The Saree Soiree: Women & Their Relationships With The Six Yards

In a little corner of the inter webs there is a space where old stories are being brewed again, amidst yards and yards of appreciation for the good, ol’ handloom saree. A group, Six Yards & 365 Days, brought together by Ms. Sunita Budhiraja on Facebook is bringing together like-minded women and their saree stories while supporting handloom creations. Earlier this year, when the group came together to meet in Delhi, I was able to see the same enthusiasm echo within the group in the real world. Ever since I’ve been a part of the virtual group, their ranks have grown manifold and so has their incredible story-telling, blending the young and the experienced, the novice draper and the experts and just many, many different kind of crafts, cultures, drapes and memories under one name. I, so far, have been a silent observer in that group and hope to change that status soon. But meanwhile, as a patron of Indian crafts and for the sheer love for saree, I bring to you anecdotes from some of these wonderful ladies!

Ms. Sunita Budhiraja remembering her mentor and old friend

I have been thinking about Khushwant Singh-ji since the morning.After my teaching term of about two years expired at Maitreyi College, I joined National Herald as Features Writer. One fine morning we were told that Mr. Khushwant Singh from Illustrated Weekly had joined as the Editor-in-chief. National Herald was not in the pink of health and several employees including myself received our salaries quite irregularly. Mr. Khushwant Singh gathered all of us in the editorial room andaddressed us. Apart from discussing his vision and his expectation from the team, he made an announcement that has remained with me till date. He said that till such time that National Herald came back on its feet he would draw only ₹1/- per month as his salary.

Coming from a college where I taught Hindi and a family where we spoke Hindi at home, my English was not great and I couldn’t type. But my understanding of culture, literature, art and music for those days was pretty decent and hence I managed, typing with one finger, thinking in Hindi and translating my thoughts into English.

One day Mr Khushwant Singh asked me to write a piece on Eid-Ul-Fitr. I went to the library in the basement of the office, did some research and shared my knowledge about Eid in three pages, total feature being about 500 words. Feeling happy about what I had done, I took the article to Khushwant ji’s room and handed it to him. He went through it carefully, cutting one line after another and one paragraph after the other reducing the three page article to three paragraphs and said, ”Here you go. Give it to Satwik for tomorrow. It goes on front page in a box. “ He looked up to find me crying. To say I was shocked would be an understatement. He then went out of the room, got me a glass of water, gave the papers to someone to re-type. After a few minutes when he had the edited version in his hands, gave it to me. I read the piece and he asked, “Whatever you wanted to say has been expressed in these three paragraphs, yes?” I nodded in affirmation, he said, “Do not waste words.” How far I have succeeded in implementing that day’s gyan, I don’t know, but I try mercilessly to edit what I write. Khushwant ji had become very fond of me by the time I decided to move to MMTC. I was quite surprised to learn that he did not even have a television set in his house because he kept himself busy with the thousands of books that he had.Time passed and I became a frequenter on Delhi Doordarshan. Reading news, compering music and literary programs. One day, almost a decade after we had last seen each other, he saw me reading news on TV, at his friend’s house. He rung up Doordarshan Duty Room to find my phone number and called to congratulate me on my good pronunciation, my saree and matching jewellery!

Over the years, he wrote about me in his columns and also mentioned me, to my utter surprise, in his autobiography- which I accidentally chanced upon while reading it.He made me feel very, very important, something I try to do with people I meet, as well! As I write this, I am wondering what Khushwant ji would have said seeing my saree today. I have a lump in my throat.

Mrs. Vijayalaxmi Chhabra on carrying a legacy forward

Today’s saree is very special to me. This belonged to Vani’s dearest mother. I met aunty in 1979 when I joined ICCR and became friends with Vani Subramanian.At the time I was living alone in a rented accommodation in Anand Lok and used to terribly miss home. I often spent my weekends at Vani’s house in JNU campus, savouring the lovely South Indian food served to us by aunty. Vani and I never lost touch with each other over the years, even though I moved to Mumbai and got busy with my job, home and children. Aunty spent her later years with Vani and I kept meeting her every time I went to Delhi. I am thankful that I could spend few hours with her in the hospital while she was still able to speak to us. She left for her heavenly abode few months back. When I went to meet Vani last month, she gave me this saree saying that ithad belonged to auntyand she would have liked me to have it. It’s a beautiful South check. I feel that aunty continues to bless me every time I wear this saree.

Chinna Dua on the meaning behind her name

This Taant saree is a gift from my bhabhi, my late eldest brother’s wife, who hails from Bengal. We were neighbours when I was a kid. I am the youngest of many siblings and hence the name Chinna, which in Tamil means ‘small/youngest’. There is a huge age gap between my siblings & me and I’m more like a first born to them. Bhabhi was a around since the time I was born and treats me like a daughter. She has gifted me some lovely sarees which are always special to me.

Antara Roy dedicating this one to her 8-year old son

I have just wrapped up a very productive work trip and now I am headed home. Sitting at the airport, a lot of memories of my 8-year old boy run through my mind. I love his reaction when I reach home after being away for three days. He was diagnosed with autism around the age of 2 years. He still cannot speak, but does it stop him from expressing himself? No way! When I walk in through the door, the look on his face is more eloquent than a thousand words. And to think how many times, in the past six years, I have received the (much unsolicited) advice to bear another child so I could experience the gratification that comes from becoming a parent! The battle of expression versus speech, of unusual versus perceived — is really to each his own. All that matters to me is that I am a very happy mother headed homewards! Kabir checks out my attire every time and clearly lets me know of his approval or otherwise. I hope he likes the look today.