The common denominator is saree. Saree, a rectangular piece of cloth, six or nine yards long, woven, printed or embroidered, in cotton, silk, wool, synthetic yarn or combinations thereof, and draped in various versions and avatars by women in India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Nepal. Also in Sydney, Australia, where, for the past four years or so, women clad in saree have been sashaying down the steps of the Sydney Opera House, gliding along the Circular Quay walk and gracing other venues. These are the Saree Enthusiasts, and they are united by their love of the saree. On the other hand, we have the Pink Sari Project, an NSW health initiative that was started in September 2014 with the aim of raising breast cancer awareness among women of South East Asian origin. More recently, Pink Sari Inc. proudly launched two new projects, namely ‘Beyond Pink’ and ‘Cervical Screening for Survival’ through a digital event on Friday January 29th, 2021 and funded by the Cancer Institute NSW. The Pink Sari ‘Cervical Screening for Survival’ project is a partnership between Pink Sari Inc., the Australian Indian Medical Graduates Association and the Australian Medical Aid Foundation and focuses on raising awareness amongst Indian and Sri Lankan women in Sydney about the importance of early detection of cervical cancer and the National Cervical Screening Program.
It was inevitable, therefore that the Shantha Vishwanathan from Pink Sari and Poornima Menon from the Saree Enthusiasts would get together to organize a Pink Sari Cervical Screening information session on the afternoon of Sunday, 18th April at the Grevillea Room in the Wentworthville Community Centre. As expected, the Saree Enthusiasts turned up in hordes, with great enthusiasm, and yes, in pink sarees mostly. As they milled about, greeting, catching up and chatting in the registration foyer, the pink saried ladies made the most of their phone cameras, clicking heaps of pictures, and continuing to do so during and after the formal session.
The formal session was emceed by Mrs. Poornima Menon, and began with Shantha Vishwanathan with the formal Acknowledgement of Country and concluded her welcome with the hope that cancer might one day refer only to a sign of the Zodiac and exhorting the Saree Enthusiasts to carry the message to their families, friends and communities, and strengthen the promotion of the initiative already under way through Radio SBS, Desi Australia Magazine, and the social media. The program got under way with the traditional Lighting of the Lamp by Mrs. Chandrika Subramanyan, followed by an Invocation by Mrs. Rekha Shashikanth; a melodious rendering of the poetry of Dr. D. R. Bendre, Jnanpith Awardee and great Kannada lyric poet of the 20th century. The information session began with Dr Rugmini Venkataraman (recipient of the Gargi Award, 2020 by the Hindu Council of Australia) and Viji from the Pink Sari team, using slides to explain the nature of cervical cancer, touching upon the older Pap Smear tests as simply a method of detection, as compared to the more recent cervical screening, which forestalls cervical cancer by looking at the causes of cell abnormality.
The slides were simple, easily understood, and accompanied by a discussion of different types of human papilloma virus (HPV), and the many strains of this virus that are found in nature, at least two of these being crucial as causative of cervical cellular change. Dr. Kiran Jassal, GP, was present to further explain and address the queries from the ladies. She also stressed that till date, no hereditary link had been found for cervical cancer as had been for breast cancer. Dr Jassal also elicited plenty of interesting questions on cervical screening, and implications for those who had undergone hysterectomy, all of which she answered with flair and with lots of humor. Also present were Sue Advani, a two times cancer survivor and Padmini Peris, a four times cancer survivor; both of them reiterated on the importance of regular testing and early detection.
Subscribing to the MC’s mantra of work-and-play balance, we had a short fashion parade of saree enthusiasts representing a few states of India who had or were celebrating their New Year. They wished the audience in their regional language. It was indeed the time for ‘New Beginnings’. Yamini Hemnath, wore a colorful silk Uppada flaunting Telangana, Sneha Rao portrayed Karnataka in a gorgeous Kanjeevaram, and Surpreet Cheera happily wore a Phulkari stole around a saree to showcase Punjab. Likewise, Kala Tiruvilwamala sashayed onstage in her pink Kanchipuram representing Tamil Nadu, while Laxmi Jadhav danced up in a nauvari in the typical Marathi style. Padmini Peris represented Sri Lanka in the traditional Sinhalese style. She spoke about life and all the joy it brought her though she had lost few parts of her body to cancer. Even in its simplicity, this was a most moving first-person account, and most of the audience took this home with the gravitas and utmost respect it deserved. The parade was bookended by Ravinder and Poornima, both in two-piece sarees, Ravinder representing Assam in her golden muga mekhela sador, and Poornima in a striking two-piece Mundum veshti. Not only was the Parade a big hit, but the participants were surprised to receive giftbags at the conclusion of the session, something they were not expecting, having carried out the parade just to add some much-needed fun and frolic to the proceedings. The eventual and educative evening ended with masala chai and a box of tasty snacks, courtesy Aashwin Foods.