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Posted at: Sep 10, 2017, 12:47 AM; last updated: Sep 10, 2017, 12:47 AM (IST)IMPRESSIONS

Saree stopper: Run Jayanti, run!

Suresh Dharur in Hyderabad
The IT manager drapes herself in a 9-yard wonder and runs a marathon — for a cause: how to popularize handloom products and help the weavers faced with a bleak future

Suresh Dharur in Hyderabad

JAYANTHI Sampathkumar, an IT manager with Microsoft in Hyderabad, loves handlooms. She wants people to appreciate the hard work that weavers put in to make those beautiful clothes. As part of an initiative to promote handloom, she undertook a unique mission.

At the Airtel Hyderabad marathon held in the city recently, Jayanthi ran a 42-km stretch clad in a nine-yard saree and reached the finish line in less than five hours.

The 44-year-old IT professional chose the saree not just to demonstrate her support for handloom, but to make another point as well. “Everyone should be able to wear what they feel comfortable in, and that can be a saree too. I wanted to show that a saree is not a restrictive garment in leading an active and fit lifestyle,” she said.

“It was a great experience. Many people were curious and they also wanted to take selfies with me,” said the IT executive who is also keen to devote more time for promoting environmental awareness.

Running a marathon in a saree required training. In January last year, Jayanthi and her family decided to have a fitter lifestyle which included running and cycling. Soon, Jayanthi began training more intensively to run marathons, and ran a half marathon in August 2016. Then, she ran a full marathon in Chennai in January and covered 42.2 km in 5 hours and 28 minutes.

After that event, the idea to run in a saree occurred to her. “I have always seen my mother and grandmother wear sarees every day, and even they felt it was restrictive sometimes. I wanted to challenge myself too,” Jayanthi says. It began with wearing a saree to work every day and thereafter progressed to training to run in the garment in April.”

The latter involved plenty of experimentation to figure out which saree and style suited her best while running. 

“I saw YouTube videos and tried the Maharashtrian drape, Andhra styles, Tamil styles… There were considerations of the length like 6-yard or 9-yard, how many pins and pleats to put to make it stay in place,” she recalls.

Finally, it was the Tamil Madisaar style which worked best for her.

Jayanthi also chose to run in minimalistic sandals instead of sports shoes. “I realized that I was most comfortable running bare feet. But over a long distance, the stones and pebbles were hurting my feet. So I went and found these minimalistic sandals through some communities. It’s the closest I can get to running bare feet while protecting my feet,” she says.

Armed with systematic training and unflinching support from her family and coach, Jayanthi ran the 42.2 km marathon. She covered the distance in 4 hours 57 minutes and 44 seconds.

Jayanthi wants to attempt to enter the Guinness Book of World Records for the title of running the fastest marathon in a saree. She said that she had informed Guinness authorities about her attempt and was in the process of submitting the evidence.

“I am waiting to submit the evidence, which will come in a certificate that the event organisers will provide. Alongside, I had a cycle marshal helping me take video and photographic evidence. My coach, Dr Vignan, was also there throughout lending great support. The condition is that I finish the marathon under five hours. I have managed to complete it within that time limit,” she says.

But at the core of Jayanthi’s efforts lies a very simple idea. “I wanted to promote the idea that you can do anything you want, no matter what you wear,” she said and acknowledged the support of her family for her mission. “What keeps me going is my family. My husband and I run together,” she says. 

Though India is home to the highest number of handloom weavers in the world, a majority of them are stuck in poverty. “The handloom industry is not only India’s pride, but also remains a source of employment for millions in the country. We need to do a lot for them,” she said.

The steady growth in power looms, which accounts for over 70% of Indian textiles, has dealt a severe blow to the traditional handloom sector. The removal of import restrictions and deregulation of industries post-liberalization had given a big boost to the power looms and mill sectors. Moreover, the replacement of natural fibre by synthetic yarn and production of imitation products by power looms have played havoc with regional identities. A variety of cheap imitations are available now, be it the Benares silks or Kanjeevarams in the South.

As per the official figures, the number of families engaged in traditional weaving in the country has been steadily going down, from 1.24 crore in the 1970s to 64 lakhs in 1995 and to 44 lakhs in 2010. In a study conducted by Rashtra Cheneta Jana Samakhya, a leading trade union of handloom weavers, over 1,500 weavers committed suicide in the last three years across the country. 


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