There cannot be an Indian girl who has not played dressing up with her mother’s saree. I did too when as a young child, I would regularly swathe my tiny self with a too-long saree, waddle a bit and then fall over in a heap. It was almost a right of passage.
Over the years I have accumulated my own little stash of sarees which sadly don’t get to be worn as often as they perhaps should be. And just lately, each time I visit India my mother throws open her wardrobe stacked with sarees and asks me to take what I want out of it. I would demur and ask her to give me whatever she felt like gifting. She would then lean in grab an edge wedged between two voluminous bundles of sarees and pull it out. Then with the utmost delicacy absent just a moment ago, she would unfold the fabric for me.
“Do you know who got this saree for me?”, she’d ask typically with the entire saree laid bare for my inspection. “Didn’t you get it for so-and-so’s wedding?”, I’d reply knowing full well that I was wrong, my ability to keep track of her collection’s history hopelessly inadequate. “No, that’s the same colour but with a jarigai border. This one is a simpler version”, she would say proceeding to unfurl the full story behind the saree.
It would involve a long-estranged or a long-dead relative, a wedding, a poonal or a gruhapravesam celebration, a complicated trip to the shops in the pouring rain and a dramatic search for a matching blouse which ended in the saree coming into her hands.
I would see that it was a wrench for her to part with her beloved saree. And I would say something about not having enough opportunities to wear the saree. So perhaps she should keep them herself. “No, no”, she would insist, “you take it. It’s a colour for a younger woman anyway.”
And that’s how I came to have the orange and red chequered silk saree. My mother had been gifted this by an aunt’s family almost 35 years ago to thank her for her role in the uncle’s wedding ceremony.
I took it out of my wardrobe to wear it for a Deepavali celebration earlier this week. In my hands, the fabric is soft and yielding, its once sharp sheen now a dull patina. I toss it over my shoulder and in an instant, it is a cloak of memories. I wrap it around myself and pin the pleats in place. My children remark that I look lovely in it. Just I like would have a long time ago.