My mother has heaps of sarees.
They are of myriad colours, and funny designs.
Not the artsy kind with unicycles and birds block printed over and over and over again.
Like somebody forgot them and are trying to remember where they last saw them, and so the image replicates everywhere until there are a million unicycles stuck in that space of memory never to be found.
You see, when you try to look for something in a picture in your head, your mind looks for something that is not there and in effect, “apparates” the object into existence in that scene. (I call it the Blink Paradox after the Doctor Who Universe’s monsters the Weeping Angels.)
But for my mother and her love for sarees, there was no place for modern abstract fashion in her extensive wardrobe. None of the new age phantasmagoria.
She likes stiff solid colours.
Colours like “off white” made sense to her and the shopkeeper alone.
That colour in particular, looked a lot like regurgitated bile to me, but that might be attributed to a childhood memory of shopping with a disagreeable stomach filled with Payasam prasadam, and one too many Kachori.
She had so many green sarees, she could set them side to side and create a gradient chart of them.
It is a running joke in the family that every traditional occasion required the nearby flower vendor to set half of his or her shop at home. My mother loves Jasmine flowers. Her long braid is always crowned with a dozen or so muras (arm length of the flower garland.)
It is not altogether surprising that she is called Goddess Lakshmi incarnate by elders often. Her eyes light up, and her chin lowers to the pleats of the stiff blue “pochum palli” saree’s pallu tucked perfectly over her left shoulder, which then flared at the back.
She really did look like a grand peacock, then.
The patterns, when I was younger, seemed… trippy, for lack of better term. I would bury my face in my mother’s lap. I could smell time, austerity and temple essences. A djinni was trapped in her saree. The saree made her powerful, when she sat by my father in front of the puja homa fire.
When I grew up, I told the Chanderi cotton silk brocade she bought for the seventieth birthday puja of that hearty old Judge, (one of my grandmother’s fourteen siblings) made her look the part of a Fertility Goddess.
There were block printed ovum eggs and twiggly sperms.
Really, I had to say it.
She gave me a confused laugh, and shushed me, lest any relative of ours overheard me speak in such a bawdy manner unfit for innocent little girls.
She loves spending hours in those white small stores in the hot and dirty alleys of Koti and Charminar. Hyderabad exhibition too, whenever that came around.
In each of the stores, hours, mind.
She never included me in her musings.
She would return home exhausted and glowing, exclaiming,”Oh! That’s all I bought?”
The two gleaming prizes she won, or those three sarees might have been lost homeless puppies.
She ran an unofficial pseudo business. She would buy for her sister, legion of cousins and battalion of aunts, and family friends.
My reward for sitting listless by her side would be countless plates of spicy pani puri and aloo chat near the Masjid in Koti, Mirchi Bajji Masala in Gokul Cheats near Lumbini Gardens. A day sucking at ice candy after gazing at Salarjung Museum’s antique wonders.
This one time, sick of their daily shopping sprees and selfishly lonely, I cried vehemently when my mother and aunt touched the door knob to go out of the house.
Those summer holidays when I was only four, I had to be physically restrained by my father or locked away in a room by my uncles and grandfather. This time I had gleefully eluded them from the back entrance to catch the shopaholic escapees.
They spent fifteen minutes coercing me to let them go without a scene and then, tired, I fell asleep to promises of their continued presence. When I woke up I knew instantly that they had gone, and betrayed me. I made grandfather take me to Koti, and searched in every shop I suspected them to be joyously enraptured by sheets of interwoven thread. Joke was on me obviously; they came back with four sarees. Two of which were red. Another a cement grey.
I refused to talk to them for a week.
There was another thing that never ceases to amaze me.
She would sit in front of her wardrobe of sarees, one whole cupboard! (I only had half a cupboard for my novels, so I was considerably miffed at this injustice.) She would gaze at the sarees, mentally cataloguing each of the precious moments and compliments that Gujarati bandini silk saree was witness to, or the frantic anxiety and stress the white fancy chiffon saree knew she felt on the day of her little brother’s wedding. They were the canvas of the weaver’s craftmanship and the canvas of her thoughts and memories.
She would make a slight occasion of the day, even though all she was going do was to rearrange her sarees- in the exact same order they were in, before.
The occasion would be the extra pineapple kairasa or spicy brinjal chutney, of the already magnificent feast of curry, sambar, rasam, lemon raw mango rice, Payasam, papad, fried curd chillies and an array of pickles and powders. She might have done so, just to make herself feel worthy or at least guilt less for spending that time away from attending to our hungry stomachs.
I wonder if I will grow up to hoard books and have a monthly communion with all of them on my bookshelf. Will I creepily stare at them and touch their spines just as my mother drinks in the silks in their precious glory?
Will I breathe the sight of them in before taking them all out, reading aloud my favourite bits only to continue to read the entire book and rearrange them all back in the same order?
I already do.
I was deprived of books ,in my childhood.
All right I can hear the snorts of laughter already.
I wasn’t allowed to read as many books as I would have liked to. They were considered the vices that might turn me away from studying the organic formula for chlorobenzene(C6H11Cl).
It’s true. They did. I loved them all the more for it.
If you caught sight of mother on her way to the grocery store or the corner dhabeli bandi it the park nearby, you would see a speed walking woman with her long hair plaited gently hitting the back of her knees, wearing-that’s right! – a loose fitting chudidar or salwar kameez.
She wore her beloved sarees only for a few hours in the multitudinous functions and weddings and anniversaries.
Only to heave a huge sigh of relief when she folded the whole nine yards back nearly arranged with the rest of her trousseau.
To temples she adopted and became the auspicious beacon of tradition, the pallu tucked away when she gave my father get hand in the weekly Sathyanarayana puja or Pavamana homa.
I would ask her why she bought so many, if she wore them so little.
The resplendence, she replies.
I cannot pretend to understand her love for sarees.
But when I receive them, I will hold on to them.
The first saree I ever wore was her deep purple Banarasi cotton silk saree.
It was for a Bengali play Tasher Desh (The Land of Cards) by Rabindranath Tagore enacted on School Day in tenth grade.
The saree she wore for celebrating when I was hiding away in her womb, is now my pattu lunga dhavni (Half saree.)
For her, this is time traveling.