will you both wear sarees one day and let me take some pictures, i asked.
one of them grinned, the other did not. my sixteen year old niece loves to wear sarees, my almost fifteen year old daughter doesn’t. my niece held up the white tangail with gold border and black and gold motifs. it’s a beautiful saree, fine cotton, classy and cool. i think my mother picked it up from a shop in lake market in calcutta, almost twenty years ago. i remembered her wearing it.
it’s your grandmother’s, i said. my niece was pleased. she’d wear that one. and how about getting one of grandmother’s sarees for my daughter as well?
a pale olive green crepe with hand embroidered parsi border, as bengalis like to call it, lay right in front on the shelf. i had bought my mother a cobalt blue one with the same work from my aunt’s boutique. it had been rejected. she loved the work but it was too bright, whatever that means. and so, my aunt had had this saree made. my mother had worn it at the lunch we’d hosted to introduce our daughter to family and friends when we took her to calcutta the very first time. she was seven months old.
it had been a lovely afternoon. i pulled out the saree.
the girls didn’t have blouses. completely unhampered by the conventional way of looking at sarees, the dos and don’t, the musts and must nots, they wore theirs with black tops. my niece kept telling me to take shots of the lacy panel on her sleeve. my daughter tried to look a little above all this silliness, but she posed all right.
i can’t quite explain what it feels like to see your children dressed in something that belonged to your mother. something with its own memories. i have many sarees of hers and my grandmother’s. some are in tatters. but i keep them anyway.
my mother started wearing sarees when she was thirteen. it was not a matter of choice, that was the norm. no one thought you had to grow up, get the right heels, the right figure, the right occasion to don one. and you went about doing all the things a young girl does: study, play, learn driving, cut class, whatever… in a saree.
it was so much a part of her. she would drape one in no time and throw the pallu over her shoulder casually. her blouses never matched. yet she always looked well turned out. even in her horrid nylon sarees. how can anyone look good in nylon? but my aunts, grandmother, mother, they all managed to.
my models prattled away and posed around the house. they couldn’t care less whether they looked fat or slim, pretty or not, i was impressed with the ease with which they handled the unfamiliar six yards. i told them to smile sweetly at each other. a series of disastrous shots followed.
two sets of memories now with these sarees. three girls and their shenanigans.
i leaned forward and got a frame i liked, my daughter blew out her cheeks just as i clicked.
sarees tell stories | white tangail from lake market bought around 1996, crepe with hand embroidered parsi border from raya’s boutique, calcutta, made in 2001.