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Sare(e) jahan se accha

A well-meaning friend and fellow contributor to the paper, Shanthini Rajkumar, has roped me into the #100sareepact. The idea is to wear at least 100 saris in a year. Many of my friends know how to rock a sari and one of my closest, a Director at an arts foundation in Singapore, wears a sari to work every day.

The sari is timeless. Whether your blouses are racy, strait-laced or with windows and bows or skeins of material, the sari essentially stays the same. More, or less revealing, in a massive range of materials, the yards are gorgeous. In a fit of naïve stupidity I wondered if much has been written about the sari in poetry. Little did I know!

In Discourse on Pure Virtue, George Elliott Clarke speaks beautifully of a woman draped in a sari. “…golden, sable-eyed/ flourishing yellow hibiscus/steps exuberant, august/into August—/her lushly brocaded gold silk sari/lavishing honey light at her auburn feet/sandalled, cedarly/with scent of sandalwood haloing her/her individualized, warm, light-dark body/her every glance a direction of the air…”

Moniza Alvi speaks of the garment in The Sari, “All the people unravelled a sari. It stretched from Lahore to Hyderabad/wavered across the Arabian Sea/shot through with stars/fluttering with sparrows and quails. They threaded it with roads/undulations of land. Eventually/they wrapped and wrapped me in it/whispering Your body is your country.”

The sari shows itself in heartbreak in, “A pixelated woman tied/with a white rope to a black pole, her white/ sari embroidered with mud or blood.”

Perhaps the title of this poem by Tarfia Fiazullah will give you more perspective on the words. It is called Reading Celan at the Liberation War Museum.

Celan is Paul Celan, a Jewish, German-speaking poet, who faced the harsh realities of a Nazi labour camp. The museum in the poem is in Dhaka.

In Two Moths, Aimee Nezhukumatathil paints a picture of a 12-year-old child prostitute.

“Some girls on the other side of this planet/will never know the loveliness/of walking in a crepe silk sari. Instead they will spend their days on their backs/for a parade of men/who could be their uncles/in another life.” The title comes from these lines. “And if she cries afterward/ her older sister will cover it up. Will rim/ the waterline of her eyes with kohl pencil/ until it looks like two silk moths/ have stopped to rest on her exquisite face.”

The sari takes on a life of its own in Vaidehi’s My Mother’s Sari. It’s a lyrical poem that speaks of the mother’s, “sense of order in each one of its folds…” In her description, Vaidehi says, “My mother’s sari –/the latex of mango and cashew/a heaven of Ranja, Kepala and Suragi/golden wheat-beads auguring/the New Year Kani/the old rolling over each year/to yield a new import. My mother’s sari/with stars all over its body/shields those in distress/from rain or shine/it glows uniquely in the darkness.”

Isn’t that true in our lives too? You look at your cupboard and recall an occasion or a reason you were gifted this beautiful garment. And with the remembrance comes the realisation that you’re loved and respected and thought of with happiness. Vaidehi’s poem ends with these lines: “There! My mother’s old, Udupi weavers’ sari/looks at me from where it hangs. I unfold it and envelop myself in it/ uttering with a long sigh/ the word ‘Amma’ –/a word that remains forever fresh/however worn with use.” Poignant. The saree here is a beacon of hope, a reminder of a mother’s presence.

The sari is elegant and it makes you feel beautiful, graceful and rooted. All good reasons to wear it. Own it.

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Printable version | Apr 20, 2021 10:43:09 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/saree-jahan-se-accha/article7113202.ece

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