Heritage,  Sarees

My Saree Stories: Part 4

Welcome back to savour the next part of my saree stories. This time I have for you some funny stories from my Chennai visit, including some experiments with a new drape, and some ordinary days draped in some extraordinary Indian handcrafted sarees.

Saree #31: A cotton-silk saree with Afghani cutwork embroidery

Speaking at the state chapter conference in Chennai was always going to be challenging. And the content of my talk had nothing to do with it. Chennai is the land of gorgeous Kanjeevaram silks. And I knew that whatever I decided to wear would pale against the rustle and shine of the local sarees there. So after much thought I decided to stick to an elegant black and beige silk-cotton saree. This one is very special and very painstakingly made over several weeks. Because it is embellished with intricate Afghani cutwork all over the pallu and borders.

Ten minutes into the inauguration I turned my head around to see a sea of bright and beautiful coloured sarees in the audience. Mostly worn with enviable thick ropes of gold jewellery. Chennai is always traditional and makes you feel alive. But something was amiss. My pathologist’s brain picks up abnormalities very quickly. I turned to look carefully again. This time shifting from scanner view to high power.

Not one of those women wore lipstick! I shifted my focus from the audience to the stage. No. I was right. Not a single local delegate or guest wore lipstick. Not even the organizing secretaries. And here I was, inspired by you all, wearing bright red lipstick! I must have stuck out like such an sore thumb among all these beautiful women!

As often happens, the inaugural ceremony got extended beyond schedule. My talk kept getting delayed further and further. From pre-lunch it was rescheduled to post lunch. I looked sadly at the delicious meen manga kozhambu being served at lunch and decided that I couldn’t possibly speak with a full tummy. So gave that favourite a skip and rushed back to the conference hall. Will people listen to me or doze off after that scrumptious lunch?

Two minutes before the chairperson read out my CV, I accidentally brushed my hand against my ear and froze. My left earring was missing. I was wearing long dangling earings. Too late to do any amends. I tactfully pulled a few strands of hair over the left ear and decide to speak with one earring! If I talk well who will notice my earring, I thought. In any case I’m too short in height for the podium and they had arranged a huge flower arrangement on it. I could carry it off. Let this talk go into the hard disk of my memory with this one earring episode!

The talk went off much better than expected. Suddenly I saw people applauding between the talk. I seem to have managed to grab their attention. My excitement rose with the crowd and I deserted my prepared script. I now spoke passionately, direct dil se. I was on my last slide when all that forceful talk caused a big plonk on the dais. My right earring fell off! If anyone hadn’t noticed me wearing a single earring until this moment, now they did!! I said thank you quickly and melted into the crowd, sneakily grabbing the fallen right earring as I left.

That evening I visited Deepa, my school friend from second standard. And she’d made some piping hot medu vadas for me. We laughed over my earring story.

Did anyone click your pictures this morning, she asks. No, I say. So in that tired dishevelled state minus the red lipstick, she clicks some pictures in her balcony. Now will you change into something more comfortable, she orders me. As I change out of my saree, carefully extracting the safety pins from my pleats, something clinks on the floor. I find my lost earring.

Saree #32: The Iyer Kattu Madisar Drape

Vanakkam from Chennai! What’s the fun of being in Chennai and not trying a new drape? Especially when you have an Iyer Brahmin as your school friend of three decades. I had to try the Madisar. So my friend Jay got instructions to get a nine yard saree from her sister in law. Her Manni parted with this lovely Madurai cotton Sungudi nine-yard saree. I borrowed some traditional attigai jewellery from Deepa. And posing with the filter coffee and dabara came naturally to me.

This is the Madisar tied in Iyer style (distinct from the Iyengar style). This is the koshavam style with the pallu on right shoulder. Extremely comfortable and airy drape. So how does this Madras Maami look?

Saree #33: A Kosa silk saree with a chevron weave in the pallu

Flew back from Chennai on a really hot and humid day. Exhausted by the time I reached home. Under normal circumstances I would have thrown a fit if someone had told me that I had a post-wedding dinner to attend. But the prospect of wearing a saree this evening strangely erases all misgivings about travel tiredness. Trust bright sarees to create excitement in an otherwise dreary existence!

This is a Kosa silk saree which has been picked up from the Khadi Bhandar in Maganwadi in Wardha. The Magan Sangrahanalay Samiti is one of the co-operative rural organizations set up by Mahatma Gandhi in the name of one of his associates Maganlal Gandhi. It does stellar work in the area of rural development by promoting several village organizations. When in Wardha do visit their Prakritik Aahar Kendra to try out some rustic Maharashtrian food. My favourites besides the Zunka-Bhakar-Baingan Bharta are the Ambadi Sharbat and their pooran poli.

Kosa silk is obtained from an Indian silkworm called Antheraea mylitta. It is a variety of tussar silk which is drawn out of cocoons which are especially grown on Sal trees. What attracted me to the saree was not only the shiny mehendi green colour, but the unusual chevron weave in the pallu. And those bold orange and blue motifs all over the borders make it nice enough for a bright evening.

Saree #34: A cool Kanjeevaram and some red lipstick

Lipsticks have always fascinated me. And I started using lipsticks since I was a postgraduate student. But, I wasn’t sure how the faculty would react to that. Women are quick to be judged on so many factors besides actual work and performance. Looks and clothes are on top of that list. I stuck to brown lipsticks which blended with my skin and were not loud.

