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Breaking news, wrapped in sari
- Sharuna Sagar pulls off a sartorial first on BBC

London, Feb. 11: A 29-year-old Indian woman has made television history in the UK by wearing a sari, apparently for the first time in Britain while presenting the news on the BBC.

“I have done my bit (for Indian culture),” laughed Sharuna Sagar, who looked elegant in a dark blue silk sari with cream edging when she presented the evening news on BBC Midlands where she is a regular.

Nottingham-born Sagar, the daughter of doctors who emigrated to Britain from Hyderabad, said the idea of wearing a sari first occurred to her when she was recently on holiday in India.

“I saw a woman on an Indian news channel presenting the news and she looked just brilliant,” Sagar told The Telegraph today, shortly after getting up at dawn to present the 6.20 am news (in a jacket). “It did not take anything away from her authority and no one batted an eyelid.”

Sagar said she had received many e-mail messages and phone calls, the overwhelming majority of them “very supportive” and not all from Asian viewers either. One Englishwoman said it was “about time that people celebrated their own culture and didn’t just copy indigenous culture”.

“Only one or two people have said they don’t like it,” she added.

Before wearing the sari to read the news on BBC Midlands Today, she had cleared her clothes with her acting editor, Dave Hart, who simply responded: “Great!”

Sagar now intends to stick to western clothes when she is on morning duty “when you have to rush around a lot” but to adopt the sari for evening bulletins.

“It should be no big deal given the demography of the area,” she explained, referring to the high concentration of Indians and Pakistanis in the Midlands.

Sagar’s sartorial experiment was front-page news in the Evening Mail in Birmingham, which also ran a favourable leader comment on the subject. The Daily Mirror followed up the story yesterday, used a punning headline (“I’m sari, I’ll read that again”) and stated: “A regional newsreader has become the first British journalist to wear a sari during a bulletin.”

The sari has something of a chequered history in Britain. When Asian immigration began in significant numbers more than 30 years ago, even traditional women felt compelled to give up their sari for a dress or trousers when they went to the workplace. British-born women also avoided the sari which they associated with their mothers’ more docile generation.

Today, although it is still unusual to find saris in the office environment, except in Asian-owned establishments, younger women do love dressing up in a sari or a salwar kameez outside the workplace. It is a sign of their cultural confidence in a country which — unlike France where the hijab is being banned in schools — genuinely celebrates “diversity”.

Sagar admitted her own sari collection was limited and that she had raided her mother’s wardrobe for the one she wore on television. “When I was young and rebellious, it was hard to get me to wear a sari. But I wear it to evening functions and family occasions, and I do feel different when I wear (one). It’s the most fantastic and flattering thing in the world,” she added.

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