Protected: Another one bites the dust

4 Jun

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Thoughts on the saree

1 Jun

There’s only so much you need to tuck in, to make sure your feet don’t show, and yet keep the delicate edge save from being trampled on. You swivel the entire length of the drape around, gauging silently and just knowing, as if by magic, just how much leeway you should allow. It’s something you feel in your bones, your fingers deftly follow suit, working the pleats, while your waist welcomes the tight knots, and learns the perfectly-timed tucks and knows every obstinate tug.

You know just how much play to allow for, so the cloth makes room for flexibility and movement. That stray, puffed out triangle that clearly belongs in no-mans land, but invariably forms awkwardly at the right hip? You pinch it loosely, lazily. And then you leave it be, of course. Because you’ve learned over time, that not everything has a perfect place in which to fit into. (Sometimes it’s okay to stick out, you tell yourself.) You do what you always do, you envelope it beneath the swathe that drapes over your side, across the chest and down your left shoulder.

Eventually, you figure out the long and short of it. The length you allocate to the cascading bit that flows down your shoulder, that crucial part that weighs the garment down, keeping it in place, will dictate how many or how few rippling pleats you will end up with. Longer, makes you look slimmer. Shorter, makes you look dowdy, they tell you. Pin it up neatly, it keeps the fuss out of your face. Pleated perfectly, is prettiest, they coax you to make a habit of that perfection.

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But much trial and error will result in the inevitable realisation that there is no perfect long or short to it. The perfect length is in fact any length you want it to be. Maybe like me, you figured early on that neatly pinned is not your style. Unbecoming as it may be, gathering the pallu in exactly the way it allows itself to be gathered and carelessly slapping it over your shoulder came most naturally. And it stayed that way, to become the only way you ever wore your pallu.

From doing it over and over, you learn how every kind of fabric falls differently. How a freshly starched kota or cotton sari has a way of surrounding you a few inches outside of your body. The much better behaved, well-used cottons, softened with multiple wears and washes know the curves on your body and cling to them lovingly. Heavy silks needed taming, with pins and clips you showed them the way and eventually, mastered wearing them too. The chiffons and crepes were never your thing – too lady-like, too prim and proper, and way too many pins.

Sometime last week, I caught myself wondering where this all began, the fascination for the saree and jogged my memory back to when I might have picked up just how it was done, this business of draping it. Like a baby elephant with knobby-knees and shaky legs,  picks itself up and takes that first step, minutes after it is born, knowing how to drape a saree came quite naturally. Baby elephants take that first miraculous step like naturals, and I remember the first time I put a saree on all by myself the steps just unfolding in my mind, almost like the saree put itself on me.

I don’t remember ever having learned the ways, in the conventional sense. Nobody showed me how it was done. No step-by-step tutorials or hands-on demonstrations. Most of it came through mere observation.

If one ever needs proof that we learn, and more importantly imbibe, cultural subtleties through osmosis, this is it. The rest, I’m putting down to instinct. Because ever since the very first instance I put a saree on all by myself, I remember feeling so perfectly comfortable, like I was in a second skin.

For as far back as my mind can stretch, I remember watching amma get dressed in front of the teak cupboard with the full-length mirror. It was my grandfather’s, I was told. A single cupboard, with just one door that opened left to right, it held pretty much all the clothes both my parents owned, for the longest time. Until the first steel cupboard came home, long after my sister was born, because that was finally when my parents could afford one.

I mostly just watched in awe, as amma draped her saree on, with that casual comfort and perfect ease. Whether we were in a rush, whether she had half an hour to get dressed; whether she was angry, happy, sad or overjoyed, whatever the mood; whether it was a slippery crepe, a heavy kanjeevaram or a shy and impossible to pin-down chiffon, he did it like she owned the art of wearing her saree. And she wore them a lot and all the time. Even today, when I think of her, I picture her in a saree, with her red Gopuram kumkum bindi perfectly large and round, moulded with the back of a pen dipped into Vaseline and followed by kumkum. Her style, it was easy. It was simple. It was comfortable. And just so impossibly graceful.

