Once upon a time, a long time ago, there lived a young, articulate, “convent educated’, Bengali girl in the old British heart of Calcutta city, on Park Street. She loved to sing (and not just Rabindra Sangeet), act, quiz, read and write. She especially loved history, literature and the arts. And a good debate once in a while, whether political, historical, ethical, or environmental in nature, could spur her on to hold her own even in the midst of the most formidable opponents.
As she was growing up, she met many interested young men. Having an older brother at home made this easily possible. None caught her attention. She knew the rules at home were simple and straightforward. Unrelenting, unspoken and strict, written in stone almost: no going out after dark and no friendships with men. Besides a host of others, all unfathomable to her of course.
Then one fateful day, she took note of this one, rather handsome, young man who was visiting from college during summer break. Another friend of her brother’s. She had seen him around over the years but somehow had never felt inclined to talk to him. As the years passed, her mum would have him over for a meal or two during every vacation and that gave them both the opportunity to get to know each other. On many occasions, they even had deep discussions or heated arguments on just about any topic there was. And unbeknownst to both of them, a deep new friendship was being forged. To her, he seemed different from the rest in many ways. For starters, he was very polite and soft spoken yet firm in his views, well read and very knowledgeable about many pertinent issues, loved music and spoke and wrote ‘impeccable English” – an important criterion on the young lady’s checklist! He treated everyone with deference and respect and was on his way to being ’highly educated” very soon – an important criterion in her parents’ minds for someone to befriend their son or daughter! Did I also mention he was a Punjabi?
As the years passed, their fondness for each other grew and by the time he got done with his MBA and got himself a job, they had promised themselves to one another.
He left the city and she was distraught. Suddenly, her life was stark, bereft of all colour, (but not of purpose, she later realized). Not all of Shakespeare’s or Browning’s sonnets or Gibran’s and Ghalib’s poetry or all the ghazals in the world could calm her or make the separation any easier.
But the tidal wave was yet to land and tear everything asunder. On being ‘found out’, she announced to her family their decision to get married once she was done with her studies. From then on, she and her dearly beloved father stopped speaking to one another for many years. How could a Bengali girl possibly marry a Punjabi boy? How could she have harboured that thought for even an instant? (Though Father later secretly admitted that he had never seen anything wrong with the boy in the first place!) She felt lonely, isolated, sad and even angry at times.
A man of his word and honour, Father brought up the ‘matter’ soon after her exams were over. His decision had not changed in the intervening years. If she chose to pursue this path, she would have to cut off all ties with the family forever. But the young girl and her beau had always steadfastly held on to the belief that they wished for her parents’ blessings and presence at their union. Never once wavering from that stance. And were therefore willing to wait until a ‘change of heart “ occurred.
And then one fine day, yes, t’was a fine day indeed, Father announced that he was willing to give his consent and would like to formally meet the young man’s parents.
Imagine the jubilation and celebration in that home. The place was transformed into Joyland! Suddenly everyone was walking with a sprightlier step, breathing more easily, and as the sun shone brighter, there was happiness all around and smiles lighting up the home. There were sounds of people talking animatedly, and music playing. Even the doggie at home barked and wagged his tail more vigorously sensing the ebullience in the air! It was almost as though Sleeping Beauty’s castle had woken up from a deep slumber. There was relief and joyousness everywhere. And much preparation to be done, too.
A simple, beautiful and hastily arranged engagement saw the bride-to-be donning this rich aubergine Benarasi silk.
Thus, this saree, to me, symbolises a multitude of things, a culmination of a journey of sorts: unbridled happiness, relief, a butterflies in the stomach sort of excitement, utter magic, gratitude, patience, courage, victory, fortitude, faith in an undying love and most of all respect. Respect for the two most important and influential men in my life: one who brought me up to be strong and resilient like himself and the other, loving and honourable, who shares my life with me today. Thank you both, from the bottom of my heart. Shallow as that may sound.
Last evening I wore it to the world saree date where enthusiastic pacters from all over the world met up after an eventful, meaningful year. And as we’ve always maintained, today this pact is so much more than about just ‘using’ our sarees. And giving them their due. This pact has truly become our own. For each and every one of us, the stories we have told through our sarees have brought us closer, built new friendships and lent new meaning to wearing an everyday, albeit long neglected, exquisite, traditional garment. For me it commemorated the culmination of another fabulous journey.
The atmosphere again was electric. The excitement, palpable. I say ‘again’ as it reminded me of another magical evening, so many moons ago, when I draped this saree to be betrothed to the man of my dreams.
As for me, the memories and worth that lie wrapped within its weave and folds, in its untarnished zari and soft silk, in its motifs and fabric, will forever remain timeless and very precious.