Hidden away in every woman’s wardrobe is a saga of a life lived with all its ups and downs, the passions, the romance and the heartache. Locked away in steel almirahs, slumbering in wooden cupboards or nestling in the good old trunk of yester years is the colourful history of the lady of the house. Most often it is only the owner who knows all the intricacies of the twists and turns in her life – the pleasure, the pain, the tears and laughter, the pride, the joy, the excitement and all the other emotions that weave together to make a full life.

My wardrobe, an ancient Godrej steel almirah (all almirahs those days were called Godrej just as all nail polish was called Cutex!) is a map of my life, full of memories and scintillating tales of years filled with great experiences. Each soft six yards of fabric evokes an emotion that brings peace, nostalgia, pain and happiness in equal measure. When I open the cupboard the sarees jostle and nudge each other for attention and each time I choose one it drapes me in a haze of times long past or recent. 

The most poignant story is entwined in the deep rich burgundy coloured silk saree covered with baskets of flowers embroidered in gold with a solid swath of shimmering gold for a pallu. My mind goes back to 1932, the year my father and mother were married in a village way down south, when this saree was worn by my father’s mother. I can imagine her bustling around at the very first family wedding- the marriage of her eldest son- welcoming her first beautiful daughter –in –law. In 1964, the very same well preserved saree reached me in Calcutta, barely a year after my father’s death. My grandparents had sent it by registered post ( there was no courier service then), a parcel laden with luminous thoughts, as a gift and a comfort for my first birthday without a father. I wore the saree at my own wedding Janavasam in 1966 and many times since then reliving the joy and heartache. 

The stunning all gold lace saree that I wore at my wedding reception in 1966 is all wrapped in tissue paper having travelled all the way to Leeds in England to be worn by my daughter at her memorable wedding to a young handsome British lad in2005. I can almost hear the moving oath they had written for each other and feel again the lump in my throat as they articulated it with great emotion.  

The white Conjeevaram pattu saree with a maroon and gold embroidered border and a striking pallu conjures up days of happiness as it was my “thalai Deepavali” saree when I was pregnant with my first child. I do not think I was ever pampered as much as I was then. It evokes memories of lights glimmering outside the house, the fragrance of sweets, the smell and sound of fireworks, laughter and shrieks of happiness as colours streaked the sky.  

The saree presented to me for my only brother’s wedding is a radiant peacock’s neck colour, a fascinating blend of blue and green and a very delicate touch of mauve or pink with a deep maroon border embellished with two bands of gold. It has always been my favourite colour. A reversible Tanchoi of midnight blue winks at me reminding me of mad parties. When it was frayed at the ends I was so loathe to throw it away that  I converted it into a Salwar Kameez that waltzed with me at later parties. 

The brilliant blue Mysore crepe silk reminds me of my very first job interview; the double shaded mustard and brown saree with a mustard and gold border with a matching brocade bag was the first ever gift to me by my husband; the crisp white Bengal cotton with a blood red embroidered border takes me back to the funeral of my young colleague who suddenly and tragically died in my arms and the soft black silk with a narrow gold border is the very first saree I ever wore, feeling very grown up and special. 

The glowing cream conjeevaram silk saree with a rippling pallu of subtly interwoven gold, green amd mauve was my Sashtiapthapoorthi saree – a landmark year indeed celebrated with my loving family and friends.  The Conjeevaram cotton with black,yellow and red checks with an intricate red and gold border belonged to my mother-in-law who gave it to me before she died at the age of 101. 

The coca cola Pattu with a broad lilac border and the sunflower yellow with very fine green and red lines with a Ganga-Jamuna border of red and green that I wore for my award functions have always been scene stealers.  Various landmark birthdays and anniversaries are reflected in salmon pink, olive green, vibrant orange and many other eyecatching shades. Some sarees like my majenta and green Patola are quite frayed but still beautiful when worn. Some have been darned or repaired expertly enough to pass muster.  Some can never be worn again but are too beautiful and so interwoven with precious memories that I do not have the heart to throw them away.

Every woman has many stories and voices nestling between the pages of diaries. Some have legends and history within the folds of dresses in a wardrobe.  My cherished sarees will continue to charm my children and grandchildren adding a new chapter and acquiring fresh history in faraway lands. These are dreams never to be forgotten. They are dreams that will lead on to link with the dreams of another generation. History and dreams are interwoven in every warp and woof of every saree. Each time I see or touch a saree I say a heartfelt prayer of gratitude to the untiring hands of the hard working weavers who would have laboured meticulously at the loom for days on end to weave such a shimmering dream for us at the cost of their own hardship. 

by Mrs Malati Jaikumar, resident of Covai S3 Retirement Community

Reblog – originally published as a podcast at CovaiVani

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