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The Sari of Surya Vilas

By Vayu Naidu

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Surya Vilas had become a house of silences and grown-ups. However, with the ceremony there was the hope of festivity. For most girls, it was a time when mothers would initiate their daughters into the rite of passage of the ‘householder’. But here Allarmelu was at once handling the finances, the staff and her own burgeoning body for a ceremony she felt she had grown out of. But rituals were important. It was theatre, and Allarmelu loved a production.
A month ahead, Allarmelu unlocked the almira that held all the silver containers and gold vessels that had to be laid out in front of the altar for the ceremony. She knew which trays were to be used by the priest for the homa fire and the ones to display the sets of jewellery, the bananas, the betel nut and leaves, and gifts for the guests, the strands of flowers, the coconuts and more.

She opened the safe and took out the sari that had not been removed from the Buckingham and Coromandel Mills bag that Dharma had brought it in so long ago. She couldn’t help thinking that the elephant trunk of Ganesha bridged the past with the present. The sari that belonged to her mother, her mother’s mother, and was worn by her mother before that. All she wanted now was not a long chain of dead mothers, but her mother, alive. Nothing could replace that. She still remembered the warm current that flowed through her, as she lay still holding on to her mother’s frail form. She cradled the bag, reliving the moment she gave her mother that red drink. She breathed deep into the sari, hoping for a waft of her mother’s musk.

But this sari did not have the embalming smell of sandalwood and frankincense mixed with turmeric. Allarmelu pulled out the sari from the bag with Ganesha’s head and unfolded it. Placing it on her lap, she looked at it, then ran her fingers through the entire nine yards of crinkled gold border. There was no sign of darning. Her heart skipped a beat. When she opened the pallu, she saw all the recognizable symbols of Amman woven into it. She consoled herself, maybe the weaver darned it so well that I can’t detect the repair. She ran her fingers along the base of the platform that the woven Amman was seated on. She discovered this space was bare.

Allarmelu distinctly remembered that the weaver of her ancestors’ sari had embroidered his name in Tamil: S. Veerappan. She remembered the brightness of the yellow silk thread for the name. Beside his name had run another word that rippled like a string of jasmine all along the border. The sari on her lap was an imposter!

Where is my mother’s sari? The question became a mantra that repeated itself throughout the next few hours.

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