Days 84 and 85. I was like a kid in a candy store. Like Charlie in Willy Wonka’s factory. Only, this was for real. Everywhere I looked there was a riot of colours. Blue, green, purple, magenta, mustard, black. A thousand shades, a million hues. Colours that smiled, colours that shone, colours that twinkled. From the moment I walked into the shop, it had seemed like a dream. A dream that was coming true. A dream that was born ever since I got my first Nalli sari. A gorgeous blue silk gifted by my aunt. That was almost 20 years ago but the dream of visiting a Nalli shop myself had remained unfulfilled all these years. When I was in Mumbai, studying at Sophia, often I would walk past the store on Bhulabhai Desai Road. But though we did frequent other shops down the road – Benzer and Amarsons – for gifts or browsed books at Crossword, one of my first encounters with the open-format bookshop, entering Nalli never crossed our mind. For one, I didn’t wear saris except on rare occasions and back then buying one, that too from Nalli, would be a luxury. More recently, when I went to Hyderabad on a short trip, I made up my mind to visit the Nalli store in Banjara Hills. But somehow it didn’t happen. And then fate intervened. Nalli announced it was coming to Calcutta soon and immediately I decided that’s where I would head for Puja shopping this year. But there was some more surprise in store for me. I had just walked into office on Monday when I was asked if I would like to go for the Nalli opening. I was not sure I was hearing right but in the next few minutes I realised, without pinching myself hard, that I wasn’t dreaming. So the navy blue Kerala cotton with a green border that I was wearing became my lucky sari, my dream-come-true drape. The sari was a gift from my Mami Madhumoni Dasgupta on one of my birthdays. She was just back from a Kerala holiday and had brought this for me. A simple sari with not much of a story that unfolded a fresh new tale.
Once it was decided that I was indeed going to Nalli the next day, I started thinking about what I would wear. It had to be a sari of course, but what? It was a store of exquisite saris, what could I wear there that would be appropriate. A Tangail, I decided would be just perfect and was assured when Ma Jhulan Bhattacharya seconded my thought. I was going to South’s signature sari store, so why not showcase a little bit of the East? I chose a blue Dhakai Tangail that I got as a gift from a sister-in-law on my first Puja post wedding. She is a lady of exquisite taste and every time I meet her, she is draped in some beautiful sari. She is also one of those women who seem to live in saris, they are like her second skin. So when she went on a trip to the US to be with her daughter, she was seen everywhere in a sari. Not for once did the six yards inhibit her. I first met her before my wedding, the day I went shopping for saris with my mother-in-law. She was there too and right then I had noticed that she had an eye for the most gorgeous saris. That day I hadn’t had to ask, I was the queen bee who was being pampered with one sari for my trousseau after another. Today, there was no one to ask me, nor stop me but work took precedence and I left the store without buying a single sari. But my eyes had been blessed, my heart was full and I was grateful for an opportunity to see and touch some of the most exquisite saris. Kanjeevarams and Uppadas that take a month or more to weave, the Korvai for which the body and contrast border are woven separately by two persons and then interlaced, bridal saris with real silver zari polished in gold. I call them the Rekha saris. It’s true that I would never be able to afford or buy most of those, but each of them is an example of skilled workmanship, of great artistic acumen that I am fortunate to have seen. As I left the store and rushed to office to meet my deadline, a thousand threads fought to break the tangle of thoughts in my mind… the humbling experience of seeing saris worth a place in any museum, the tinge of sadness at not having the time to buy anything for myself, the confused arguments of which sari I would include in my piece and which I would drop and the happy memories of my own little Nalli collection. A picture says a thousand words, it is said. Saris speak a zillion, of their makers and their wearers. So do my navy blue Kerala cotton and blue Dhakai. Words of wonder woven deep into my heart.

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