Kiran Desai: ‘You look bad if you go to India in western clothes’

Heidi Julavitz in The Guardian:

Women-in-Clothes-Why-We-WearKD: I remember starting to wear the most basic T-shirts and jeans and being unhappy in them. If you haven't grown up wearing a lot of jeans, they're very uncomfortable.

HJ: They have grommets on them. That dig into your body!

KD: Why did they become so popular? Remember after September 11, when everyone was terrified that anyone who looked strange in New York would summarily shoot something? Well, my aunt has only worn saris her whole life, and her son told her: “You've got to try to wear jeans.” So they put her into jeans and she couldn't sit down. I kept saying, “Sit down,” and she'd say, “I can't!” You have to have some sort of self-respect in the end that doesn't alter depending on where you go, which place you travel to. Ideally, I would come up with some sort of uniform, something I'm happy in, that's not dull, but also that I could wear all the time.

HJ: Gustav Klimt used to work in a blue kaftan. It was a painter's smock, and it was linen, and almost looked like a monk's robe.

KD: With exciting fabric, you could wear that with your long johns in the winter! I'm writing a story right now about these women going to visit the family jewellery in the bank – these precious stones mixed with beads and glass. That was your inheritance, and it mattered a lot, as any Indian woman knows. And the grandmother keeps giving it away to the granddaughters, then reclaiming it because she can't bear to let it go because … it's like her stomach is missing. I've seen it so strongly, the jealousy, greed – having to pass on your jewellery, feeling your jewellery is your stomach, in a way. It's that much the centre of your life – your saris, your jewels. There are women in my family – their eyes, their entire expression changes as soon as they're in front of a sari or old jewels they've handed down. Something really old comes up. I remember my grandmother had these jewels, and whenever she had to give one away, she felt like an organ was missing.

HJ: And she had to give it away because …

KD: Because you inherited it. You have to give it to a daughter when she gets married.

HJ: So in the story you're writing, they're going to visit the jewellery in the bank?

KD: Yes.

More here.