note: this post was originally a caption for this picture on fotolog. it outgrew that 5000-character space so i transplanted it here, for the benefit of the lovely people who avidly adore le flog. oh, and you. if you like. :)
putting on bangles, before going out.
so i'm a little late with this "final" picture in the "awesomest sari i’ve ever worn" series. :)
this picture was taken on christmas eve, before a dinner with about twenty people (mostly aunties and uncles).
the restaurant choice was regrettable,
the company of those who populated the "younger" span of the continuum was less than coruscating and
the menu was not interested in pleasing herbivores,
but the night shimmers forever in my memory...
...because of those six yards of silk. the most unforgettable, inimitable, matchless silk i have ever worn.
i didn't know it existed, but somehow, i don't think the converse is true. i think it was waiting for someone, and i was lucky enough to her.
"beta, why don't you stay tonight as well? don't go back so late..."
"uncle, i wish i had planned for this and packed more clothes! i'd love to go to the dinner, but i came last night expecting to leave this morning...in my pajamas!"
"you didn't bring anything else?"
"all i have is the red sari from last night...which i'm sure will be fresh in everyone's memory...and this suit i'm wearing now..."
uncle frowned. "yes. everyone who was here last night will be at this dinner...that won't do. the sari won't work."
"it's okay, uncle...another time. honestly, this is unbelievable. i always over-pack for EVERYTHING. the ONE TIME i try and be efficient...look what happens!"
though i was laughing, i was inwardly surprised that the oxblood salwar kameez i had on wasn't "good enough". it had a delicate, filigreed sort of embroidery near my neck and a smattering of flashing beads across the front. it was simple, but pretty enough for a mere dinner. what kind of event was i planning to miss?
uncle read my mind. "you can't wear that suit, either."
i could feel my sparse brows ready to collide like two metro trains on the red line...i am always over-dressed, for every event. that's just me. given the choice, i'd obviously prefer to wear something prettier than some salwar, but the vast majority of women i knew would happily adorn themselves in the finery i was now scrutinizing, for church, parties, dinners...whatever. besides, for the umpteenth time, i hadn't brought anything else! this was maddening.
in the critical second before my forehead embraced new wrinkles, uncle's eyes widened. "i've got it," he muttered. up the stairs he went, moving swiftly for a man who was as old as my father would be, were he alive today.
i followed him, but stopped shyly when he reached his bedroom door. it felt like an invisible wall stood before me. you just don't *go there*.
normally, i think my very proper, refined uncle would agree. this was the exception to confirm that rule, however.
"come, beta. look."
i hesitated for a few moments, then padded over to the largest master bedroom closet i've ever seen. uncle was to my left, moving a large box...i felt like i was in a movie. everything slowed down. i heard wind chimes in my mind, and immediately decided to fire my mental sound effects guy. how hokey.
i grew up without the benefit of grandparents; i grew up without an attic full of old clothes, i grew up with a mother who didn’t believe in saving “useless things”, things which i’d consider relics. the memory of being six-years old, at my best friend francesca’s house came roaring back…she was playing dress-up, and i was watching, too shy and unsure to join her. “what’s wrong with you,” she demanded impatiently. “i’ve never done that…” was my reply. when i went home afterwards, i shyly approached my mother in the kitchen. she was stirring a curry while looking at a different pot full of rice. my sister toddled about her legs. “mummy, can i play dress-up? do you have old clothes, too?”
“go find something that isn’t worthless to do,” she snapped in malayalam, before i turned away in tears.
uncle had carefully discarded the box which was probably too heavy for him. before i could berate myself for letting him lift so much, he was yanking a non-descript piece of fabric off of something, with a flourish. it reminded me of a magician, unveiling the denouement of his act...
"booty," i murmured, feeling delighted and apprehensive all at once.
i shook my head. "nothing, uncle...sorry." it looked like a pirate's treasure chest, and my inability to suppress my lunatic inner monologue had manifested, yet again.
latches were unsnapped, and a creak that was worthy of a horror film snaked through my ears.
"these belonged to auntie," he quietly said.
i was almost shocked mute. "have...you..."
