1969 -2019

The year was 1969 or thereabouts. 50 years ago, India would still have been very young in her freedom and quite poor but the handcrafted aspect of her everyday was rich, a living, breathing continuum of history, full of colour and flavour. A tiny part of that piece of culture wound up in a country far away marking time.

A New Yorker visited India as her friend was from this exotic land of colour and chaos. Perhaps her only visit and she might have been enamoured by the colourful sarees she saw on the women around her, enough to splurge on a few herself. Soft silk with exquisite zari work, thread work and unusual motifs, they lived half a century in the wings before winding their way to me.

I wish I knew more about that lady, her impressions and thoughts about my country as it was then. Travel in that era would not have been like it is today with app based cabs and airbnb. It would have been fraught with logistical nightmares and culture shock. I am curious to know about her relationship with M, the Indian lady who was her friend. Which part of the country was M from? What nostalgia did she bear for her country that kindled a desire in her friend? What were the seasons of their friendship and how did their lives play out?

I don’t know any of the answers and the questions still bubble over as I run my fingers over 50 year old silks in extremely good condition. Part of me wants to know and the other part is happy imagining their lives and flavouring it the way I choose. All of life is really a series of choices, moment to moment anyway and a different choice at any point could result in a different unfolding.

These sarees found their way to me via a pretty circuitous route. I opened the package yesterday and they shimmered in all their silken glory. The choice of colours would have made it just the right range for an exotic garment of an infrequent saree wearer. I wonder how many times M’s friend would have worn it and the way she might have played with it.

M’s friend would have been quite the hippie and might have worn the saree out and about in NY. I imagine a happy woman with a full throated laugh who would own a drape and make it her own. In my head, I have an image of Audrey Hepburn like elegance. These were a part of her life’s possessions and her daughter kindly offered them to me, a stranger on the internet. And just like that six yards of silk stretched across time and space to connect the lives of 4 women and an unknown number of hands who wrote poetry on silk.

Social media often gets a bad rap but it’s brought me real people and their stories, some from many miles away. Often, homes are opened and strangers like me have been privileged to break bread. And sometimes, they take the shape of stories, like this one about vintage sarees that unfolded thanks to a fellow blogger’s generosity. Thank you Caitlin for sharing a piece of personal history with a stranger.

Update:  The New Yorker in the story- that’s Caitlin’s mother Cynthia and Molly Tharyan’s friend. Cynthia wore these sarees around Toronto causing quite the scandal amongst the sedate moms in their understated and elegant pearls and cashmeres. She would have been an exotic adventurer considering she did a trip to India in a cervical collar after an ill fated dive into a swimming pool. The silks are so vibrant and full of life, colours of throaty laughter and uninhibited expression.

Half a century later, Molly has passed on, her sister and daughter lost to distance and time. Estrangement at many levels. Some wild art of me wants to see a story unfold here, it’s just a romantic’s dream. Maybe Molly Tharyan’s daughter and sister stumble upon this post via an unknown reader and connect with Caitlin. I’m not sure if that’s desirable or not but it makes for an afternoon’s worth of story making.

 

Relentlessly Me

Because we will not wait for the year to be good but catch it by its pigtails and swing away. 😛

If I had to have a word of the year, I would choose, relentless. It is an intense word with a negative connotation but the paradox is that the word springs from relent, which is soft and yielding.

Why do I choose relentless and what does a saree have to do with it? This stubborn desire to mark every saree wear in 2019 is part of a larger design, to be relentlessly me. No matter what, I’ll keep chipping away at everything inside me that does not serve the essential me. And it gives me wild pleasure to see others who do so effortlessly or take the plunge into a tentative first step.

Saree of the day is a reminder to be #relentlesslymetoday and marks 45/2019. This one is special as it is from a dear friend’s leap of faith into an entrepreneurial venture with nothing but a studentship of weaves. I loved the name of her curation, Anandi’s Trunk. As she says, “Anandi is every little girl or boy who wants to dress up like her/ his mother or grandmother, and the trunk is that precious box of old textiles that are part of our inheritance.”

Sarees have no boundaries of time, space or gender. Period.

A night of songlight

An old saree picture and a scribble for a Saturday

Shakin Stevens is crooning because I love you, it must be from the house with the boy. It’s the radio playing, nice. I should play the radio too.

Unbreak my heart now and Toni Braxton sounds soulful and sensual all at once. I slip out of my dark bed and stand unseen behind the curtains in my bedroom. I think I see the man-boy’s shorts. It is him and he stands behind the curtains of his room.

I’m lost in this pointless moment where two people stand behind curtains looking and not looking. I’m a voyeur while he’s trapped in a wordless mind. His days are mostly spent on a dusty terrace where he makes distressed animal sounds and ranges like a wild one.

