A saree. A garment for many, but memories of an illustrious and cherished childhood for some.
I grew up with a mother who wore sarees day after day, everyday, every season, every year. It was literally a five-minutes-or-less affair for her. Everyday I’d watch her in awe, at 6 a.m. (when I was coaxed by her or my papa to go bathe and brush or else the school bus would leave), tying the six yards with utmost ease. The range of colours and fabrics she had – argandee, taant, linen, chiffon, satin, georgette, Coimbatore cotton, mangalgiri cotton, maheshwari, Bengali kantha, kanjeevaram, benarasi, in blue, yellow, red, orange, purple, pink, black, green…… Phew. As seasons changed, her wardrobe metamorphosed – cottons in summers; chiffons, georgettes and synthetics in rains; heavier synthetics and silks in winter. And I’d just keep watching her and wondering if she were a princess. Who has such a collection of hundreds of sarees from everywhere in every colour? I was enamoured at the way she flawlessly tied it with perfection, not a pleat out of place, not one hair flying stray. I was amazed at how she was ready at 6 in the morning when I was still upset at being woken. I was envious,for I had my own burgeoning wardrobe, but none of it came close to her rich sarees. I’d open her wardrobe when she wasn’t looking just to take it in – the colours, her aroma.
Her sarees were also part of some important lessons I learned. Once she caught me trying to drape a benarasi and I was standing on the pallu trying to make sense of it. She didn’t scold me, but gently said that if you want to see or touch something that isn’t yours, you must ask. I learned patience – for it was a beloved saree gifted by my nana when my brother, his first grandchild, was born – but Mumma never raised her voice. I learned to see things in perspective, that a ten year old child is more precious than a saree and that she’ll remember this day even 17 years later.
I was a teenager, we were going to a wedding and I was wearing a silk shalwar kameez but of course was drawn by her new saree. I suggested to her that we could cut this saree up to make a salwar kameez for me. She very sweetly told me that that was selfish, and a good person doesn’t always think about herself. She told me to think about the other person too, who would be as happy as me on wearing new clothes. How would I feel if someone suggested they cut up my new frock? Very bad, I said. She smiled and said, exactly. Then she promised to get me a new dress in silk in the same colour. I learned the presence and importance of boundaries, and of thinking about others in the same way as myself.
There are many more incidents throughout the 17 years I lived with her. I wish I could even today. No wonder, a mother is the first and best teacher. She is solely responsible for inculcating the love of sarees in me. Her collection taught me about the rich artistry in all corners of our motherland. Watching her everyday meant I learned how to tie it on my own, without any help ever. Her grace and elegance made me realise that there is nothing more elegant than a saree on an Indian body. She introduced me to Maharani Gayatri Devi, her style icon, and now mine.
I thank you, Mumma, for giving me the opportunity to be raised by you. Just watching you get ready every morning has given me so many lessons.
This is her saree, still smells like her. I wear this when I want to look like her, to feel her hugs. Studies and marriage might physically separate us Mumma,but I’ll always be your shadow and you’ll always be my soul.