So perhaps some of it is genetic, or natural. Because I took considerable interest in sarees when I was growing up, even collected a decent number for my wedding trousseau – a process that began very casually many years before the boy I was going to marry even came into my life. Clearly it was more about the sarees than the wedding. Or the trousseau. And then when I moved to Goa, somehow that excitement waned, and all my sarees remained in Bangalore under amma’s able care and experience. Until recently, when my facebook and twitter timelines have begun to be inundated with so many gorgeous women in their fabulous sarees.

Something stirred within me, and I longed to wear them again. Goa doesn’t give me enough occasions or opportunities to. I work from home, I barely ever socialise at events that justify a saree, and I’ve been to less than half a dozen weddings here.

The opportunity finally came when I was in Bangalore last month, and I excitedly picked out two sarees to wear when I went to meet friends. I surprised myself when I was able to drape it in no time at all, no pins to boot. Its been about six years since I did it last. So maybe, like cycling and swimming, draping all 6 yards of a saree, is a skill we never forget?

A delightful saree-date happened, with these lovelies dressed in their sarees as we had planned.

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It was supposed to be a quick date but four hours of non stop chatter, giggles, shock and awe stories and a thunderstorm later, we realised it was nearly dinner time, we’d polished off half a chocolate pie, one of us didn’t have a ride home and the other had successfully missed gym. Apparently hanging out in a hip café in Bangalore, in a saree was totally normal. And if there’s one reason to love and hang on to your girlfriends, it’s for making losing track of time seem so natural.

A couple of days later, I hung out with these lovelies, dressed in their sarees as we had planned again.

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More beers than I usually have on a weekday afternoon were consumed, and a lot of colourful food was eaten. We then waddled over for ice cream, while two of us convinced the third that it was perfectly fine to continue on that pre-planned shopping spree, and change out of her saree in a changing room. But that outing however, didn’t go plan. On account of overeating and food coma. I suppose meeting friends to drink beer and overeat to a point where you have to cancel all plans and head home for a nap is also totally normal.

I hadn’t bought a saree in years, and so when the latest purchase arrived last week, I couldn’t even wait to get the false stitched before I wore it. It was a horribly rushed morning and I had just 5 minutes to decide if I was going to wear the saree and actually put it on. The decision was made in half a minute and the saree worn in about three.

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Last week, after a long, long wait, I finally got tickets to watch the National Award-Winning Konkani film Nachom-ia Kumpasar. The event didn’t seem like a saree-worthy one, but I decided I was done waiting for the right occasions. Women across the country have been wearing them everyday, bringing them out of the recesses of their cupboards, and several thousands have been wearing them day in and out for generations now. My grandmother’s generation wear them through all seasons, times of day and year, whether going out, staying in, whatever the case may be. So many take public transport, some drive, walk through city traffic and go to work in sarees. I don’t see why I need to wait for an occasion.

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So I wore a saree to the movie. And lunch afterwards. By the end of it, we’d decided we’re going to try and meet every so often for a catch-up. And we’re going to wear sarees. Of course.

Fading memories

15 May

Memories, they curl away. Eventually. Like the corners of coffee-stained pages from an old notebook. Shut tight and laden with tales, pressed between the covers. Heavy, ready to wilt, saddled with magic and dreams, like a belly full of secrets still untold.

Words. And memories. Of times past. They sit in neat little rows, like freshly bloomed flowers. Sandwiched, an inky transition between then and now. And in that space between, is me. Like a rock stuck in a brook. Precariously balanced, delicately negotiating between what was, what is, and what will be. Holding on to what footing my round egdes can catch, weighing out the choices, plucking moments like undoing those annoying folded doggy-eared pages. I fix them, straighten them, press them out so they can breathe a little. Unfurl. Uncurl. Let the air pass along the crease, only to clamp them shut again. Return them to their spot between then and now. Squeezed tight like the whitening knuckles on my fist. They slip into the gaps and fill out.

