Written By Divya Kumar
Long, long ago there was a little girl who loved wearing saris, she could barely manage her school uniform, but as soon as she came home, she opened and stared at her mom’s closet, wide-eyed she looked at all those neatly hung, color-coordinated yards and yards of fabric in hues ranging from pastels to brights. Depending on her mood, she would choose a crisply-starched cotton dhoti or drape a dainty chiffon on her tiny body. Then there were days when she just touched the silks and let its luxurious feel engulf her.
She watched her mom wear a sari every morning in under-3-minutes! But her little fingers struggled to make any sense with this long, intimidating yet fascinating ensemble. This, of course, was decades before YouTube tutorials.
And the mother of this little girl was aware of her only daughter’s love affair with her wardrobe. So whenever the mom traveled for work or leisure, with or without the daughter, she bought a sari for her little girl. The tradition went on for years, and mom bought traditional, handwoven saris to add to her burgeoning collection.
You guessed it right, I am that little girl, and this is the story of me and my saris. My mom, a highly placed and well-respected bureaucrat with the government of India, loved her saris. In her 36 years of service, she wore saris every single day to work. We missed her a lot when she was away, but it also gave my brothers and me to explore the country when she was posted outside Delhi. Our usual trips included a tour of factories, handicraft museums or visits to local artisans workshops. The last one was my favorite.
We got to meet and watch the weavers, painters, artists, and craftsmen at work. We were lucky to see many masterpieces being woven and crafted. From pattu shawls of Kullu, delicate Kashmiri embroidery on pashminas, intricate mirror work in Gujarat, tye & dye or bandhej in Rajasthan, dhoop-chhav or ombre silk weaves of Benaras, phulkari of Punjab, gold zari badla and dabka work on wedding lehengas to delicate Chanderis. Magnificent south India Kanjeevarams and pochampaly Ikat saris and much more.
These trips and visits were eye-opening and educational, beautifully enlightening to say the least. I remember planning most of our holidays around sari shopping. Kumaran or Nallis in Chennai, Barrabazaar in Kolkata, Johri Bazaar in Jaipur, etc.
Almost two decades and all these trips later, when finally the daughter decided to get married, she realized she would be leaving her family, her friends, only place she knew as home and crazy as it may sound, a her beloved wedding trousseau of one hundred and one saris that her mom so lovingly collected created for her over the years.
The heart-broken mom soon discovered that her US-bound girl would not only be leaving her traditional saris behind, she will also not be carrying on the family tradition of wearing these beautiful saris.
7 years on since the wedding and 12 years since I left India, I can count on my hands the number of times I wore my saris. I still have about 20 some saris I brought to the USA with me out of the 101, but many of them are yet to see the light of the day.
4 cross-country moves and 2 kids later, I am still hopeful that one day I will be able to bring my much-cherished collection of saris over. Each sari is a masterpiece because each one of them is hand-crafted, every one of them tells a story, a story I am looking forward to sharing with my daughters. One day….