This Article is From Sep 23, 2014

Minister Sahiba Loses Her Saree and Misses a G-20 Reception

(Shobhaa De is an established writer, columnist, opinion shaper and social commentator, who is considered an authority on popular culture.)

Visualise this scenario: Ex- BJP spokesperson, Nirmala Sitharaman, the 55-year-old Commerce and Industries Minister in Narendra Modi's Cabinet, was happily tweeting away about the great music selection and overall service on board the Air India flight taking her to her first really important global summit, scheduled to take place in Cairns (Australia).

The plane landed in Sydney and Ms Sitharaman was still tweeting about her wonderful Air India experience. Till, she got to Cairns... and waited for her baggage... waited for her baggage... waited for her baggage... and then discovered it hadn't arrived. Panic buttons were instantly hit! Forget the G-20 reception and all weighty matters associated with the event. This was an emergency! A national emergency. India's izzat was at stake! Our minister did not have a change of saree! Musibatt or what? Big time, musibatt, boss!

When was the last time you arrived at an international airport and found your bags missing? What? Oh... Okay. Last week, was it? Er, it happened to me two months ago. British Airways, not Air India. Same-to-same situation. In fact, even worse. I tweeted and tweeted. Nothing happened. No bag. No sarees. Nothing. Yes, it felt terrible. I shrugged. Hota hai. My meetings weren't exactly in the G-20 league.

But dekho, meetings are meetings. I gritted my teeth and went. Wearing flip flops and airport gear. My logic was simple - if my associates were going to focus on my flip-flops and ignore the real agenda for the meeting, we'd both lose (clothes maketh the man. Sarees maketh the Indian woman). But I would lose more. I decided to use my bheja and ignore the strange looks I was getting. Ms Sitharaman is vainer than I would have imagined - niiiicce! She ducked out of the meeting because she didn't want to be seen in the airport saree. Who knows - India may have missed out on a key networking opportunity that night, perhaps even lost out on inking a new deal! All because of a saree!

As diplomatic snafus go, this one is pretty unique. What if the minister assigned to this trip had been a man? Would he have stayed away from the formal reception because he didn't have a fresh kurta/band gala/suit? Or said "to hell with it" and marched in without bothering about his attire? Ms Sitharaman was wondering whether there was an enterprising desi saree salesman in Cairns. Well, Cairns is famous for the Great Barrier Reef. But a Great Saree Shop? Dinesh Chouhan, who runs a saree store in Melbourne, did offer his wares. As did a young female journalist who generously wanted to loan the minister one of her sarees. It was also suggested Ms Sitharaman borrow a saree from our lady Consul General in Melbourne. Remember - we are talking sarees, not salwar-kameezes. The best thing about sarees is the one-size-fits-all advantage.

Air India finally located and returned the lady's luggage. Ms Sitharaman went on to make her voice heard in this powerful club that controls 85% of the global economy. But there are important lessons in this saree saga for all of us: always carry a spare saree/suit in your hand luggage. Especially if you are invited to G-20 summits.

Given the frequency with which international carriers lose / misplace luggage these days, keep important documents with you, especially medical prescriptions. Never pack essential medicines in check-in baggage - I made that mistake, and suffered. If no immediate solution is in sight (e.g. no saree shops in Cairns), walk into the nearest readymade garments' store and buy an outfit - any suitable garb will do in such a sticky situation.

Come to think of it, the slim and youthful Minister, would have looked pretty good clad in a smart business suit...or, a slinky evening dress. Next time, Nirmala - go for it! Cherie Blair wears desi when she comes a-calling. You should have worn Aussie! Now that would have grabbed headlines... and maybe a contract or two!

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