I pick another one. Open it up, and watch the words, like the stains of memories, a record of moments set adrift. They dance out, standing up like little girls doing ballet. Toes pointed, bodies taut, teetering along in dotted rows down a brittle, fragile, crust page thats aged over time. They make their way to the edge, balancing gracefully, gently moving closer to freedom. Only to curl away, turn the corner, and disappear.

This time, for good.  

Protected: On being gainfully (kind of) employed (sort of) again

14 May

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Let’s begin with peace

1 May

It’s been three days of listening to the incessant churn of the sea. That necessary hum that pretty soon blends into the background, just enough not to intrude but always loud enough so you don’t forget where you are. And why you’re feeling so relaxed. 

It’s been three days of waking up before the crack of dawn (yep, VC made me do it) to catch the sunrise. 

It’s been three days of extra long days (because, refer point above) of unending, extreme relaxation. Punctuated only be breaks to drink, eat and sleep. All my time has been spent mostly horizontally, or semi-horizontally. Reading. Chatting with VC. Giggling. Watching. Taking it all in. 

It’s been three days of being drunk on relaxation and waking up with a shadow of a hangover. From feeling very relaxed, of course. Not too shabby a start to year 32, I’d say. 

Maybe it’s the holiday glow, or maybe I’m just old, but when I look back at the post from last year, all I feel is a tremendous sense of calm. I can see just what has changed from then to now. And yet, I know exactly what hasn’t

 
Part of me was a little worried we aren’t getting out and roaming around enough. That we’re missing the sights and the tourists spots. But I quickly realised that’s not who we are. We exhausted our sight seeing enthusiasm on day one.  Our holidays always boil down to this kind of relaxation. And that’s okay

  
To begin the year in peace — with my phone out of reach from most, sitting on the balcony facing the sea, watching the sun creep out from behind the hills, chai in one hand and my book in the other, hungrily reading away, doing absolutely nothing else. This is a lot more than I could ask for. 

Snapshots and over sharing 

29 Apr

The last time we went on a big fat holiday it was because I was worn out and saddened by what my work had become. I used the time to switch off, decompress and de-wire. I wasnt on Facebook, hadn’t been for two years before, and I hadn’t discovered Instagram. That mini-break eventually became the serendipitous realisation that what I really needed was a life that I didn’t want to constantly escape. A life that didn’t make me desperately crave a holiday. By the end if the holiday I had found what I was looking for.  The much needed courage to take a sabbatical from work even though it seemed like the craziest, scariest thing to do at the time. 

This time around things are very different. When we planned this one, part of me did it because I suddenly realised one day, that OMG-it’s-been-three-years-since we last took a break. And part of me did it because I wanted VC to take a real, solid break. I, frankly, don’t deserve this holiday. And going by the levels of sloth and luxury that are panning out as we go, this feeling only gets stronger. My regular life though busy and hectic as it is, is still very simple and I like it that way because it is fulfilling. It has fashioned itself so simply that when I want to take a break just driving out about ten minutes to hit rolling fields, catching a drink on a beach nearby or just spending a Sunday cooking suffice. Actually not just suffice, it totally hits the spot. I don’t know when or how it happened but when I did the math, I realised that as someone who felt the itch to go somewhere once a month, I may have turned over an all new leaf. 

This time the feeling of wanting to escape life is missing. I am happy to be away from my routine but that’s about it. It was meant to be a gadget-free holiday. I ditched my laptop at home like I always do, but armed my ipad with a couple of books. When I turned my phone off on boarding the flight at Bangalore I was prepared to be off the grid completely. I thought I’d perhaps not be the over-sharing picture-taking tourist for a change. 

BUT. Sri Lanka has put a massive spoke in all that yougaiizzzz.

 
With it’s strawberry blushing sunsets. Thick, acrylic skies that make you question science. Happy, cheerful people who you want to grab and hug for no reason at all. Beautifully clean, quaint and undiscovered corners. Pristine colonial sights that make you want to have chicken sandwiches and tea. With it’s gentle marrying of religious serenity and transactional tourism. It’s incredible capacity to make me want to hang on to every memory in tedious detail. It’s ethereal moments that catch me off guard. With it’s colours that pop. And it’s charm that beguiles even the cautious travellers that we are.  

