it was my maternal uncle’s wedding. may 1966. i was six, my cousins between four and ten. we were five of us girls i think. we were all going to attend the wedding in calcutta and then go to delhi for the reception. my grandmother, always generous, fun, a bit over the top as grandmothers really ought to be, decided to get nearly identical lehengas and sarees made for us.
the lehengas were in red silk with green cholis and red floaty odhnis, lots of shimmery gold zari all over.
the sarees were in various shades of pink. pink nylon… from a calm poised rose to a bright unstinting gulabi. and they had shiny gota work all over. ribbons of silver zari had been cut and trimmed and appliquéd in a pretty pattern on the slippery material; the silver with its cool tinsel sheen and the pink so smooth and ice cream like. they were little girls’ sarees, much shorter in both length and width than regular ones.
rajasthan is well known for gota work, my grandmother had had the sarees made in jaipur, where my grandfather’s younger brother and his wife lived. i will never forget that gaudy happy saree of mine. to me it was beautiful, absolutely perfect; in fact, now that i think of it, i wish i still had it. stays in my mind, its touch, its colour, its pattern, its gota dazzle, the springy feel of nylon.
it was my first “good saree”. not that i had a serious collection of sarees by the age of six, i did have one other saree though. a yellow cotton, which i’d worn for saraswati puja that year. children would often wear sarees for the puja dedicated to the goddess of learning. yellow being the preferred colour, though exactly why i have no idea.
but the pink and silver saree was my hot favourite. i wore it many times after my uncle’s wedding, finding all sorts of excuses to throw it on. i was also convinced i looked impossibly beautiful in it. to the credit of all those who suffered my self obsession, no one damaged my fantasy, quite happily letting me believe, yes, indeed i was gorgeous in pink sparkly nylon.
nylon. slippery and synthetic. can’t say i like the fabric at all. in the sixties though, this human made material was not only in, it may have even been a sign of a contemporary woman, one with a mind of her own even, daring to try new ideas, not just traditional silks and cottons. i don’t know if i read that right, but my mother, maternal aunts, and grandmother often wore nylon sarees; and they were all women with a modern bent of mind, tough, hard to rein in… ha. maybe that’s why i feel nylon sarees said something about the wearer’s personality. there was a very pretty one of my grandmother’s, base off white, tiny rose buds printed all across.
as i write a thought comes along. was it my my pink nylon gota saree that was responsible for two things in more recent years?
first, when my mother turned seventy, we had a party for her and i was keen to pick up a dhakai for both of us. so i went to this lady from whom i’ve been buying dhakais for years, i chose a lovely black and white one for my mother and then my eyes fell on a pink and silver saree. i couldn’t look away.
this strawberry ice cream hued fine cotton with silver zari glittering on it… i just could not look away. i forgot my age, i forgot my million inhibitions, i had to buy it.
wore it the very next day with a blouse that didn’t match… ten years on, when the saree frayed, i sent desperate whatsapp messages to the lady, with pictures; and very kindly, she had one more made for me. almost the exact same shade.
of course, in the meantime i’d bought another one in pink, just in case this couldn’t be replicated. and i notice, i find it very hard, extremely so in fact, to stay sane when i see a pink saree. plenty of new gulabis suddenly in my cupboard. maybe as i age, a part of me is suddenly racing back, trying to pick up something from back then. catching a gota shine and dragging it here.
second, when my daughter was about six years old, i asked a dear aunt of mine, who has her own boutique, to make a saree for my daughter. there was a wedding in the family. my aunt made a wonderful saree. no, not in nylon. it was a rich blue tussar, embroidered all over, with border and pallu in… pink.
would like to thank a friend of mine, for reminding me of our first sarees and how a girl looks all grown up when she gets into a saree.
sarees tell sories | pink dhakai from sumitra sengupta, calcutta, 2017; pink printed tussar from toontooni, calcutta, 2017; pink rajkot patola from design & drama, calcutta 2016; blue and pink tussar from raya’s boutique, calcutta, 2007.