Thursday 24 July 2014

My love affair with sarees

The first time I wore a saree was in the 10th Std. It was our farewell party and all of us 10th graders were supposed to be in fancy dress. Having put off thinking of any creative costumes until the last minute, I found I was too late to do anything much and my mom suggested I go as an air-hostess. Off I went, clutching Amma's vanity case and carefully wrapped in a beautiful blue silk saree. I skipped the paavadai-davani/half-saree stage completely since at the time, I used to find that particular outfit very unappealing. Looking back now, I wonder why - so many girls who wear it today look so graceful and lovely. Perhaps there are trendier and more eye-catching designs available now which was not the case 2 decades ago.
The rest of my school and college years, sarees were meant for tripping in delicately, at weddings, parties and other social dos. Chennai and Mumbai (where I worked for a year) were too hot and humid for a saree to feel like anything less than a sticky cumbersome burden. My role model was (and still is) a senior VP at the investment bank where I worked in Mumbai. A 40-something lady, she was always to be found in stunning Kanjeevarams. What was more astonishing was that she carried them with such careless grace and elan that she took the focus away from the elaborate fabric and borders, onto her vibrant personality. Truly a natural style icon!
Role model or not, things stayed much the same on the sartorial front for me and the beautiful Kanjeevarams that I collected during my wedding stayed inside the saree bags until 2003, when I started working in Bangalore, in an IT and BPO company.
Suddenly, I was enamored with sarees. Working in a new-age tech company where the average age was 22, and jeans de rigueur , I often felt curious eyes upon me as I stuck to my resolution of wearing a saree atleast once or twice a week to the office. With every day that I draped myself in it, my confidence in spending the whole day in it grew - I was walking around visiting slums and schools, and jumping in and out of autos and other vehicles. All was well until Ads came into my life; the thought of spit-ups and food stains was too much to bear and as he grew older, I was guaranteed to look crushed and messy anytime I went anywhere with him! 
Cut to 2011 when I started working with craftsmen in Delhi and beyond. I was mesmerised by our hoary traditions of weaves, textures and embroidery and my lust for heritage creations only grew. The fact that I was working in an all-women office also helped, as did the fact that one was able to buy sarees directly from weavers at a discount :) In the process, I also became something of a handloom Nazi, and today I refuse to buy power loom stuff even though handloom is so much more expensive. 
Today, my wardrobe is filled with Chanderis, Banaras, Kanjeevaram, Pochampalli, Paithani, Uppada, Kantha, Phulia and Tussar. I'm eyeing my next buys - Ilkal and Gujarati Patola. Aren't these names so evocative? My love affair with sarees is intrinsically linked with my love for Indian heritage crafts.
I have been wearing a saree atleast once a week to the office. Yes it's not easy. Making the saree a regular part of the work-wear or daily-wear takes time, effort and patience. From making those trips to the tailor and getting that blouse stitched just so, having the right petticoats and if you are like me, not bearing to fling it off at the end of the day but air it before folding, to giving yourself time to drape it is so much handier to pick out a smart ready-made kurta and leggings and get going on a rushed morning.
But I've found it worthwhile to consciously slow down and factoring that extra 10 minutes to change isn't that hard. It has been more than amusing to see the change in people's behaviour when I land up in a saree as opposed to a salwar kameez or a top and trousers. Folks are more respectful. I seem to exude new authority and maturity. Men whom one least expects to be chivalrous, leap up to open doors for me. Security guards who stop me from parking in a particular place, respectfully and smilingly explain why, instead of dismissing me outright.
Plus, most important, I get tons of compliments!
Oh and did I mention it beautifully camouflages all the extra weight that comes from too much eating and not enough exercise!!!

