Kitchen windows

Recently, I sat at a kitchen table of a woman I had never met before. My mother’s friend, let’s call her V, is her walking companion most mornings. They go shopping together and have an easy camaraderie which reminds me of the friendship of little girls. Now V aunty (since aunty is the necessary blanket suffix used for all the parents’ women friends and acquaintances) expressed a desire to see me and so I accompanied my mom to her place. A younger me would have wriggled out of the situation but as I get older, I find that I wish to humour my mother’s wishes and do what makes her happy.

V aunty kept a spic and span home. A mildly obsessive compulsive husband helped with weekend deep cleaning so it was a joint effort. The entire house was done in dull shades of brown that kept temperatures cool and somehow had a very calming effect. At one time she was a working mother but now she’s an empty nester who carries the ache of a silent house in tired eyes. The energy she exudes though is another force altogether, one of sheer enthusiasm.

It was a hot morning when we reached her place and my mom made her way to the kitchen, a familiar practice for the two. I followed and sat at the table from where the window on the other wall was a living screen. A brilliant copper pod tree stood right outside it and the grills held a neat napkin and a basket to dry dishes. The window remained my muse through their chatter and I watched a crow come to the window for a drink of water.

Aunty V set out three glasses of the most refreshing buttermilk spiced with ginger, curry leaves and shallots for us to drink. The two of them exchanged notes about their common friends and I was content to listen to their voices wash over my mind. These women had their share of life’s struggles and at this stage still giggled like teenagers. How does age shape thoughts and actions? Would I have the lightness these women brought or would a current spell of darkness be a permanent night? The buttermilk was just the necessary distraction and aunty V was delighted to give me a refill. Something about feeding people that makes my mom and others of her generation happy.

The table brought back memories of a scarred dining table in a home I left behind, one that was an equal participant in similar conversations with a friend. That walnut table looked across the kitchen to an old silver oak which was home to a pair of crows. Maybe they were a much married avian couple quite like us humans with one doing the talking while the other sat stoically. Kitchen windows have an odd comfort, a sense of slow time that is gentle and forgiving. Writing about it, I can see myself at my usual chair looking out of that window and straying into thoughts of my dad. His presence is an unassuming one on days when I wander in quicksands of the mind.

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Looking out of that old kitchen window

There wasn’t much time to linger in fragments of the past as the two women decided to move to the living room. The windows there looked out at a beautiful mango tree. A thoughtfully designed ledge along the window sill was a cool spot to sight squirrels scampering in the compound and sparrows carrying little twigs. Maybe it is nesting season for those tiny birds. A lazy cat ambled atop the compound wall with typical feline elegance. I didn’t realize summer days as an adult child of my mother also has its pleasures.

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And saree of the day was no. 75/2019 which is the only one I haven’t managed to document for myself this year. Dug out an old picture and incidentally this one has that scarred table.

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.

Forgotten summers

There’s still a summer from long ago in my forgotten lane. It finds a voice in the golawala’s bell that rings loud around noon, the proverbial pied piper’s music and children tumble out from buildings, helpless to the sweet-sour tastes of his golas.

His bottles line one end of the cart, a tantalising world of possibilities of colour and taste and the little humans fall under the spell of the array. Sometimes, they sneak out and at other times, they pester their folks no end till it’s just easier for the hot and bothered adults to say “go”.

My daughter is the same age as his, 11 and she asks if she can go and get a gola. Her need is so great and her suffering so huge that I smile and say ‘Yes’. The little mite gets me one too and we spend a summer afternoon in secret pleasure, our mouths stained the colours of wine and hearts filled with happiness. It’s a pleasure unlike any and brings back memories of sweet summers as a child. The heat doesn’t bother children, it’s just the adults who sweat and swear while the mercury rises. The kids just enjoy the season and make merry with crushed ice.

The other day, I asked the youngling about the golawala and her only important piece of information was that he gave free golas once a year to all the kids. It piqued my interest enough to want to know more about this man who so obviously seemed to love his job. I succumbed to the bell and ran down to catch him and find out who was this magical man. His name is Kailash like the mountain and I thought he couldn’t have had a more appropriate name.

Now, Kailash has been selling golas in the neighbourhood for 18 years. He plans to retire in a couple of years since he says, a man pushing a cart should work for only 20 years. If only, retiring was that easy for the rest of us. He came to the city from Jalgaon and joined his sister-in-law who had a cart. A few years later he branched out on his own. Perhaps, the birth of his son might have necessitated the need for independence and a little more money in the pocket. His son is 18 now and a college dropout. He works in a mall though and Kailash is a little sad that the boy hasn’t chosen to complete his degree. He has high hopes for his little girl and proudly says that he will educate her. “Main tho use padaoonga (I’ll educate her)”.

It’s a harsh life, selling golas in the punishing heat of Pune. There is also the added hardship of having his cart impounded by the municipality and the loss of business until he manages to release it or get another one. He sells anywhere between 50–100 golas a day and has no fixed income. He nets about 200–300 rupees a day and the family’s income is supplemented by his wife who also works. He used to work in a restaurant but prefers the freedom to be his own boss.

He sells golas for 10 months of the year. In the monsoons, he takes a break and sells butta (roasted corn) instead. He makes his own syrup and is proud to say that his concentrate stays as is for a year without getting spoilt. It’s basically a sugar concentrate which is cooked and left to cool before the fruit extract is added and mixed. The crushed ice is packed onto an ice-cream stick and swirled in the liquid before it is served.

