Kaleidoscope

Sarees are incredibly sensuous in themselves for their texture, colours and fluidity. Today was all about light and colour and the many moods of shimmering, colour shifting and spilled memories from long ago. A kaleidoscopic day so here goes…

Kaleidoscope
the mind is

shifting pieces
of wounds
and scars
to make
hymns
and dirges
sung
long after
the years
have closed

There’s
only one
lens
to enter
the enchantment
of illusions
and art
of an artist
doomed
to
create
recreate
arrange
rearrange

Inevitable
the slash
of pain
but
craft
demands
its price

Experience

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…

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?

 

IMG_1164
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.