Are you like me – an addict who denies addictions? I was so busy bragging that I don’t drink, do drugs, or chew gutka that for the longest time I did not see my own craving. Not until the day my husband looked at me with great pity as I dismissed three saris I had just bought as 1) I already have this colour 2) I already have this colour 3) I already have this colour. It was clear I suffered from an illness that was no longer hush-hush – I was struck by sari-itis.
As illnesses go this is terminal for I will be cremated in a sari – probably bridal or at least something with a pure zari border and pallu – and I do spend changing my mind constantly on which one this would be.
Like other women of my age I have cupboards and closets that tumble out in a higgledy-piggledy mess when opened; mine billows down on me in mul and khadi and banarasi and bhujodi and tussar and eri silk and pattedu anchu and gomi teni. Death by sari is a distinct possibility. But my idea of heaven too involves them – a garden full of saris that flow gently in the breeze. In colours I don’t have.
My own saris, picked and purchased sometimes with lightning speed, wait patiently for me in locked trunks and ancient trousseau bags. And they all have only one question: will we ever be worn? And I write them a Dear John letter: ‘It is all over between us. It is not you, it is me. I have met another Sari.’
The saris have their own attendant paraphernalia (much like junkies carry around needles and straws) in blouses. Necklines, collars, sleeves... Into this chaos are added off-the-hanger blouses. In the south the sleeves have to be tight, tighter, tightest. In the north they are more like shirt sleeves, slightly loose, amplifying the delicate length of an upper arm.
Susan Thomas, director of the National Institute of Fashion Technology Bangalore, says: ‘Sari for me is a no-stitch seamless garment that offers great possibilities in draping. That makes it easy to switch between formal and informal evening/day wear. Just a tweak here and there can even see you from boardroom to a bar.’
We have seen the widow-whites on old Bollywood ma’s, we have seen hero beseech aanchals to fall, we have seen Jaya Bachchan with the pallu tight across her shoulders in
Sholay and Sridevi dance in a dazzling blue slippery slip of a sari with an invisible man. Saris are starched, saris are limp, saris are touch-me-not and saris seduce.
They can be plain – demure, in one colour, no border, with only a tassled end. Saris can be serious as a heart attack – reviving old patterns and arts, preserving heritage, taking on the pedantic job of research and painstaking weaving. Saris can be light and flirty, floral and barely there. It is you playing hide and seek.
I can ruminate for days about going down the road and meeting a dying relative but think nothing of travelling two hours one way to a sari sale. So I am a teetotaler and a vegetarian, but un-stitched fabric in straight six metres make my knees buckle. Well, that’s my poison. What’s yours?
Shinie Antony is a writer and editor based in Bangalore. Her books include The Girl Who Couldn't Love, Barefoot and Pregnant, Planet Polygamous, and the anthologies Why We Don’t Talk, An Unsuitable Woman, Boo. Winner of the Commonwealth Short Story Asia Prize for her story A Dog’s Death in 2003, she is co-founder of the Bangalore Literature Festival and director of the Bengaluru Poetry Festival. Read Shinie Antony's columns