"Mamma… please show me your favourite saree ", I once asked my grandmother. She smiled and said - " I don’t know about my favourite saree but I do have a favourite blouse ". She took out a white all over printed blouse. The blouse had printed multi-coloured pattern on it. From my recollection, it must one of those Garden-Vareli fabrics. It was definitely polyester. My grandmother was a Hindi Pandit in a Government school in Coastal Andhra Pradesh. When the schools open in June, it is rainy soon. It rains a lot in coastal Andhra, especially in the Godavari districts. So synthetic sarees were the way to go. They dry quickly and didn’t need any ironing.
A very colourful blouse mamma, I said. “Yes, it goes well with all of my sarees” she said. Next day she wore that blouse. I was so amused with the blouse, I said “Is there any colour that isn’t present in your blouse mamma?”. She said “Yes, of course. The colour of the saree I am wearing” and we both burst out laughing. She had that fun side about her. Later when people started wearing contrast blouses, my grandmother was in trend. We would often joke about that.
Lined blouses weren’t big those days. So, she got some cotton bodices stitched. They were tight enough to hug and support without suffocating her. Bodice had hooks very close to each other and in the front. She wore blouses with high neck and elbow sleeve blouses. Sometimes when the blouse pieces (blouse bittu she would call them) were too small, she would make these bodices with them too. That way she had matching bodice for some blouses.
Apart from the seasonal synthetics, my grandmother’s wardrobe was replete with Kanchi pure silk sarees, Banarasees, Gadwals, Dharmavaram Pattu sarees and lots of handloom cottons. She even had a beautiful blue baluchari. She displayed maturity more than her age and always had words of wisdom for almost all situations in life.
I would occasionally peek into her wardrobe and take a look at new additions. A lot of the sarees she had there were gifted to her. She would say “so and so gifted this, it is 80s count, this is a 100 count uppada cotton…”. She used Kanchi references for colour. “Chilakaakupaccha, Vangapuvvu, Maavichiguru, Velagapandu rangu, gulaabi rangu, Peacock Blue, MS blue, Copper Sulphate, December flower, etc.” So even before enrolling to a degree in Textile Technology, I was familiar with many textile terms such as Hanks, Count, English Count, 3 shuttle weaving etc. Most of these terms were the jargon of the local salesmen / weavers.
She had a beautiful light-weight Narayanpet Silk saree. It is a sea-green saree with dark green and black border and Pallu. Now that’s another thing with her. No colour was taboo. She would drape a black saree as easily as a red one. She had buttis sarees as well as plain sarees. She loved her blues as much as her greens. She bought me my first pair of jeans and also bought my first silk saree. All types of sarees found a place in her heart as well as her wardrobe. There was no particular hate so much as love and giving.
She would tie madisaar everyday for pooja. In the evening, she would wash a saree and put to dry. We were not allowed to touch this saree. She would drape it the next day morning. Sometimes when one of us accidentally touched her saree, she would wear a wet saree for pooja that day. I and sister used to wait for pooja to be over so that we could run and hug her first. It was a never-ending competition.
When we would take head-bath as we called washing hair with shikai those days, she would tightly tie her blouse to our eyes and her saree would be wrapped around our body. Even then the shikai would into our eyes and we would each get a tamarind lollipop.
During summers, she would starch her sarees. My sister and I would go to the terrace along with her. She would spread the sarees on the floor and stretch them on all four sides. We would play a game or two. Sarees would dry in about 15 to 20 minutes and we would both run back downstairs with paper-crisp sarees. Peeling off freshly starch dried saree from the terrace floor is catharsis.
Then there were the papadams and vadiyams. We used her old sarees. Old sarees were dipped and washed in cold water and spread on the terrace. Around 5.30am, we would gather around these wet sarees and start drying the papads and urad dal vadiyams. (frymes)
After my grandmother left us, her neighbour reached out to us and asked us for one saree as remembrance. Then many others followed suite. We donated most of her sarees. I have myself kept the Narayanpet silk saree, one off-white kanchi saree and an uppada cotton saree. I used the uppada cotton saree to wrap our daughter when she was born.
When I see so many young entrepreneurs bringing back the love for sarees, I feel so happy. Sarees are memories. Whether for drying my hair or my tears, sometimes for blowing warm air on the palla and putting on our eyes during head-bath, whether to carry hot water from kitchen to bathroom or to fan us in summer, her sarees have done it all. Her memories travel with me with her sarees. When a drape a saree of hers, they wrap around me like her love and keep me warm in my heart.