"have i opened it since? no, beta..."
twenty years? TWENTY YEARS had passed since the legendary silks and chiffons within had been touched? my mind reeled, and as uncle methodically flipped through each folded square, wrinkles unmolded from two decades of waiting, faint strains of rare perfume escaped, and an anxious slideshow of every picture i've ever seen of auntie commenced in my head (uncle was and is quite the photographer, you see...look at the picture above, look at the camera that was used).
"i gave away hundreds," he informed me, his voice low. "who would wear them again?" uncle had no daughters. he now had one daughter-in-law, but she detested saris, barely wore indian clothes. "when raj married _____, i thought, maybe...but she does not wear these things."
i thought i was going to faint. auntie was a creature of myth, rarer than unicorns as far as i was concerned. during the go-go 80s, she went to fashion week. she was halston's "hag". HALSTON. when every other auntie bought a handbag at kmart, auntie swept into gucci for accessories. her love of fashion evolved until she owned her own boutique, for fun, and at this improbable business, her designs were addictive to the moneyed MILFs who were crazy for her wit, her opinion, her talent.
do you have any idea what kind of clothes this woman had?
a good fifteen minutes had passed, and uncle was still cataloguing fabric. the immaculate new closet floor looked as if a bombay sari palace had ulti'd all over it. "there's this...and this...oh, and this." each square fell with an aristocratic thud to the ground, as uncle narrated its history: where it came from, who bought it, what event auntie had made others jealous with it at...
uncle selected a classic red benares silk. "it's christmas! perhaps you could wear this?"
i had my heart set on something else, an aquamarine dream of filmy perfection that reminded me of a dress valentino had once designed for the red carpet.
uncle smiled at me pleasantly. "no, beta. wear the red."
too meek to voice my considerable longing (and still battered by the shock of it all) i nodded.
a few moments later, i had an epiphany that threatened to derail my cinderella story. "uncle...ah...i would love to wear ANY of these, they're magnificent..."
"but...where are the...blouses..."
uncle dropped a seventh shahtoosh shawl on the pile of fabric riches. "oh! i have not seen any, beta!"
i nodded glumly and helped him sift through the remainder of the trunk. nothing.
"maybe you could wear the blouse you wore yesterday? it was red, na?"
i knew it wasn't the same red, but i dutifully went to my guest room, carefully picked up the glorious new blouse my aunt had sent me from india, and returned to the closet-treasure chest with it. i laid it solemntly on top of the sari.
"that goes...doesn't it?" i didn't reply. uncle kept looking, then he cocked his head to the right. after squinting for a second, he sighed. "it does not go."
like a wistful teenager, i picked up the aquamarine dream. unbelievably, improbably, the jewels that glittered from it were the same colour as my singular blouse.
"no, beta." he pronounced reluctantly.
"if it were summer...", i started.
we both sat amid the silk, feeling forlorn. just when i was about to excuse myself from the event, uncle moved his hand through the pile to his left. he slowly removed a special bundle. "there's this..." his voice trailed off.
cliched as it might seem, i gasped. no bleeding way. no WAY.
"you'd have to be very careful..."
"of COURSE, uncle!"
i was terrified. part of me didn't want the responsibility of wearing something so treasured, so irreplacable. i think he sensed this, and that's why he looked me in the eye and said, "who else can wear it, but you? it sat here and did no one any good. tonight, it means you can stay. i can't let you leave for lack of an outfit when such things lie unused..."
"thing" was an injustice as far as this sari was concerned. legacy. asset. heirloom.
"seventy-five years ago, my mother made that border by hand. it took her months to embroider and bead it. when i married your auntie, she teased her and said, 'you are marrying my youngest-- that means he's not bringing any inheritance with him. all you are getting is this.'...auntie laughed and accepted it happily, saying it was more than she needed. this was forty years ago. your auntie searched for the perfect fabric and made this. she didn't trust anyone with this border, so she stitched it herself...look."
he flipped over the area he had been cradling, and i saw tiny, careful, perfectly even islands of thread rising from the silk. eighteen feet of them. she had painstakingly attached it herself. i passed the border through my hands until i reached the pallu. i wasn't surprised to see a flawless job.
"uncle...i can't believe you're letting me wear this. i don't think i should. it's too important-"
"just be careful, beta. she'd want you to wear it. she'd want it to be seen again."