Do you know the difference between the kurta, the kameez, the salwar and the churidhar? Do you know what Indians mean by the term ‘suit’?
For a long time when I was much younger, I acted, dressed and even sounded a lot like a boy. Wearing traditional Indian clothes, was not something anybody expect from me. I loved Indian clothes, just not on myself.
This last one year though, has seen my cupboards fill up, with kurtas that I pair with skinny jeans, a host of shoes/chappals, scarves and chunky jewellery to go.
She: “Hey, so do you have a saree ready? Have you stitched your blouse?”
Me: “No.. I’m not wearing a saree.”
She: “What?! But you’ll look great! You’re tall and thin!” (>_>)
She: “A what?”
Me: “A purple salw.. “
She: “You know.. all you people keep saying ‘salwar’ and it makes me so irritated. So what now, you plan on going only half clothed, with a bare chest?”
She: “Salwar!! Salwar means only the bottom part.. salwar is only the pants! Kameez is the top part, the kurta!”
Me: “Oh, umm.. Well yea, that’s what I meant.”
Here's the next detail of Indian clothing I was unaware of.
While at the tailors (yet another Punjabi) to get my kameez stitched, she asked me: “So how tight do you want your suit?”
Me: “No! I said I wanted to get a kameez stitched!”
Her: “Ji, suit is same as kameez. Salwar-suit. We say like that na?”
A couple of weeks later, nearing the time of the event that my friend and I had been talking about earlier, I became desperate. I needed a matching white dupatta and white pajama to go with my kameez. I rounded up 15 aunties and accumulated a total of 17 dupattas (I was supposed to get another 8). They were all supposed to bring their clothes to church that week. My event was in a few days and it was very important that they didn’t forget, because I wouldn’t be able to collect it from them otherwise.
As for the pajama, I called up my best friend and said, “Hey, so can you bring me a white churidhar tomorrow?”
When I met her after service that day, I asked her for the stuff. She took out a giant plastic cover and showed me all the dupattas she’d brought me. “Where’s the white churidhar, like I’d asked you?” “What white one? I only have this one black chuddi.”, she replied, taking out a black kurta with silver embroidery.
I was fuming by now, that she’d been so careless, and panicking over what I was going to do for the event.
Me: “No no no! I’ve seen it! You wear it with this very same black kurta of yours!”
By now, I realized what had happened. She thought ‘churidhar’ meant ‘kurta’, and thought that I had asked her to bring something she didn’t have. But churidhar is actually another type of pajama, worn by both men and women in the subcontinent, below their kurtas.
Aaah. I couldn’t blame her. I myself didn’t know the difference, until a few days before.
So I took a deep breath, and decided to educate her on the complexities of the kurta, the kameez, the salwar and the churidhar.