When I joined as lecturer, I continued to wear browns, but added gradually darker shades of mauve to my repertoire. But I had weird choices. I distinctly remember one funny incident, when I was shopping for lipsticks. The salesman was showing me browns and I kept asking him for more dark shades of brown. He didn’t understand what I needed. “Bhaiya, aap samajh nahi rahe ho,” I told him. “I need something which makes my lips look like I’ve been smoking for twenty years!” Subodh looked aghast at my statement, but the salesman understood instantly! I got my shade of brown-black. And I loved it. But everytime I wore that lipstick, I got disapproving looks from Subodh. So I quit wearing that shade, although it still occupies a place on my dressing table,

Now with age, I like my maroons, reds, browns and mauves. And I wear them everyday religiously. Until one of my friends said that reds make a woman look older than she is and shows up all her wrinkles. It worried me for two days when the fashionistas of my class subscribed to nudes, pinks and pastels. But I realized that those colours look terrible on me. I look jaded and washed out in pale colours. When it comes to lipsticks, I stick to the colour of romance: vive la rouge!

Here is me clicked in a blue Kanjeevaram during a quiet moment at a wedding, with red on my lips and my eyes locked with Subodh.

Saree #35: A green Maheshwari silk saree

Inspired by the changing verdant scenes outside my window. And in a festive mood to attend a friend’s daughter’s wedding. She was in nursery school when I first saw her. Now metamorphosed into this elegant statuesque young lady. How time flies!

This saree is a green Maheshwari silk with a Ghicha silk pallu. These sarees originate from the town of Maheshwar, Madhya Pradesh. Here silk is woven with zari or brocade for the borders. An interesting legend goes that Rani Ahilyabai Holkar commissioned skilled artisans from Malwa and Surat to design special 9 yard sarees as special gifts for royal relatives and guests who visited her palace. These sarees came to be known as Maheshwari sarees. The delicate lightweight but shiny silk does make you feel like a princess!

Saree #36: An earthy Chanderi saree

Well, I do not wear an apron everyday and do not often use a stethoscope. But I’m still a doctor. I’m a doctor’s doctor. I’m a pathologist. My job is like a detective. We work behind the scenes, often without any acknowledgement of our contribution. We sniff out what looks amiss. We track it down till the end. And we need to find the links between the whys and hows of every patient’s presentation. Unfortunately not everyone appreciates the effort. There is a lot we can do to build the bridges between clinicians and pathologists. Picking up the phone and discussing what is best for your patient is the easiest.

Posing here with the most friendly weapon in my arsenal: the microscope. And I’m dressed in a Chanderi Ghicha saree with Dabu block prints. Chanderi is a traditional ethnic fabric which is characterized by its lightweight, sheer texture and fine luxurious feel. Chanderi fabric is produced by weaving in silk in the traditional cotton yarn. This results in the creation of the shimmering texture. The fabric has borrowed its name from the small town of Chanderi in Madhya Pradesh where traditional weavers practice the art of producing these textured sarees in cotton and silk. The evolution of this fabric began in the 1890s when weavers in the town of Chanderi replaced hand spun yarns with mill made yarns. But if epics are to be believed, Chanderi fabric is known to have its origin in the Vedic period and was founded by Lord Krishna’s cousin, Shishupal.

Saree #37: A matka silk saree with a jamdani pallu

I grew up in Pondicherry and it is a place which is very close to my heart. With my Dad’s transfer we shifted to Maharashtra in the early eighties. And I lost touch with my friends from school. Friends who studied with me from Std.2.

But then social media can be a boon. We reconnected. In 2016 I was invited to conduct a workshop in Pondicherry. After the day’s work was done I made a few calls. And an instant plan to meet in Pondy’s easiest meeting point, the promenade, was made. We met after 32 years and it was overwhelming. The sea breeze and our incessant chatter into the night. And the gift they got for me was equally special. A gajra!

School friends are forever. May the fragrance of our friendship continue to spread like the fragrant malligapoo in my hair!

The saree I’m wearing is a Matka silk. I prefer to carry it when I travel as it is really lightweight. Plus I’m in love with its two toned jamdani pallu. Matka silk is a rough handloom silk fabric made from the waste mulberry silk (Bombyx mori) without removing its gum (sericin). This results in some irregularities in the texture of the fabric which make it unique.

Saree #38: A Bagru hand block printed saree from Rajasthan

Today is Guru Poornima. I was just thinking about some of my teachers in school who were such an influence on me. Among other things was their elegant demeanour as they came dressed to school in crisp cotton sarees with their creases in place. I fondly remember Mrs Aseervatham who taught me in kindergarten. But my most favourite was Ms Manju Ghildyal who was my class teacher. I lost touch with her for almost three decades. But there is a lovely story about how I found her again here.

Today’s cotton saree is a tribute to my school teachers and what they made me. This is a Bagru hand block printed saree from Rajasthan. It has small white and gold paisley patterns all over and larger black, red and gold paisley patterns in the pallu. Just right for a lecture.

Saree #39: A Kasavu Saree from Kerala

This saree is a hand woven Kerala Kasavu teamed with a Kalamkari print blouse. Kasavu is a handwoven cream colored saree with gold border, worn by Malayalee women. It is a handloom saree is considered to be the most auspicious attire for women in Kerala, especially during their new year.

Saree #40: A printed silk saree

This is a printed silk saree that I love for its colour and the way it looks. I remember the arguments we had while shopping for it in Coimbatore. Thanks go out to Medha Joshi who insisted that I could drop the four sarees I had chosen, but buy this one for sure! Sensible advice!

Watch out for more saree stories!

My saree stories: Part 1
My saree stories: Part 2
My saree stories: Part 3


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