Last night, I opened my wardrobe only to be consumed completely by memories. Memories of my mother — Ma as I used to call her. Crisp cotton saris with matching blouses — that’s what defined Ma. She wore silk saris on special occasions. She had an aversion for synthetic materials (I have inherited the same from her).
She was a very well-dressed lady and her wardrobe was always meticulously organized. During growing up years, we used to pester her every now and then to open her almirah and then we used to sit as if we were in a fairyland. Everything in her almirah looked so exotic, so fascinating — a painted little box (with a lock) in which she used to put the coins, the photo albums, the handkerchiefs, the little purses, saris and saris neatly stacked one above another almost in geometrical symmetry. Every item — big or small in that almirah had a story. And one of us would always pick up some item or other and then we would listen to the story in awe. The diminishing marginal utility principle of economics (which i later learnt in my textbook) never applied to this beautiful world of hers. The stories never sounded repetitive (irrespective of the number of times they were told).
Her saris in their own way introduced me to the wonderful textile heritage of Orissa and other states of India. I inherited her love for colours, textures and textiles. I always bought saris for her from the places I visited. Every time I went to Bhubaneswar, I gifted a sari to her. My father also had an eye for picking up saris for her. She had an enviable collection.
It’s rather tragic that eventually due to her illness, she had to make compromises on her sari wearing habit. She refused to meet my brother-in-law when he came down from USA because she couldn’t bring herself to the fact that she was wearing a nightie (for her it was unelegant, ungraceful). I think, this was the second worst thing that cancer did to her apart from unimaginable physical pain.
We have kept her almirah the same way as it was before. It still stands tall in her bedroom. I opened it last October to have a look at it but then my tears did not let me to see what was there before me. Over the years, she has given me many saris from her precious collection which she nurtured over the years with lots of love, affection. The money was not there always (my father was a government servant) but she (like many women from pre-liberalized India) knew in her heart that less is more. More beautiful. More appealing. It’s only now in India one sees a relationship between ‘more’ money and vulgarity. A naked display of wealth which pales even in front of Kim Kardashian.
There are days now when I miss her terribly. In that moment of intense longing, I just open my almirah and run my fingers through the folds of her sarees. I feel a strange sense of comfort. And on some days, I choose to wear a sari of hers to work. I am no match for her 5 feet 6 inch elegant frame. But through that sari which once gave her much joy, appreciation and a definite contour, I try to cling on to whatever is left of her : the world calls it memories.
(The ikkat sari in the picture was one of her favorites… it’s my favorite too )