A letter

A letter found
its way to me today

It travelled many miles
carrying tea for two
and notes of ache and love

The writer’s touch met
the reader’s touch
over paper

Light. Love. Life.

A city in couplets

My poet’s out in the city
Turning it into couplets

Of people and their stories
Mostly imagined

Of trees and their lives
Mostly real

Of streets and their dramas
Mostly crafted

Of cats and their gaze
Mostly experienced

Of light and its play
Mostly seen

Of sounds and their chaos
Mostly heard

Of foods and their smells
Mostly tasted

Of seasons and their cycles
Mostly confused

Of birds and their song
Mostly enjoyed

Of trails and their meanderings
Mostly aimless

Of houses and homes
Mostly closed

Of filth and its stench
Mostly avoided

Of crime and its pain
Mostly despaired

Of lovers and their loving
Mostly hidden

Of parents and their progeny
Mostly opposed

Of beggars and their belongings
Mostly bare

Of wandering minstrels
Mostly conmen

Couplets turned out
My poet’s vanished

Inspired by an exchange with a stranger(no more) friend

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.

 

My favourite Odisha handloom sarees

Pleatsnpallu is a lovely instagram page which features the fluidity of the saree, transcending boundaries of not just time and space but also gender. Her latest blog post has curated the weaves of Odisha through the eyes of personal history as it has trickled over the years from the women in her family. Definitely a must read if you are a saree fiend or tentative draper.

Pleats N Pallu

I have a deep abiding love for Odisha handloom sarees and textiles, here is a list of a few weaves that I am extremely partial towards…

IMG_0891IMG_0950IMG_0985IMG_0906Photos: Vincent Boyer (Say hi on instagram @vincetravelbook)

Handloom textiles are the true definition of wearable art that reflect the social histories of their places of origin. Ikat is one of the most intricate and elaborate methods of hand weaving involving first resist dying and then weaving of loose threads post the dyeing.

These photos feature a vintage Bapta saree from Odisha worn with a top made from Ikat fabric from the neighbouring state of Andhra. Handlooms don’t really have to be restricted to traditional wear, the same top worn with the saree was paired with a denim skirt and the same sneakers for another day of adventures.

The Ikats from Odisha, locally called bandha kala generally are weft ikats that follow a curvilinear style…

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