Unfolded. Refolded.

Sarees were a constant until a couple of months ago when I traded them for shorts or pants depending on whether it was yoga or walking. Monsoon days also mean longer drying time for clothes and cotton sarees take their own sweet time. I’d still wear them for some online meetings but largely they remained in the dark confines of my cupboard. Today afternoon was spent refolding them, something I do every few months to prevent them from developing fold marks.

It was a pleasant way to spend a couple of hours. As I unfolded and refolded them, they reminded me of many people, experiences and thoughts. I was reminded of the days when I would post regularly on IG and some of the lovely people I got to know thanks to a common love for the six yards. Some of the sarees were bought on travels, some from the saree seller who would come home every few months, many were gifts, some were shared, some were mother’s and a few of them were from a stranger I haven’t even met! The last lot were vintage sarees, over 50 years old and found their way to me via a rather circuitous route- NY to Montreal to Toronto to Bombay to Pune.

There were two easy breezy mul cotton sarees on the line today thanks to a respite in the rain and as they fluttered, I wandered through the sarees that have come to occupy space in my shelves. Unlike other clothes, the six yards somehow hold memory more firmly. Some of them happy and a few that also hold darkness but that is the fabric of life. A little of this and a little of that.

A couple of days ago, I wore a Sambalpuri ikat with the most gorgeous design of fauna and flora on its body. A jeweled green and red, this one was an impulse purchase on one of my trips out of town. The technique is a marvelous one of mathematical precision and craftsmanship. Ikats look identical on both sides. Most of the designs are drawn from nature and motifs include flowers and leaves, peacocks and elephants, lions etc. The single ikats are a tricky proposition but the double ikats are even more mind boggling. Both the warp and weft are dyed in the desired designs before being woven. They are not unique to India and the form has been practiced across different regions like South America, Central and South East Asia. Truly art that can be worn. Even within the country, there are different clusters that have their unique style, like the Patan Patolas or Pochampally ikats or Chinnalapatti silk cottons.

A closer look at the motifs

This country is rich in its textile heritage and the sheer diversity is staggering. It’s interesting to trace the way techniques have crisscrossed the country, a perpetual assimilation that continues to this day. Some of the migrations have been slow and organic while others have been a violent clash. I’m partial to the soft cottons from the south or then the light as air taants from Bengal which are perfect for our tropical summers. My favourite though remains the kora kasavu from the land of my foremothers for its timeless elegance.

 

 

A stranger life

I’m not a big facebook fan and end up using it mostly in the course of work. So, I saw a message from a stranger almost a month later and it was a curious thing. This person had figured a few of my blogs as well as my name through them and was intrigued about a lack of face on my saree posts enough to want to reach out. Sometimes, I do that too, reach out to people although it’s mostly because of words. It got me thinking of how people connect in this century and also why. But that is for a later post.

In pandemic times, our interactions have changed in their texture. There’s either a frantic need to maintain old socializing in a virtual avatar or a retreating into journals, books, letters and blogging. So much of our lives are about places we go or things we do and so being confined brings very little to conversation as exchange of raw thoughts can be frighteningly intimate.

Yesterday, technology gave way. My internet device went bust and later the phone hung. It refused to shut down or restart. And truth be told, I was relieved to be disconnected. After trying without success to reconnect to the call I was on, I calmly put aside everything and wrote a letter. Then an entry in my journal to mark the day and a book in bed before sleep stole on me. I slept for 12 hours straight.

Today has been reflective, a little despairing, mildly cynical, a tad bit impatient and curious too. I could attribute the shaking of a steadiness to a variety of factors perhaps the last two books I finished? In case you want to know, they were Disgrace and Giovanni’s Room. They were recommendations from another stranger. Sometimes I think it is easier to exchange digital words with people one never needs to know. Days like these make me want to crawl into a cave. But life has a penchant for teasing and torments by denying what one seeks.

The shrieking parakeets this morning reminded me of this khesh saree and so it became the accompaniment to my day…

I sat calmly listening to a an old woman who needed to talk, a young girl who was frustrated about being unable to go cycling. Behind the eyes which were with them, there was impatience to get back to my page where a half written sentence demanded completion. Eventually, time made itself available but the need to finish the line dried up like the ink in my pen.

In the midst of all that, a friend prodded me to do something I wouldn’t ever have considered. But I said yes, spontaneously. It felt right although I didn’t expect it to move at the pace it did. I’ve mostly gone where the river of life has taken me and so far it’s been interesting. I suppose one can liken the river bed across miles to the constancy of one’s personhood and the different features along its course as the various experiences one encounters – enriching, depleting, polluting, reviving. Along the way, it’s song meanders through joyous notes and plaintive ones, furious thundering and quiet whispering. Eventually the waters will spill into the ocean and all those songs will drown into a majestic silence. I find myself with a longing creep in for that soundlessness.

Silent Symphonies

Time has a way of speeding up and before you know it, weeks have flashed by. Many classes, a few misses, much travel, plenty of walks in the woods and thousands of words have happened. An expansion and extension of living, if you will. And now, there is a different sense of time, a slowing down in the face of a crisis that envelopes the planet.

Long walks in the woods and books have been steady companions for a few months now providing space and time needed to recharge. Maybe thanks to those, my world still feels steady.

The woods are silent spaces offer much to those willing to enter their quiet. I’m incredibly grateful to be able to amble long in their peace. In a different quietness at my desk, I find myself writing letters to friends, old and new.

A slow tasting of life and I find myself increasingly enjoying the richness of being silent. If solitude was a planet earlier, now I have an entire universe of wonder. That makes my moments in the company of people that much more full of presence.

A few days of no sarees and was missing the splash of colour. So decided to mirror the blue skies, add a bit of fire to it and post it here.

Dragonflies

The stragglers are left
Drunk in the winter sun
Buzzing here and there
in frantic dance

Their tribe has gone
Disappeared someplace
Where do they go anyway
Once the season is done

Another time another place
They were a sea
of glittering wings
and happy dance

Now they’re old dragonflies
In the last throes
And so they love
Like there is no tomorrow

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.