I bought my first Dhakaii cotton sari this morning. And my first Kota-zari yesterday. The Dhakaii couldn’t be more typical in terms of the work, but the body motifs took my breath away. Vermillion neem leaves on a turmeric background. I still remember my first. It was the green batik border-and-pallu on white I got from Shilpakala Vedika – the Hyderabad version of Delhi Haat. That was followed by a simple bandhej (a different shade of green from the previous) in a similar design. The Kota in midnight blue with a Banarsi style pallu and border from a small shop in the city’s newer shopping hub, and the Dhakaii bought today will be the only ones added since. The rest are mostly silks or chiffons.
Today’s buy was different in many ways.Not just the women, but also the man of the household was involved in selecting the right number.
My father is not one to visit sari shops, or for that matter, accompany us on our clothes-buying sprees. So it was novel to have him around as we got dada to open his potla (small pile packed in a cloth) of weave after weave of the nine-yard.
Why just a potla though? Apparently this chap picks pieces himself and comes to a select few families in the city. He’s like a mobile boutique. And he remembers each customer and the sari he sold to them. In his pile are none of those ordinary minimal weaves. His auction starts somewhere at two grand and can escalate to any heights he pleases (depending upon the time of year). He’s eager to sell right now so he can make some moolah and go home to his village in the 24 Paraganas and make it in time for the Pujo celebrations – the man is also an artisan. He decorates pandals, though I don’t suppose he’s very adept with the brush. His fingers aren’t nimble enough – they laze to fold the more difficult-to-fold silks.
I still wonder when a vendor says, “Madam ka choice bohot badhiya hai,” what it really implies. Is the statement made because “madam” chooses the most expensive piece? Is it because she chooses the most muted? Or is it because she chooses after him having displayed all his wares?
In that hour-long interaction in my living room though, I also sat amidst a philosopher – what “poverty makes one”, as papa puts it. The man spoke simple truths. How diplomacy works at the grassroots. In his little village, the Mamtadi government is not about radical changes. Well, definitely not changes in how the system functions, but surely the alliances men like my sariwala must strike up. “homara kya haay… aaj iska baju mein, kol uska torof…”
That statement alone took me back to all the Bengali connections I've ever had - alive and even the ones long gone - my dadi, the whole झुण्ड at CIEFL, Neel, Subir, Upas, Sushmita... a race that has earned its reputation of being a thinking one; of thinking enough to take care of the finest nuance of any task - cerebral or material - that comes their way...
I don’t know when I will wear these saris. It is most likely to become a family heirloom of sorts.