I found this article saved in my old files… Had me reminiscing about high school, and how recent it all feels.
But mostly i was remembering my best friends… and how somehow we have managed to fight the illusion that end of high school means the end of our friendship.
Eternally grateful to have these girls as my own… Sari Sisters. ❤
Prom night began with a tuck and a fold. And then another fold, and another one, fanlike folds of intense color. No satin or crinoline here, no wispy pastels or frothy puffs. Nothing reminiscent of a wedding cake.
Instead, five girls — friends through high school — stand still as mannequins, one at a time, while Sudhira Kulatunga folds and drapes six yards of fabric over and around them. “One size fits all!” Kulatunga proclaims, and thank goodness for that. Mackenzie is petite, the shortest of her friends, while Sarah is tall and willowy.
One size fits all, so the five friends wear saris to their senior prom.
They planned it for more than two years, since that day sophomore year when Pavithri Kulatunga — just Pavi to her friends — sat down in the Wellington High School lunchroom and declared, “I’m going to wear a sari to senior prom.”
Now for Pavi, that makes sense. A U.S. citizen, she grew up in Matara, Sri Lanka, and came to Wellington to live with her aunt and uncle and attend high school. Her parents, who still live in Sri Lanka, thought the transition to a U.S. college would be easier from a U.S. high school.
Adjusting to life here wasn’t too difficult — perfect English, distinctly American sensibilities and a vivacious, outgoing personality helped. But Sri Lanka tugs at her, her faraway home.
So she decided to wear a sari, a symbol to her of home, to one of the most important events in high school.
Her friends were intrigued.
“I’ll wear one, too,” Rachel Wright decided. Annie Stroze said she’d like to, also. So did Sarah Swisher. So did Mac-kenzie Millington.
While Pavi grew up wearing saris on special occasions and attending schools where her teachers wore saris every day, the other girls had never worn one. They didn’t care. They loved the idea, and began planning immediately.
Pavi declared that the only place to buy their saris was Sri Lanka, and would the girls trust her and her aunt to pick them out? The friends readily agreed.
Last summer, Pavi and her aunt spent two hours choosing the fabric for each sari.
“I thought it would take longer,” Sudhira Kulatunga admits. “We needed to choose them to match each girl’s personality.”
When they got to the first shop, though, the perfect fabrics were obvious: burgundy for Mackenzie, who has a flair for the dramatic. Turquoise and fuchsia for Rachel, whose personality is a combination of whimsical humor and intelligence. Orange for Sarah, who is steady but unconventional. Teal for Annie, to mirror her bubbly, bright disposition. And several shades of blue for Pavi, who is constant and nurturing and fun.
During fall and winter, the girls had several fittings, mostly for the sari jacket — the shirt traditionally worn underneath. They scoured local stores that sell Indian clothing and jewelry, and pored over http://www.bombayfashions.com to pick out everybody’s accessories: bracelets and necklaces and earrings and a matching tikka, the jewelry that lies over the part of the hair.
Even more important, they had Pavi Parties.
Every couple of months, they gathered at Pavi’s house on a weekend evening, made Indian food and watched Bollywood movies.
It got to be such a habit with them that they went back to the local Indian stores to buy CDs of Indian music, which they played loud as they drove around together.
And it’s Pavi Parties that Rachel is thinking about on prom night, while Pavi’s aunt wraps Mackenzie in her sari.
“I’m going to miss Pavi Parties,” Rachel tells Pavi as the two stand in the crowded guest bedroom, temporarily serving as a dressing room.
“Oooooh! Don’t make me cry!” Pavi says, hugging Rachel tight. Rachel starts summer session at the University of Central Florida next month. The other girls will scatter to different colleges — Pavi to Boston University — in August.
Annie and Sarah bustle into the room, already dressed in their saris and fully accessorized, and the girls all flutter and fuss over each other.
“We see each other every day,” Rachel says, “and I just get used to seeing them in jeans. But they get all this on, and it’s just, wow, you are so pretty.”
Before tonight, they had practiced the sari walk, a dainty kick-step that prevents the voluminous folds from ensnaring their ankles. In fact, Pavi’s friends scold her when she suggests they just grab a handful of material and hold it away from their legs.
“No!” Mackenzie declares.
“Only if you’re going up stairs,” Annie adds.
They help each other with jewelry, securing tikkas with bobby pins, smoothing each other’s hair, laughing at nothing. Their parents arrive, and then other friends, boys in tuxedos and girls in traditional prom dresses.
They meander out to the front yard for pictures, everyone together, smile, smile, you were blinking that time, try it again.
“Oh, my cheeks are hurting,” Pavi says, ventriloquist-style, through her smile. “But we look gooooood in our saris.”
And they do. Standing together, the five friends are brilliant like butterflies, radiant and united.
The sun sets, everyone eats dinner at a long table on the patio, then they pile into an Escalade limousine and head to prom at the Palm Beach County Convention Center. The five friends enter to admiring stares and exclamations.
“You look so beautiful!” gushes Susan Cooperman, their AP English teacher and the prom sponsor.
They look unlike anyone else in the prom, five friends in saris, laughing and dancing, together.
Photos by GARY CORONADO
Copyright (c) 2007 Palm Beach Newspapers, Inc.