Oh dear! This was not what I expected.
“You do know how to wear the nine-yard saree right?” my mother-in-law had wanted to know.
“I will learn from YouTube, maa”, and I had disconnected the call.
As I sat in the balcony, sipping my tea, watching the orange sun bidding an adieu to the folks, my eyes fell on the Ananda Vikatan on the table. Maa had forgotten to take the magazine back with her.
Has it already been more than three decades?
It had been patti who had broken the exciting news to amma. “Look. There is a new novel out in Vikatan. It will come in installments.”
Amma had practically jumped with joy. I, as usual, was lost between the books.
On an impulse, I had picked up the magazine.
It was a photo of a beautiful woman in a saree, but she had draped it in a strange way.
“Amma. What is she wearing?”
Amma had smiled at me. “She is wearing a madisar.” Seeing my bewildered look, she had continued, “This is a nine-yard saree. The saree which we wear normally is six yards long. This is longer and is worn on special occasions.”
“I also want to wear it.”
Patti had giggled uncontrollably at this. “Wait! Wait! Your time will come.”
Unable to understand ‘the time’, I returned to the magazine. So, the woman was wearing a bright red madisar. In her hand was a ladle. Probably she was cooking. Her expression was one of disgust. Standing in front of her was a younger woman, drying her hair with a towel, wearing only a petticoat and a brassiere. But hey, what was so different about it? It was a sketch, not a photo. Intriguing!
“Amma. What’s the name of the novel?”
Pat came the reply, “Madisar Mami.”
And then it began! Appa would bring the magazine and would deposit it on the table. Both the women took turns in reading it, and afterwards shed copious tears. What was exactly happening? It was the same woman, always accompanied by sketches. Sometimes Ranganayaki, the protagonist, would coyly smile at her husband in an MS blue (yeah, I later learnt it was the colour patronized by the divine Subbalakshmi) madisar, one fine day I would see her riding a scooter in an ochre saree. The day she died, patti and amma cried as if they were attending her funeral. As I looked at actress Srividya (she was the face of madisar mami, as I learnt later from amma), lying on the floor, I felt my heart sink. I wouldn’t be admiring any more photos of those wonderous nine yards of elegance.
I wiped away my tears. What? Was I crying? Really?
As a married woman, I could finally wear the madisar. Alas! I needed tutorials on YouTube. How time changes! And interests!
On an impulse, I dialed my mother-in-law. “Maa. Can you come over and help me drape the madisar, please?”
This is a slice-of-life trip down memory lane of my growing up years in Calcutta of the 80s. My grandmother (patti) and mother would wait for the Ananda Vikatan magazine to devour the serialized novel ‘Madisar Mami’ written by the famous Tamil writer Devi Bala. I would admire Srividya’s pictures in beautiful sarees. Oh, by the way, I still resort to YouTube tutorials, but these sweet memories linger on, like a fragrant scent.
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