- My daughter and I smile. I know that my mother can see us in her dream. Her hands are extended for an embrace. Her dignity, and ageless beauty embodies us. We carry her in our saris.
In the New Year, when families celebrate the dawn of a post COVID world, I miss my mother. A vision of her wrapped in six yards of pastel shades, her chiseled features, kind eyes and a pearled neck emerges from fluttering pansies in my garden. My heart is illuminated by her grace. She is fresh and fragrant. Spring, embodied. My father who often spoke in verse, once said to her: “Your soul endows beauty to flowers, when they look upon you, they forget to wilt.” In other words: “Aapka chehra dekh kar phoolon se murjhaya nahi jata.” He laughed and recalled that once, and only once, my mother stood in front of a display window like the Queen of Norway not budging an inch till he bought her a phirozi sari hand embroidered in floral French knot. Her love for saris was prolific but selective. Most certainly not obsessive.
Mom favoredpink, lilac, lavender, peach, powder blue, sage green, pearly white and red. Never muted or dull. Her palette, vibrant with freshly squeezed paint. Her ensemble bespoke harmony. A single item did not pull focus. The whole effect was enchanting. Her aura, breathtaking. Perfused with the fragrance of desi gulab, mogra and white musk. Today, I touched the rudraksha beads of her rosary and remembered her elegant ways. Her collection of saris was soft on the skin, light weight, wrinkle free and drape well. For daily wear she preferred georgettes or Bombay Dyeing voiles. For evenings French chiffons, chinnons, Binny silks Binny silks or delicate nets were draped. Each and every one of her saree is committed to my memory because of the way she wore them. Embroidered, laced, in floral prints, with mukaish and sequins. While we wilted in the sun scorched, humid climate of Bombay, our mom retained her bandbox freshness from 6 am to 9 pm. Even her nightgowns were immaculate. She did not like to fuss with starched cottons or crushable organzas and organdies. I have never seen her perspire and she wore blouses without sleeves. Most of the saris were bought from vendors in Bombay or on trips to different states in India.
Mom had a good selection of silks and regional weaves: Kashida from Kashmir. Phulkaris from Punjab, Chikankari from Lucknow, Kantha from West Bengal, Pochampali and ikat from Telangana., Kota, MugaMuga, Bandhej and Leheriya from Rajasthan, Patola from Gujarat. Beautiful Benarsis and gold trimmed off-white Kasavus from Kerala. Kanjeevaram fromTamil Nadu. Mom was actively engaged in society. Widely travelled, very liberal yet rooted in Hindu culture. At home she played the roles of wife, mother, sister, daughter-in-law, mother-in-law and nani with great élan. At work she was greatly respected for her efficient leadership. Free time was devoted to charitable causes and gardening. Everyone knew her as the beautiful Mrs. Kapur.
Three decades ago, during the winter solstice, Gudi Padwa, or Lohri, the bonfire festival when farmers harvested winter crops, mom shopped for Paithani saris. She bought them for family and friends. Mustard yellow, limoncello, onion pink, teal, Tiffany blue, chartreuse, red, black and emerald green. Glorious Ciddle-Gatta slippery silks with gorgeous borders in contrasting dove-tailed reshams embellished with real Zari. After the exciting shopping excursion, we polished off authentic pav-bhaji dripping with home churned makkhan and mounds of assorted Maganlal chikki.
Paithanis were first hand-made in Paithan, a town in Aurangabad, Maharashtra. Now Yeola in Nashik is the largest manufacturer of Paithani. The body of a Paithani sari is plain or spotted, and the border has two design: the Narali and the Pankhi. Paithani evolved from cotton to a silk base. Stunning iridescent shades are woven using different strands in tana -bana (weft and warp). Earlier, silk was imported from China. Now it is sourced from Bangalore. The weavers of Yeola, dye the yarns themself. Four hundred vat and acid dyes are available (pophali – yellow, lavender, neeli gunji – sky blue, motiya — pearl, mor — blue/green and so on). Bleaching and dyeing is done in copper vessels. Coconut oil is used to give a soft finish to silk. In the days of Peshwas, borders and pallus were made of pure gold mixed with copper for resilience. Now, pure gold zari is obtained from Surat. Gold plated silver zari is an affordable substitute.
Only a master weaver can craft borders and pallus in an interlocking tapestry weave, making it gleam like a mirror. The border and pallu appear to be separately woven and then stitched to the body of the sari, but they are not. Warp threads contain zari forming a shimmering gold base. Weft threads of brightly colored silk display elaborate designs of peacocks dancing in bangles (Bangadimor) or a tantalizing geometric Muthada. Laher (waves), alternate with Asawali (a flowering vase). Blue green muniyas (parrots) cavort with pheasants. A dazzling tapestry fit for royalty.
I have a full wardrobe of silk saris, gifted at Diwali, birthdays, weddings and anniversaries. I don’t wear them often enough. One of my friends wears her saris daily because her mother lives with her. My mother is in Mumbai, thousands of miles away. I have not been able to visit her because of the COVID pandemic. As I gaze at my plain cotton shirt in the mirror, I feel sad. I long for an easier time, to be with my sweet mother. Girls, laughing together. Playing dress up. A bevy of butterflies. Fluttering in silks. I caress her saree, silk strands of her love wrap around my soul. Suddenly a piece of paper falls out of the folded silk. It reads: “The beauty of a woman is not in her clothes. It can be seen through her eyes, the doorway to her heart. Where her love resides. Reflected in her soul. The care that she lovingly gives. The beauty of a woman with passing years, only grows.”
My mother has sensed my yearning across the distance and is urging me to take charge. I unpack two new luxurious Paithani saris, one in pure white with the Kamal designs (lotus blooms) inspired by Buddhist paintings in Ajanta caves. I drape myself in this exquisite garment. I offer the mint green with stories of Tota-Maina (mynas and parrots) to my daughter. We drape them as mom would have done. We smile. I know that my mother can see us in her dream. Her hands are extended for an embrace. Her dignity, and ageless beauty embodies us. We carry her in our saris. Elegant in her deportment. Her soft hair coiffed superbly. A tender smile on her lips. She sits at the glowing bonfire in her father’s courtyard, passing out sugar canes, popcorn, sesame and jaggery treats and new sarees. We celebrate Gudi Padwa with our mother. # Mother’slove #Silksarees #Paithanisarees #Indianweavers #Beautyofawoman #Yearningsoflove #AjantaCaves.
With one foot in Huntsville, Alabama, the other in her birth home India and a heart steeped in humanity, writing is a contemplative practice for Monita Soni. Monita has published many poems, essays and two books, “My Light Reflections” and “Flow through My Heart.” You can hear her commentaries on Sundial Writers Corner WLRH 89.3FM.