in the middle of may or was it june last year, when a good friend and his wife invited us to their daughter’s wedding in kerala in december, and i said, yes, would love to come, i was fully prepared for an enchanting time in the deep green southern state which has an even deeper affair with red. today, the only state in the country with a communist government.
i would be passing through bengaluru. when i lived there, it was bangalore, and i have no idea why we keep changing names, but well, bengaluru it is. everyone grumbles that the city, where i spent some of my happiest times, is gone: traffic, population, heat, dust, doom and politicians.
i disagree, and as some of my closest friends live there, i planned a stopover on the way to as well as on the way back from kumarakom, where the wedding was to be held in a resort by the backwaters. i do not wish to digress, but watching the colours of an indian wedding unfold against the blues and endless of the backwaters, framed by the aforementioned green, is a religious experience. especially if elevated by genuine welcome and the easy banter of friends who went to school together; the father of the bride was a class mate of mine.
the bride was radiant, she is malayalee and of syrian christian heritage, the groom had a gentle smile, he’s maharashtrian, hindu. the wedding was joyful and fun, parents and families on both sides enthusiastically taking part in customs and traditions, even those that were new to them. i was not embarrassed at all that I’d packed four dressy sarees and a new mekhela sador for the five occasions across two days.
as i mentioned, i was quite sure the trip would be happy and memorable, but i was not prepared for the sarees. i don’t mean the ones I’d taken along.
you never really know what the future holds in store for you, do you. i’m not trying to be randomly and mundanely philosophical here, just going over the circumstances that led to those sarees.
of course, on a visit to bengaluru, i’d rush over to ambara – a nice boutique – right next door to my friend’s place; and there’s always chickpet a short drive away, we spent an illuminating and expensive evening there on my last visit… if you love or even like sarees, don’t give rukmini hall a miss. we casually considered going to kancheepuram this time to gaze at the silks on the loom, but desisted.
I kept thinking: maybe I’ll get one kanjeevaram, or an ilkal… but nothing else. the best laid plans of mice and weak women…
the friend i stayed with on the way to kerala, said she had to take me to taneira, the new saree place opened by titan. the famous tata group, known for steel, cars, technology, finance, hotels, watches… is into sarees now. the mighty shall capitulate before these six yards, it is written.
my friend had some taneira discount coupons… lovely shop, i thought, as i walked in. there were sarees on shelves, on hangers, spread out on tables, sarees everywhere in a series of rooms connected by meandering corridors and staircases. they floated, they sat, they beckoned, they wrapped you in a world of their own… you got lost, there was no need to be found.
i tried to resist. i was valiant. then i spotted a light blue banarasi. i almost stopped breathing when the folds were opened and it was laid out on the table.
i said, no. i was not going to spend madly on the very first day. i could do it. my friend reminded me of the discount. i walked away and fell upon a cotton kota with its eight trademark squares to assuage the pain. it had pretty sanganeri block prints, a saree from rajasthan that was a repository of memories… my aunts, mother, great aunt, they’d wear these airy, light kotas, especially during summer.
my friend watched me as I hurried over to see what lay in the next room. each alcove, space, corner had a different kind of saree on display, from different parts of the country.
the dark pink and purple maheshwari from madhya pradesh caught me unawares.
maharani ahaliyabai holkar… rehwa… gossamer silk… revival by sally holkar… the thoughts wafted and swirled, gold tinted and free.
I have never bought a maheshwari for myself I thought…
my friend giggled and thrust a pale mehendi green chanderi into my hands. i must buy this for you, she said. why, i muttered flummoxed, staring at the see through fine fabric.
she laughed and replied, i’ve never seen anyone so happy in a saree store, it’s like watching a kid in a toy shop… besides, i have the discount.
i went off to kerala with three new sarees in the suitcase.
on the way back, we stopped by at kasavu kada in cochin, well known for their kerala cotton sarees. i bought a white cotton, not the real zari kasavu, just a simple inexpensive one with a thin border in gold and a snazzy purple. it cost around rs 450. why so cheap, i asked. the cotton count is only 80, said the man. it was handloom, it was 100% cotton, people were willing to talk about the count of warp and weft, not give vague answers, felt good.
back in bengaluru, at my second host’s home, a kesa paat from assam awaited. I’d bought it from kohua d’handloom café, a new shop in guwahati; they’d sent it over. the owner is a friend’s cousin, he and i have fascinating chats on whatsapp often about the weavers and textiles of assam. kesa paat or raw silk is diaphanous and a bit stiff, the drape gets better after you wear it a few times, he had said. I’d fallen for the motifs, assamese bootis are unique, mine had tiny goss phool or the tree motif – phool is literally flower, means motif or booti – and large bold triangular patterns on the pallu, in a no nonsense brown and gold. it was even prettier than I’d thought.
I would have left india with these five new sarees, but then the banarasi started spooking me. i had to return to taneira with the second friend. what would i do without my ever patient and indulgent friends. she and i pondered the light blue banarasi. something wasn’t right. the shot effect… the density of bootis… or was it their size? as i wandered, if not lonely as a cloud, quite sad at the thought of letting go, i saw the other blue banarasi.
the folds opened, the classic zari work shone, the stately border, the zari encrusted pallu, the lavish kolkas sitting nawabishly at either end of it, the crafting was sure, you could sense this craft wasn’t perfected in a day, the blue reminded me of aunties at north indian weddings. i, like shetty of good old hindi films, was sold.
i came back from south india with six sarees. a saree from the south, a kerala cotton, not kanjeevaram this time. a saree from the east, the kesa paat from assam. a saree from the west, the kota from rajashthan. a saree from the north, the blue banarasi. and two sarees from the centre of the country, madhya pradesh: the maheshwari and the chanderi.
when i realised this, i knew i had to write. this was not planned. the best moments in life i guess rarely are.
errant thought: perhaps there’ll be an invite soon, and that over dressed aunty at an indian wedding.
sarees tell stories | mehendi green chanderi, deep pink maheshwari, sanganeri print kota, blue banarasi from taneira, bengaluru; kerala cotton with purple border from kasavu kada, cochin; off white kesa paat from kohua d’handloom cafe, guwahati; all sarees bought in december 2018.
on a trip to chickballapur near bengaluru where my friend has a farm, spotted this mandir in a village. we have mandirs everywhere, and decoration and colours and hope.
hanuman stands guard by the road under a tree, right next to the snake goddess’s tiny temple… turn a bend and there’s scarecrow driving the birds away.