Saturday 5 July 2014

The proverbial chalk n cheese

Every night, Ads walks around each and every bathroom in the house. I can hear five toilet seats being pulled down and five bathroom doors being firmly shut. He also arranges the bathmat so that it’s perfectly straight, and shuts each bedroom door. I am meanwhile waiting for him to get to bed and silently gnashing my teeth. I asked him why he does this every single day. Give this bathroom inspection routine a miss one day, I suggested. He looked at me in horror. "I can’t do that! I won’t be able to sleep the whole night!"
My children are like chalk and cheese. How much of that is a function of birth order, I don’t know. Ads, like many first-borns, is high maintenance. When he wakes up in the morning, we never know what his mood will be like. Most likely, cloudy with a chance of thunderstorms – always keep an umbrella handy! Y, on the other hand, is little Ms Sunshine through the day and always manages to perk all of us up.
Ads is a typical Virgo – he likes clear boundaries, unambiguity, cleanliness and exhibits distinct OCD-like tendencies. He is also super-bright though he claims he is not (another Virgo trait – extremely self-critical). Y is carefree, deals with chaos and disorder effortlessly, and nothing describes her more aptly than that fantastic word - bindaas. She does tend to pick up some of Ads mannerisms and behaviours every now and then which I try to discourage. Why change something that’s already perfect? :)
Several months ago, we were all learning how to play the card game Uno. So this game has a lot of different cards and rules which are a little hard to make sense of, at the beginning. So Y and I played one game by ear, learning the rules as we went along. We made a lot of mistakes but by the end of 2 games, we‘d figured it out. When we invited Ads to join us, he insisted on a training session where I was supposed to explain the rules to him slowly. I said to him - "Just play Ads, you’ll figure it out as you play and we’ll help you."
"No no no...I can’t play like that...I need to know the rules first!"
That’s my boy, my Rules Ramanujam as my m-i-l has affectionately nicknamed him. A stickler for rules, structure, order! He drives me up the wall every single day and the only thing that keeps me sane is the realization that I used to be so much like him when I was little (yes I’m a typical Virgo too). I wouldn’t change anything about myself so why do I try and change him, except that I don’t want him to get so boxed into his own neat little world that he never understands the joys of frivolousness, spontaneity and messiness.
It’s going to be a long hard journey - I know because I have made it before – and look what a long way I’ve come!
One of the most interesting parts of my journey as a mother has been discovering the very unique personalities of both my children and celebrating the special quirks and eccentricities that make them the delightful people they are!

Thursday 3 July 2014

Lessons worth learning

My grandma passed away in the wee hours of the morning, this week. She was only 78, too young to die by today's standards of life expectancy. She was almost the same age as I am now, when she became a grandmother for the first time. A sub-40 grandmother! How strange that must have felt! Or maybe not.
It feels like the end of an era, even  though she had been in poor health for so many years. Because I was the first grandchild, I remember her in all the good times - when my grandfather was alive, when she was healthy and pretty and active. My other cousins probably only remember her as being sick and old and having to be cared for. I remember her prodigious cooking skills (which sadly I did not inherit!), her fetish for cleanliness, her affectionate and demonstrative nature. She was the only one who managed to teach me long division in my early years of being numerically-inept! In later years, after her major bypass surgery and her husband's untimely death, she would become embittered, plagued by poor health and increasingly difficult to live with. Most often it would fall to her devoted daughter, my mother, to placate, cajole and spoil her, a lot like what my grandpa used to do! Soothe diplomatic tensions, mediate squabbles and smooth the path of daily life. 
19 years ago, her life took a new turn. In a few short weeks, she had a heart-attack, underwent major heart surgery, and lost her husband. In those 19 years, I have been inspired by nothing as much as my mother's absolute devotion to making her mother's life as comfortable and happy as possible. In the last 10 days when paati was first in the Intensive Care Unit, and later in a hospital room, my mom was constantly at her side, praying for her recovery, shedding tears at every painful poke jab and procedure, and later, when we were told there was no hope, fervently praying for a pain-free release.
In all these years, there have been so many times when my mom has felt incredibly frustrated and helpless. But she has been invariably patient even when the situation was intolerable, calm when there was a crisis and stoic when everything seemed to be falling apart - a role model for everything I should aspire to be, but am not! It is and always will be a huge inspiration to me.
As always.... there are regrets. One assumes that one has the luxury has time. For all her poor health, paati was a fighter and I never believed she would not live for many more years. Less than a month ago, on our wedding anniversary, she played catch with Y, and we were all joking that we never knew that paati is a spinner! I wish I had been less absorbed in my kids, my husband, my home, my work- and that I had made more time. If only wishes were horses!
I have been thinking about the legacy we leave behind. Who will miss us and grieve over our loss? Who will be at our bedside in the last moments, keeping vigil as life ebbs away? As I bid a tearful goodbye to my granny the last time I visited her in the hospital, I grieved for all the opportunities for love and togetherness that were frittered away, by her and everyone else.
It has been a huge life-lesson to me, to make the best of everything life throws at you, good or bad. To live in the moment, rejoice in the company of loved ones, make the time to build relationships. This isn't a new awakening by any measure, and I'd like to think I do live my life by this mantra. But like every lesson worth learning, it's never a bad idea to get a refresher course every now and then.
Life is too short to bear grudges and live in discontent. Today, it feels almost like we should make it our duty to make it as beautiful as we can.