Now it’s James Blunt on that radio, my mind drifts to the firstborn. It’s our song, the one she uses to deflect my telling her she’s beautiful. Mais oui, she is!

It’s midnight and I’m still enjoying the music. They are strains of my youth coming out through a busted speaker. I think of getting the radio from the Kid’s room to mine and playing the same channel but somehow this is better, a tenuous intimacy between unseen people.

The volume is down now, maybe the father has retired for the night and the boy still needs song. The neighbour’s air conditioning has stopped its loud whirring and Leo has found his pillow on my arm.

Let her go by Passenger spikes up the volume. I wonder if anyone else is enjoying this night of mushy love, unrequited love. They no longer make me yearn for languorous lovemaking but wash over like a pleasant breeze.

Their window is shut now and I can only hear faint crests and troughs of music. A cue to fall asleep but I’m still listening.

The radio is silent now and I’m wide awake…

Instagram memories

I’ve had many blogs over many years, always zealously private until something started to loosen up. Perhaps it was a sense of growing older and figuring out all of us had the same loves and losses. We guard our secrets from friends and family but let them tumble in front of strangers.

Some of my ramblings have been like this space, a kind of chatting over coffee and some have been anonymous journals of solitary roads that could be found only by those travelling similar paths. Most of the time, these writings are invisible and it’s only ever an offering. The words may flow through my pen or screen but their authorship comes from a source that has no beginning and no end.

It felt good to be acknowledged by someone who has been a practitioner for more years than I may ever be and a writer to boot. So, someone may be reading my musings after all. It’s a humbling moment and one of joy too. My next instinct is to duck under and hibernate until every one disappears. It’s the paradox of a solitary passion, the necessity of silence and the desire to be heard. Have I shared too much… Blame the grey day.

The youngling and I have time on our hands now and I imagine there is no school. In this make believe world, we spend cocooned days learning new words and making new ones up while not climbing trees or running free. Sometime during the pretend day, we will sip on a Pink soda with a dash of lime, kind of like today’s pop pink and lime green khesh and her tee.

Little K has got the mischief back in her eyes after a long snooze and will be a whirling mass of energy before I know it. Thank you for all your love and warmth, that’s just the magic we needed. .

📷courtesy: the youngling

– written in February 2018

forgotten words

I was hunting for some work notes in my old notebooks and found a few doodles by the youngling as well as some random scribbles. Now, the doodle involves her sister as well who may not take very kindly to her depiction so I’ll keep it off this space but the few lines I wrote then came through my fingers so here they are.

🌺The most beautiful things in the world are at once simple and profound, like the heart of a flower. Look into her depths and what do you see? The seed or the flower…🌺

Tears

Towards the end of last year, I did a series of ruminations on the chapter titles of a book. While the book remained very forgetful, the headers provided a springboard for some meandering. One of the headers was ‘tears’, the kind we cry. It led to a spontaneous poem and here it is, pulled up from the Instagram archives. I hope you enjoy it. The saree that fit the thought was this sungudi, filled with a million circles, tears or light bubbles, you decide.🙂

We don’t need anyone to tell us the healing power of tears.

At some point of time or the other, we’ve squeezed a few drops from the depths of despair.

Maybe we wept copious amounts over hearts that were shattered to dust.

Perhaps, we felt them wash away sadness for a while before a renewed attack.

We’ve also felt them in the lumps in our throats that threatened to swallow us whole.

We’ve screamed tears of physical agony or collected silent tears in our bones.

We’ve cowered in fear, holding back a flood of tears.

Sometimes we drown in unshed ones.

And at times, we shed tears of exquisite joy and gratitude.

We survive. A few do not.

But, beyond the veil of tears, there is brilliant sunshine. You just have to believe.

#ghadimodane

I first heard of ghadi modane from Rupali, a saree enthusiast helplessly in love with the six yards. She mentioned an old Konkan tradition where a new saree was worn by a woman in the family or extended family before being used by oneself. Loosely translated, it means to open the folds of a new garment. Anyways, soon after, I happened to mention this to a dear friend in my neighbourhood. It jogged her memory and since I had a new saree that sat guiltily in my cupboard, I gave it to her. And just like that an old tradition bound within familial ties spilled into a virtual world.

As with most traditions, this would have been a way to strengthen and nurture bonds of sisterhood. And you can’t argue with the fact that showing off a new saree is a delightful experience. It would have been the Instagram equivalent of those times.

Another reason could be good old economics. Many decades ago before we became a wildly consumerist populace, new clothes were probably bought a couple of times a year for festivals and birthdays or then special occasions like a wedding or betrothal. Sharing a new saree meant a change from a limited set and some happiness in an otherwise hard existence. Of course, this is complete conjecture and there may not have been this aspect at all.

Another reason could have been sharing out of respect or affection. It is one of the garments that has always been a storehouse of memories quite like how festivals and natural occurrences mark the passage of time for the elders.