 
The last time I was on a big, fat holiday I turned off my phone and escaped life. I had nowhere to share my pictures and I didn’t care to either. My holiday was all mine and I wanted to soak myself in it completely. 

This time it’s so different. Sri Lanka is too pretty not to be photographed. I’ve turned my phone off, but I can’t stop taking pictures. I’ve come so far away from home, but I haven’t escaped. I’m having an impossibly good time but I want to share snapshots of it all with you. Maybe it’s because all those lets-get-back-home-and-write-all-about-it moments never materialise. So instant over sharing makes sense. 

V said this morning, sometimes you’re making memories, sometimes you’re living the life you’d envisioned already. Maybe this is one of those few times that it’s possible to do both. At once. 

  
    

Another sunset and some puppy love

28 Apr

Our original plan was to pass through Kandy without spending too much time in the hill town itself. It reminded me too much of Ooty. A cleaner version of Ooty no less, but with that same crowded, busy, commercial energy. We wanted to skip it entirely and proceed further onward to Sigiriya or Dambulla, to something of historic or geographic significance. But when our hosts at Colombo insisted we spend some time in Kandy we gave it a thought, imagining that Sri Lankans can’t possibly go wrong with something so basic. 

A whole day of roaming around Kandy I was convinced we wouldn’t have missed much if we had skipped it and moved on as originally planned. But I’m on holiday with a geek whose sole mission is to find the next best location with a dramatic view (preferably with a fantastic foreground). So with optimism brimming we wandered around some more. Sipping chai in a mountain view cafe called Slightly Chilled we spotted the Bahiravokanda Vihara Buddha statue atop the hill in the distance, across the lake we had just walked around.

Let’s go there, my geek said. And because end of day redemption with sunsets throwing promising parting shots, leaving us breathless, seems to be a thing with us, I agreed.

The confidence with which the tuktuk guys agree to navigate the steep hill slopes makes you want to believe them with all your heart. But a look around shakes that confidence just as easily. A swift Sindhi-style negotiation later, we put our faith in a newly befriended tuktuk walla and began a rather winding ride up, that seriously made me reconsider my estimations of what a mere auto rickshaw is capable of. 

Finally on top, at the feet of the Big Buddha, all 88 feet of it, with splendid views of Kandy all around I was overwhelmed. How does one take it all in? So many sights, so much pretty light, such beautifully oversaturated colours, stark puffy clouds dense and overpowering. And the mighty Buddha seated in such serenity. 
And because we’re as different as chalk and cheese, I wanted to take big gulps of it all. Hurried, greedy, big gulps to get it all, and as much of it as I could. While of course VC was more interested in the little things. 

  
A bush with bendy flowery swaying gently in the wind, squinting at the sky to see if the clouds were moving fast enough to set up for a time lapse, rows of prayer flags that seemed to go on for miles — all the little nuances that in my haste, I had missed completely.

But I digress. Massively

The point of this post was to tell you about end of day redemption. Which to me came in the form of this little critter.  

 
Little, flea ridden, skinny girl who seemed more interested in me than I was in her. At first. 

Surprisingly, she showed zero signs of fear at my feet stomping and vehement shoo-shooing, as she playfully yapped at my ankles and chases after me, right at my heels, completely oblivious to the big moves I was making to get away from her. 
It became evident that  sign language and random noises were not going to work. So I had a chat with her. Girl to girl. 

  

And she stood around listening intently. Nothing perturbed her. Oddly unafraid of being admonished, she placed her fuzzy chin on my knees looking at me with goop-filled puppy dog eyes that said But why won’t you just play with me?

She seemed determined to make friends with me. Circling me, following me and trying endlessly to get to know me. Looking and behaving uncannily like the black puppy we lost last year. 

Maybe it is her, VC said, looking away from the sunset that had made his day. And that, right there, my day too, was made. 

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