years ago, i fell for the guinness tagline that went: guinness is good for you. i suspect i drink guinness more on account of that line than the taste of the heavy dark stout itself.

guinness is good for you was written in the 1920s when guinness started advertising for the first time. i’d heard once, in the ’70s or ’80s an enormous amount of money, effort, and time were spent to change that line, come up with something new. creatives thought and thought, then went away to far off isles to think some more, free float, brainstorm, crack the big idea. and after all that, they came back with… well, guinness is good for you. and so, the line remained.

i can’t substantiate that story, but i just found out that james joyce had suggested changing the line with a slogan of his own, “guinness – the free, the flow, the frothy freshener”. but thankfully, that was not accepted. it remained, guinness is good for you.

the best ideas are like that. simple, almost minus any adornment, undeniable.

which reminds me of a conversation i had the other day about these beautiful sarees called banarasis; benaroshi, if you’re bengali.

banarasis are handloom sarees from the ancient city of varanasi or benares, with their trademark and fabulous zari work. they are usually in silk, but you do have fine cotton banarasis too.

beautiful as they are, they have posed a persisting problem for their owners and wearers.

which is, where do you wear a banarasi?

the sarees are inextricably linked to weddings and celebrations. the let’s overdress moments in our world. the endless occasions that weddings present, special anniversaries, ceremonies for mothers to be, your offspring’s rice ceremony or whatever is the special ritual for children in a community. banarasis also find a place in religious festivals like diwali, durga pujo, eid. but mainly, it’s weddings.

if you want to wear a banarasi, there has to be an occasion. you just can’t wear a banarasi otherwise, seems to be the inherited wisdom of saree wearers everywhere.

you dress up in your lovely blue banarasi with big angoor or grape motifs to a cousin’s mehendi. your own wedding banarasi you have worn only once after your marriage, to your brother’s wedding. at your friend’s sangeet, your sweet but careless aunty dropped food on your pale pink banarasi with silver zari that your mother had worn for her gode bharai ceremony before you were born.

“i have so many beautiful banarasis, but no occasion to wear them,” how many times have i heard that? or, “i know the mauve tissue banarasi is gorgeous, but no, i’ll buy this kanjeevaram without zari, more wearable.” or even, “oh, banarasis are too much, too jhatak matak, who wears zaree these days?” i feel a bit shaken by that.

when i started buying sarees again, banarasis began to demand and get my attention pretty quickly. my mother was born in benares or kashi, was that some sort of subliminal tug? i’ve actually always been dazzled by banarasis. my mother had many of them, from her wedding brocade to these really cool ones in solid glimmering shades – emerald, crimson, ivory – with narrow finely worked borders in contrasting shades. i’ve worn most of them, always for an occasion of course.

but how do you get the banarasi out of the occasion into the everyday world?

that was the question a girl who loved sarees, – whom i’d just met – and i were pondering a couple of sundays ago. she said, she felt one should simply stop needing a big occasion to wear them.

instead, just wear them whenever one felt like it. as you would wear all other nice sarees.

to visit people, for small dinners, when you had people over. treat the banarasi like any other beautiful saree. and wear it. not keep your banarasis in muslin and mothballs forever, waiting longingly for that one mega wedding or whatever, when you can at last let them come out and breathe.

i laughed.

and i heard something in me say, why not?

we’d invited them for dinner the week after. she said, she’d wear one of her banarasis. and she instructed me, practically, to wear the red brocade banarasi i’d mentioned, a replica of my mother’s wedding saree.

it felt like a pact. a solemn giving of word to each other which would lead to greater things some day. it definitely felt heady, like a large swig of dark smooth guinness.

after much thought, i chose a blue green shot jongla or jangla (from jungle) banarasi.

when she walked in, we both stopped in our tracks and started smiling, quite incredulous. her husband exclaimed, “you’re wearing identical sarees!”

wasn’t exactly the same, but hers had an all over jaal or all-over pattern too, with similar motifs, and the colours were close. it was a classic banarasi from her wedding trousseau. mine had been acquired more recently.

she had also worn her saree differently, twisting and pleating the yards of silk deftly, as as she pleased. the sheen of a tightly drawn black belt over the pallu and around the waist firmly, brought the traditional jangla to the here and this moment.

we spent a happy evening together, not being self conscious at all about all the gold and silk. it felt just right. even the men, dressed casually, seemed to like that little high in the air. a refreshing note to a quiet dinner.

i wished i were tall and slender so i could throw my saree about in that carefree swirl. we posed and took shots. banarasis stepped out of weddings and breathed more freely.

a big idea i felt, had been cracked. just wear your banarasi.

i’ve never read joyce, but a moment ago considered swiping his “the free, the flow, the frothy freshener” tagline.

but no.

i’ll go with…

banarasis are good for you.

sarees tell sories | blue green shot jangla banarasi from tilfi, december 2020. you can find their online shop here.

time for a lal benaroshi

the other blue banarasi

indrani’s index

the flip side of the saree with its kadhwa work, made on handloom. it’s neat with hardly any floating threads. it can get even finer than this. every day though the artisan who creates finer things is disappearing.