Celebrating diversity mindfully | Culture | Arts, music and lifestyle reporting from Germany | DW
, 2022-05-31 08:47:07,
Six years ago, when my husband and I set up home in the city of Bonn in the western German state of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), we did what we’ve done wherever we moved: We attempted to assimilate.
And we discovered that one of the high points of predominantly Catholic NRW’s social calendar is the season of Carnival, which hits fever pitch the week before Ash Wednesday, that marks the start of Lent, a period of 40 days before Easter. And dressing up in costume is part of this pre-Lenten revelry.
Anyone who knows me, knows that I can never pass up the opportunity to dress up and so we went to a local costume shop to check out its offerings. It boasted a vast selection catering to every taste: gaudy disco-era dresses to silver space suits, sexy nurse uniforms to nuns’ habits, kangaroos to squirrels and … sarees.
My culture, your costume
Sarees? I did a double-take.
Because hanging there wasn’t just six yards of fabric; it was an outfit I identified with as a first-generation Malaysian of Indian descent.
More specifically though, sarees remind me of my late Mum, for whom it was daily wear. Whether beating clothes on a washing board, collecting eggs from the chicken coop or mixing spices on a grinding stone, she’d go about her daily chores in airy cotton sarees that were suitable for Malaysia’s tropical climate. Her fancier, sumptuous silks were saved for weddings, special occasions, and Sunday Mass.
Hence, seeing sarees being sold as “costumes” for “playing the fool” — as Carnival festivities are often described — was somewhat unsettling. Just as I once found it unsettling watching singer Gwen Stefani, who fronted No Doubt in the 90s, perform with a forehead full of bindis — that “dot” worn between the eyebrows by Indian girls and women, which bears…
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