I wonder if anyone else was interested in his life and day. He was happy to chat and had a smile even when not smiling. Perhaps, it was the honesty in his heart that shone through. I wonder if he went back home and told his family about a tall, lady in a saree who was mad enough to want to know about Kailash the golawala.

These are the magic people of our lives, the unsung heroes to our little children, the ones who make memories for them that they can turn to as adults. I know many mothers will be aghast at the thought of the unhygienic conditions etc. but none of the kids have fallen sick eating his colourful golas. Not yet.

Summer is gone and the rains are going. He’ll come again with his magical bottles and sunshine smile to create magic with ice and colour and you’ll be helpless and say, “bhaiyya, ek gola de do (Brother, please give me one gola)”

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.

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.

Sareeligious…

There’s been much furore over an ignorant article in the NYT on our beloved saree. While it’s easy to get all riled up and go hopping mad, it’s a good opportunity to see beyond the myopic ‘religious’ colour. As a secular nation, we enjoy a freedom to practise any religion as we see fit. But, what about the fundamental religion of being human? Do we walk the talk?

 

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Saree in the picture is a handwoven cotton from Maharashtra.

Quite recently, the husband and I were at a prominent jewellery store in the city, one known for it’s contemporary styling. I was the only one in a saree besides the sales staff. Initially, the salesman attending us was not very enthusiastic and quite dismissive until he figured out that we were potentially a reasonably high value sale. It was a first hand experience of how a saree clad woman is expected to fit into the slot of submissive, dependent, non-English speaking etc. As someone who is comfortable in her skin, it didn’t matter to me except perhaps from a sociological perspective. But, I could see how it might have played out for a person struggling with self image. A younger me would probably have doubted myself but thankfully that time has passed.

Sadly, in urban India, the saree is usually at two ends of a spectrum- either the high profile saree wearers in luxurious handwoven drapes or the domestic workers with their cheerful synthetic yards. Interspersed are women from professions that usually see a saree being worn, like teaching etc. The bulk of our urban women remain strangers to the saree except as occasional wear.

Back to the issue at hand, the bigger problem more than making the saree a religious symbol is making it a regressive one. I believe that it can see a shift when regular women like you and I start with wearing the six yards more frequently. It’s just a matter of wearing it continuously for a few days before you are swept in its melody. And then, there is no stopping the powerful voice with which it sings.

It has been a personal experience of empowerment through the humble saree. Initially, I was hesitant to wear the bright colours and patterns after decades of being in jeans and a shirt/tee. I was conscious but there was a tiny sprout of finding my feet as I started to drape them more frequently until it became a daily habit. It’s almost nine months since the saree was reintroduced in my everyday and now it’s who I am. Will it change? I don’t know but I like to think that this will endure. Unlike other garments, these handwoven beauties tug at you making you wonder and admire the many lives wound in its warp and weft. It’s hard not to be enamoured with the unique art that they are and discover a little more with each wear.

Much before feminism became a thing, the strong hands of our foremothers worked hard, raised families as they went about their lives in these same unstitched yards. Warrior women with steady eyes, an open heart and hardworking hands. And that sometimes is what it is all about- absolute assuredness.

 

 

The Lost Saree Seller

Twenty years ago, there used to be a Bengali saree seller who would come home to sell his wares. I don’t remember how he came home the first time but I do remember the first saree I bought from him. A grey taant with large borders. It was a saree bought soon after the firstborn came to be. The saree is long gone having been loved and worn before it died in Amma’s rough and ready use. A light breezy saree in an unlikely colour for a young mother but it whispered to me.

I digress, this is not the story of that saree but of the saree seller. Let’s call him Radhagobind. Him of the soft speech and unerring instinct of the sarees that were most likely to beckon you.
He would come around a few times each year and inevitably I would succumb to the lure of the six yards. It used to be almost like a choreographed dance. We’d exchange pleasantries and he would open his huge cloth bundles and start displaying the starched sarees that almost looked like little rectangular boxes. Radhagobind would keep a constant stream of conversation going as I swiftly sorted my favourite colours. He would then nudge my attention to the newer designs and sometimes it felt like there was nothing really to pick when he would conjure a beauty. I didn’t know the extent of the diversity in the weaves of our land and never bothered to find out the story behind them. As a young woman, all I wanted was a collection of sarees like my mother’s. Simple, elegant and timeless.
Now I wonder about Radhagobind. Where did he come from? Were the weaves from his family, his village? Did he leave his family back home as he trudged through the hot, sweaty streets of Bombay to earn a living? Did he ever sell all his sarees? What happened to those that didn’t find closets to call home? Did his wife wear any of those weaves? Perhaps she huddled over a loom and taught her children to conjure up designs as she sang songs of longing for her man out in the big city streets…
So many questions and Radhagobind is nowhere to be found. Part of a lost network of saree sellers, he dropped off somewhere as the malls sprang up and businesses went online. The mobile explosion hadn’t taken place and he was a nomad with his bundles. I wonder if he gave up the Bombay dream and went back to his village and stayed in the land of sweet sounds and beautiful women. There is a tailor in the neighbourhood who has the same quizzical expression as Radhagobind and what if, just what if, he is the same lost saree seller?
On an aside, I spoke to a young Bangla salesman to get a little detail on the sarees my old man bought me from Kolkata. He was eager to help but all he could tell me was that they were taants. I have a feeling that there’s a little more to a couple of the sarees. But, there’s the insta sisterhood of saree lovers that always comes up to share their knowledge.