“where did you get this saree from?” i asked, when she came out of the room in this lovely light tangail.

my mother was visiting me in singapore. she looked sort of pleased for i am sure she’d noticed the pique of interest in my voice.

she said, she didn’t remember the name of the shop but she had decided to get herself some comfortable cotton sarees before coming here. so she had gone with one of her favourite cousins to this shop in lake market. the sort of shop whose name you really don’t remember. once upon a time there were plenty of such saree stores all along lake market and gariahat; and i’m sure in other parts of calcutta as well. simple stores with nondescript to fairly offensive sales people… usually men in dhotis supremely disinterested in selling.

if you’ve ever shopped in calcutta at such places you’d know exactly what i mean.

in these days of customer service and shopping experience and all that, sigh, where to find such indifference.

“ki chai?” what do you want?

“tangail saree.” (the shop sells mainly or possibly only tangail sarees.)

“ki rong?” what colour?

“er, green? pink? um, something light?”

“buti na plain?” with motifs or without?

“plain? or maybe with…”

“jori na jori chhada?” with zaree or without?

“um… i was thinking…”

“koto daam?” what price?

after this interrogation, you’re feeling frazzled and weak at the knees. not a single saree has been pulled out of the neatly piled stacks and stacks of sarees before your eyes. and a helpful assistant is standing by just in case his dour, flinty voiced boss decides you may be shown a prized ware that they say is for sale.

it’s one of the shops as you turn into the lane off rash behari toward the market area, my mother said. a very old shop, surprisingly still there. three elderly gents sat on the gaddi. no counters here, an old style thick mattress covered with a white cotton sheet on a raised platform served as the display area. shoppers sat on the bench before it.

the gentleman had apparently been quite kind and my mother had selected five sarees she liked. she’d bought them all. the sarees were really pretty, actually. there’s a classic bengali tangail look i feel. especially, the sarees for everyday use. simple, often white or in that “kora” unbleached shade of off white, they have three- to four-inch borders with fine work, sometimes little motifs all across. these are in a range of colours. there may or may not be a touch of zaree. at times the saree may be in a light colour too.

these sarees have a subtle grace. never ever are they loud or “look at me”. and they have that timeless element classics have.

they often start out as sarees to be worn for informal/casual outings… to the movies, to visit a friend, when someone comes over, etc. over time, their crispness goes, the colours fade a bit, they turn soft and comfortable and they become sarees to be worn at home, “barite porara shari”.

even in 2007, you could pay less than rs 500, around $12 sing dollars, and get really nice ones. when you go shopping for them, you ask to see “shadharon”… ordinary… tangails.

nothing feels ordinary about many of them. like the one i had to swipe. i fell for the purple and green combination. even liked the not real zaree. i think i let her wear it once more, then took it away. my mother seemed to be in a good mood, she let me.

wore it again yesterday. it was shoshti, the day durga pujo began for me always. that evening, we’d don our new clothes and first touch our mother’s feet, then go to the pandal. shoshti is always about mothers, divine or mortal. it’s not a new saree, but it’s got that thing about it… even now, after all these years.


crisp tangails look rather pretty with just a little bit of gold jewellery.


sarees tell stories | kora tangail with purple and green butis/zari border from a shop in lake market, bought in 2007.


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