Wellington, May 23, 2023
A group of women gathered at the wharf on an overcast Sunday morning in Wellington and began walking along the waterfront to raise money for charity.
What set this one apart from other charity events was that every participant was clad in the traditional costume of India, the sari.
Over 100 women across ethnicities and age groups, all draped in saris, assembled at Frank Kitts Park on May 21 and proceeded along the 5-km stretch towards Evans Bay Parade to raise awareness of breast cancer.
The event was inspired by the feat of Madhusmita Jena, 41, who completed the Manchester Marathon in the UK in 4 hours and 50 minutes. Jena, who ran in a sari, disproved the misconception that the sari was a restrictive garment ill-suited for sporting activity.
In stark contrast to her fellow competitors outfitted in track pants and jerseys, Jena, a high school teacher, ran the 42.5 Km marathon wearing a traditional Sambalpuri handloom sari from the Indian state of Odisha.
Jyoti Gosavi, who organised the Wellington event, explained its origin: “ I put that news [of Jena running the marathon in a sari] in my Go Vibrant Sari WhatsApp group. I thought if she can run in a sari, why can’t we walk ? That is how it all started.”
The 80-odd members of Gosavi’s WhatsApp group decided to stage a “Sari Walk” along the Wellington waterfront as a charity event for the Breast Cancer Foundation of New Zealand.
Word went out to various communities. “We wanted to include women from all age groups. So, we made it a fun walk rather than a competition. The participants could walk in their own pace, take breaks, enjoy themselves.”
The participants ranged from 14 years to 78 years. A registration fee of $5 was collected from each participant. Some donated more and the proceeds went to the Breast Cancer Foundation.
The walkers gathered at Frank Kitts Park in Central Wellington at 10 a.m. and proceeded along the seafront via Oriental Parade and culminated at Greta Point Café at Evans Bay Parade, where they were greeted with ginger tea provided by Swad Kitchen of Lower Hutt.
Gosavi recalled the consents process involved prior to staging the event. “We got the footpath licence from the Wellington City Council. We informed the New Zealand Police and the Waterfront authorities as well.”
Gosavi was at pains to point out that the participants turned out in saris meant for special occasions, rather than casual wear. “Many wore pink saris as the event was tied up to the Breast Cancer Foundation.”
Isn’t the sari somewhat restricting while walking or running?
Gosavi admits wearing a sari for sporting events can be a challenge. “It can slow you down. We are testing our abilities, pushing ourselves. Most of the participants wore the 6-yard sari. Some wore the 9-yard sari, which allows more freedom of movement. You can even run in the 9-yard sari.”
“I did not feel tired. There were volunteers watching out for me. Drinking water was provided. The event was very well organised,” said Shalini Jodgekar, who, at age 78, was the oldest participant.
For the Wellington public, it was a day that celebrated Indian culture and finery.
Venu Menon is an Indian Newslink reporter based in Wellington