I opened my closet today–the one where I keep my saris–and could not stop crying. I think it must have been the nostalgia of hours of talking with my friend when I visited her in New Jersey a few weeks back.
We were lost in conversations about “those” days. We first met in 1981, so she is pretty much privy to all that’s going on in my life.
And with her mom also visiting, it was a regular tear-fest. She had seen us growing up, after all.
Photo: Sadman Chowdhury/Pexels
Inspired by all the stories we had recalled, I resolved to air out my closet after I returned home. I was already feeling sad about missing the Navaratri hop this year as I was traveling. Every year, we celebrate the 9-day festival dedicated to the Goddess Durga’s avatars and this is usually in October.
People spring clean, buy new clothes, have doll displays, and invite their women friends home. The tradition is to offer the guest “haldi-kumkum” or turmeric and vermillion along with sandalwood paste that they apply on the forehead and neck. Some sing. At the end of the visit, the guest receives a tray with betel leaves, betelnuts, flowers, a gift, and the food offering of the day which is usually steamed and seasoned sprouts.
As I went through my selection of saris in my closet, I was nudged into memory lane.
I remember wearing a grey cotton sari with a pink zari border for Navratri last year. My mom was so fond of that sari! I accessorized it with golden alloy jewelry after going crazy looking for my pink and grey necklace-earring set. I kept it so safe that even I could not find it. I made a mental note to consolidate and gather all my ‘jewelry’ one of these days. My neighbors were surprised to see me in a sari, probably because I hardly ever wear them anymore. I always wonder why people assume that those who don’t wear saris often are not comfortable in them.
As I continued to review my sari stash, I reached into the top shelf to pull out a silk sari. The whole stack of silk saris followed and cascaded over me, as did the memories. I have the fondest nostalgia for shopping for saris with my mom. We once bought a yellow cotton sari with a brown border around 35 years ago from a door-to-door salesperson. I still have it.
Photo: Author in yellow sari circa 1996/Vidya Sury
My bag of blouses looked dolefully at me. I had to alter them as they were made over 25 years ago. My body had changed. I suddenly remembered buying some readymade blouses a couple of years ago and felt guilty about not using them.
I couldn’t help laughing as I also recalled buying a blue blouse from that same shop when I had an emergency wedding to attend. After I returned home and took off the blouse, I wore a sleeveless top. My mom looked at me and asked why I hadn’t taken off the blouse. Turned out that the color had imprinted on my skin! How much everyone at home had laughed at that. Took days for the color to wash off.
Saris bring me fond memories of my uncle, who always believed in buying me three or four or five saris for festivals much to everyone’s amusement. He knew all the great places where the quality was good and the pricing reasonable.
After we returned home and admired our purchases, Mom and I would sit through the night, sewing on the “fall” so we could both wear the saris throughout the week. The fall is a narrow strip of cloth attached to the inner lower border of the sari to reinforce it and make it fall well when draped.
Then we would have fun arguing about which blouse paired well with each sari. As we sewed through the night, we would listen to songs, sing along softly, laugh at jokes, and gossip, and slowly our voices would rise. My grandma would call out urging us to sleep. “Don’t you have to be up early tomorrow?” she’d chide. Then she’d join us, regaling us with stories of her trips with Grandpa to Kancheevaram (famous for silk sari weavers), to sit with the weavers and have custom saris made for every wedding in the family. I still have two of my mom’s wedding saris.
I can’t help laughing as I remember how, thanks to being colorblind, I would use the wrong color thread while sewing on the falls. Another time, I sewed on the wrong color fall and had to replace it. Naturally, my folks never let me hear the end of it. All in good humor.
How can I forget those Saturday afternoons when Mom and I longingly gazed at the saris in the showcase of our favorite store as we strolled around before going home? When I met my friend in New Jersey, we talked about this store. Back in the day, she lived in that area. We reminisced about the beautiful organdy saris in pastel shades with pretty prints and wondered if the shop was still there. Maybe I will visit that area next time I am in Chennai.
Still looking at my sari closet, I came across one that took me back to the day when I first met one of my closest friends.
I had just graduated from college and had begun to apply for jobs. On a whim, I had enrolled in a personal secretary’s course. I was 20 and was naive enough to think that personal secretaries had glamorous jobs. How naive!
Anyway, this friend of mine who was waiting for her engineering college entrance exam results had also joined the course and we instantly hit it off. We were delighted to discover that we had the same taste in books and saris. At the time, she only dressed in saris and we enjoyed planning what to wear the following day. I smile now to think of the joy of dressing in similar colors. What people now call “twinning”, we did back then. We often swapped saris and it was so much fun.
Photo: Author’s mother in the red sari./Vidya Sury
As I spotted a red printed silk sari, one that my mom loved to wear often, I remembered how we used to tease her, saying that people would recognize her the moment they spotted the sari.
Sure enough, that’s what happened one day. Mom had dropped my son off at playschool. It had been a windy and rainy day and she hurried back home, eager to get indoors, only to realize that her purse, in which she had the house key was missing. I was home that day luckily, and listened to Mom panicking over losing her purse, ID, and keys.
Just as I was contemplating walking back the way she had come to look for the purse, our apartment building’s security guy came over to inform us that someone wanted to see Mom. Puzzled, she went downstairs to see a school van driver waiting at the gate with her purse.
So apparently after she dropped my son, while waving to him, the purse slipped to the ground. In her hurry to get home, she was unaware of this. The funny thing was, she would see this van driver every day when he dropped kids off and chat with him, ask after his family, listen to his woes, and so on. Some days when he was a little late, she would talk to the school guard and make sure the kids got in.
With the memories flooding in came the tears afresh as I held the sari close to me, with trembling hands. I sat down on the mat on the floor, with the stacks of saris, and decided to let the love envelop me, soothe me. I smiled as I remembered how we gave away close to four hundred saris after I got married. And I wished sadly that I had clicked more photos of her even as I felt grateful for the memories.
Vidya Sury is a writer, editor, and diabetes warrior. Besides her own 6 websites in various niches, she writes regularly on Medium and has been featured on Huffington Post, Business Insider, Abbott India blog, and others.
This article was originally published at Medium. Reprinted with permission from the author.