Posted by R. John Howe on 02-25-2004 05:47 AM:

Bicycle Riders in Sarees

Dear folks -

A little more than 30 years ago, I spent some time at the University of Michigan, posing as an aging (even then) graduate student.

Michigan has a large South Asia studies program and there were then about 2,500 Indians on campus.

One of the things that struck me (in addition to male Sikhs constantly preening and tucking under the strands of their beards with pencils as they read while riding the university buses) was that during the warmer months one often saw Indian girls in sarees riding bicycles.

Often they would be going along a great rate, sometimes in wind and I never saw one whose saree became disarrayed or who got it caught in the gears.

It always struck me as a remarkable ability and an acrobatic feat of considerable daring. I wondered where and how they learned to do it.


R. John Howe

Posted by Mishra Jaina on 02-25-2004 07:20 AM:

Hi John,

This reminds me of my days in Bombay when I worked in one end of the city and lived in the other end. This meant a constant fight against time - leading to jumping on and off running buses and trains. And yes - that was in sarees ! Alongs with hundreds of other women who fought against time. And not once have I ever seen any awkward situations.

The saree is popular for two surprising reasons of economy - it can be shared by the women in the house, and is adjustable to whatever size you grow into !

The loose end - the pallo has also been glorified in many ways.

First as an element associated with the 'mother' of the house. And fond family memories are linked to the times when kids hid inside their mothers pallos. Scores of Bollywood songs are dedicated to the shelter to be found in the mothers pallo. This is just one of the manifestations of the social wealth to be found within families.

Second as a flirtatious element in courting - again scores of Bollywood songs would have some reference to the 'pallo' or 'aanchal'

Fun thing this saree !

Jaina Mishra

Posted by Danny Mehra on 02-25-2004 10:56 PM:

Ladies' bicycles


Just to add to Jaina's comment - they make a special type of bicycle in India - called a "Ladies'" bike - it does not have a bar between the seat and the handle. And the chain is covered to prevent messy fabric entanglements.


Posted by Patrick Weiler on 02-26-2004 01:11 AM:



You mention the pallo, or bottom end, of the saree and then the word aanchal as a synonym -a word roughly meaning the same thing.
Does this word relate to the english word ankle, since the ankle is at the bottom of the leg - approximately where the pallo would hang?

Patrick Weiler

Posted by Danny Mehra on 02-26-2004 11:09 AM:

Hi Pat, the "aanchal" is the "palloo". The bottom strip that weighs the saree down is "conceal stitched" to the back side of the saree's bottom length and is called the "fall".


Posted by R. John Howe on 02-26-2004 08:04 PM:

Danny -

Oh, they've always made "girls'" bikes in the U.S. and Great Britain, too, at least.

The feat I describe is not lessened much by the absence of such a horizontal bar.

The trick is keeping everything in place and out of the gears below while pedaling hard in a wind.


R. John Howe

Posted by Stephen Louw on 02-27-2004 06:02 AM:

John: in addition to riding bicycles, sari-clad Indian women also ride as passengers on the back of motorcycles ("two wheelers") in a sidesaddle style, much as Victorian “ladies” once rode horses. Indian traffic regulations permit this.


Stephen Louw