As I share with more people about this, I’ve been discovering a similar practice across a wider geography. Anyways, circa 2017 a new version of an old custom started to emerge, largely due to a sense of community amongst saree lovers on Instagram. Since family members may or may not dig sarees, why not widen the circle of love with those who love the six yards.

I spoke to a few ladies who opened the folds of my sarees and they were unanimous in the pleasure they felt. I’ve also been the recipient of many gorgeous sarees and have been grateful for the love and consideration. It is a slightly mad almost girlish excitement which the menfolk don’t quite get, especially the fact that these sarees are whizzing all over the place!

The recent saree I wore, a gorgeous blue handwoven irkal was handed to me by a fellow Instagrammer’s husband who visited my home! Strange are the ways of this ether world that connect absolute strangers and make them saree sisters.

Some of the ghadi modane sarees

I’m not an expert and have taken the liberty to imagine about the tradition. In case you have any additions or would like to correct something, please feel free to do so in comments. I would be happy to ammend the post.

edit: A tamil phrase, pirichchu kattikko means pretty much the same, open the folds and wear is something Lakshmi mentioned.

A little yellow

Mommy’s vintage chiffon out for a spin. This one is four decades old, give or take a few years and one I recently inherited. While the flimsy fabric is not one of my usual preferences, I love the way it looks on others. In my head, I have this image of a saree around a pole if I wear such sarees but you can’t deny how dreamy it can be.

This was one of two in similar shades, the other one retained its plain looks. One of mom’s friends from her early Bombay (it was still Bombay then😁) days got this embroidered for her. I guess it must have been done at Gandhi Market, quite the haunt of young women then.

She came to the city as a young 18 year old, accompanied by her brother and went on to lead an independent life far away from a little village in the faraway hills near Idukki. Her beginnings were humble and she is a self made woman.

As a school child, she was an eager student and walked many miles everyday after finishing her chores around the house. Geography with its lessons about different countries fascinated her no end and she had a burning desire to see the world. Back then, it must have seemed pretty impossible for a little girl from a remote hamlet to roam the big, wide world but she went on to visit many countries and has ticked off more places than us kids have.

While this saree has not travelled as much as she has, it has journeyed with memories, mostly old ones. It remembers an ambitious young woman who chased her dreams and fought her demons without ever staying down for too long. It has watched her take her time getting dressed to dazzle. I wonder how my father might have been mesmerized by her even as she walked with him. They had a love marriage and I wish mom would reveal a little more of their romance. It’s a different thrill to hear about parents as young people, they’ve always just been parents.

Ok, I’ve rambled on and how! Here is the mellow yellow embroidered with bright yellow flowers spiralling through her pleats.

My Story

What do I write?

What is my story?

Abandon.

No holds barred abandon to love, to rage, to sing or to cry piteously. It’s not different from the pages of your book, these stories within stories. Of time and places, pleasure and pain, a life very ordinary. I can’t speak for the extraordinaire so I’ll stick to the song of my life. A song…

Of a tempestuous love that burnt as it burned, of babies that never wriggled out of a bloody womb, of shame and guilt, of lust and hate, of a slow dying and a slower resurrection. The chorus remains the same, the choir changing as seasons do their march and children grow. The stanzas meander through chaos and calm, as the suckling child runs through childhood. Soon she is poised on the threshold of menarche and heartache. Terrible teens, they should say, not terrible twos. Terribly long and cruel too.

Sometimes there are breakdowns of the soul and the night is endless. But there is light, if you can just wait out the years. If not, there’s always the cigarette to pause the blur and whiskey to blank it all. Maybe you flirt with a stranger or wake up in someone else’s bed. Maybe, you just drool over your arms as you fall asleep in shabby rooms.

Somewhere in this crushing, there are deaths and weddings, illnesses and births. There are friends that come, friends that go and there are those that stay. There are fleeting moments of tenderness and stolen love, frantic searching and stale breath. Fragments of burning shame and terrible guilt. There are dinners and coffees, laughter and whining, as you battle weeks which will never be tamed. But once in a while, you stop and celebrate the light and hug those loved ones extra tight. The debt of friendship will forever remain unpaid.

And then, one fine day, as you wait outside in hospital corridors, you realise 40, 50, 60, 70 years have passed by and you are bald and slow. You need your bed and your bathroom even more. Your nest is empty and you wonder how. But secretly, you’re glad for the time and space for the thoughts that have raced all these years, months, weeks and days. So you sit with your cup of coffee and open that book to tease those wisps in your head on to that blank expanse.

And then you see, there are no pages left, only stories. Stories of your life that were written while you waited…

Note: This was an entry for a the Tata lit fest contest last year. I can’t seem to find the T&C for the submissions to see if it’s ok to put it up on my blog. I hope I’m not violating any rules here.