantment seems so effortless and so palpable, a beauty that is reflected in all they are and do. You can hear the delicate tinkling sounds of anklets, marking the rhythm of their skillful barefoot stride; you can smell the jasmine in their hair, strands of fragrant white that they themselves weave together, in fragrant whites that suggest the value of purity so esteemed in young women. And you can see the wide array of colorful fabrics flowing in their graceful clothing, and in their long, lovely scarves that whip in the wind, wrapped snugly around their bodies so as to make even the fullest of figures or the most elderly among them look radiant.

These traditional outfits worn, or, better yet, enhanced by the women of India provide a visual feast as sumptuous as the variety of flowing fabrics, patterns, and colors from which the sarees are made. They make jeans and a tee-shirt look unimaginative and pedestrian. Indian women choose bright, bold colors: sun-kissed yellow blouses with burnt-orange sarees etched with golden embroideries or even darker hues, such as shimmering navy blues with burgundy and forest green highlights. And then they fill these materials with the life of their limbs, giving new energy and graceful motion to these glowing colors. The women truly make their own clothes; they create a new genre that awakens our visual appetite, denies us the ability to patent and package it in the oversimplified, facsimile patterns in stores here at home, then leaves us wondering how the look that seems so second nature to them could seem so awkward and even inappropriate on us. Since sarees are composed of nine yards of fabric, often heavy and delicate silks, and require the wearer to wrap and tuck the material several times around the body, Western women not only lack the skill to wrap a saree correctly, but we would probably look strange attempting to wear so much fabric intact while carrying on with our daily activities. And yet, their activities require so much more of them: washing countless loads of clothes on a riverbank, bending at sharp angles and using rice flower to create a kolam flower design on the ground outside the home doorway, beginning each day, skillfully spinning coconut hairs into rope threads for use around the home, or carrying a heavy load of bricks or large sacks of grain on their heads, common, every-day tasks for many women in India.

Indian women never cease to amaze me. Their beauty defies the wrinkles of age and their grace navigates with elegance what we would suppose to be a tension between tradition and progress.