The soft strains of the tanpura. The minute strokes of a miniature painting. The wafting aroma of dum biryani. These are just some of the things left behind by the Mughals who ruled the South-East Asian subcontinent until two centuries ago. They also are a reminder of a time when the finer things in life were really appreciated.
Another item the Mughals bequeathed us, which has stood the test of time quite well, is the churidar pyjama. This literally translates as pyjama with chooris – choori being a fold of fabric or a bangle. The idea being that a pair of trousers hug your legs so tightly that the folds of fabric fit as snugly around your calves as would a set of bangles. Pyjama, incidentally, is a Farsi word that has made its way into the English language: “pay” meaning foot and “jama” meaning clothing.
Traditionally worn with a flared, below-the-knee-length top known as an anarkali, the churidar evokes the grace of a bygone era and is a garment of utmost elegance.
Be it a wedding or a cultural evening, with this magnificent piece of Mughal attire, you can never make a fashion faux pas.
As graceful as it looks when worn, the churidar pyjama is funny to look at when not on – like a pair of trousers made for a person whose legs are about 10-feet long. This extra length of fabric is meant to gather in graceful pleats just above the ankle and halfway up the calves.
Until recently, finding a tailor who could sew a perfectly fitting pair of churidars was akin to finding the Holy Grail. If done right, your churidar would fit so well it looked like it might have been painted on. However, it was far more common to have your outfit come back from the tailors and discover that you were the not-so-proud owner of a pair of trousers so loose they might as well be clown trousers, or a pair so tight that the thought of putting them on would reduce you to tears.
There’s a little trick to putting on a churidar that is a bit too tight around the ankles: slip your feet into a plastic grocery bag and tie it tightly around your ankle before sliding the pyjama on. But this trick needs to be approached with a measure of caution. Many a churidar that is put on this way has to be cut or ripped off the wearer when it comes time to changing out of it – because there’s no trick to getting it off the ankle.
This balance between too loose and too tight has caused generations of women endless stress, specially during the Eid and wedding seasons. Until now.
Thankfully, these days, instead of the traditionally used unforgiving fabrics such as cotton or linen, which require precise measurements and cuts, churidars are made with stretchy material and hence have enough give to accommodate your ankle, while also getting the coveted sleek silhouette once put on.
With this genius adjustment, the churidar has become even more of a wardrobe staple. No longer worn with just an anarakli or exclusively by older women, the churidar is now popular with young girls who wear them with long shirts as the desi equivalent of a T-shirt and a pair of leggings.
Looks like churidars are here to stay.
The writer is an honest-to-goodness desi living in Dubai