being brown

My Ganga- Jamuna

Those transparent Dacca gauzes
known as woven air, running
water, evening dew:

– From Dacca Gauzes by Agha Shahid Ali

I am now a proud owner of a lovely Ganga Jamuna. A gift from my grandmother, it has a brown body and the borders on either side are maroon and black each. That is what a Ganga Jamuna is all about.

My ganga jamuna- the Red part

The two borders on either side should never be of the same colour like other saris but be parallel streams of different colurs, the ganga and the jamuna. The soothing colours and the lightness of this sari lift my spirits up. It’s a silk-cotton mix and that limits the number of occasions I can wear this outfit. It is too grand to wear to office, for example, and a little too understated to wear to a wedding. However, I fell in love with it as soon as I saw it and I am determined to find occasions to wear it in.

My Ganga Jamuna - the Black side

It is not exactly a new found interest; this interest that I seem to have developed in Saris. I have always been an admirer of my mother’s and grandmothers’ saris, especially the traditional and ethnic ones; not so much the jazzy, new, designer ones. Their collection, together, would be a treasure trove for any collector. But it is only now that I realize how convenient wrapping yourself up in 6 yards of cloth can be. Earlier, I had kept my sari wearing for the rarest of rare occasions (I know it sounds like the clause on capital punishment ) where the amount of time spent in the sari would be relatively minimal and the said time would be spent sitting or standing with no exertions what so ever. But the last 5-6 times I have worn a sari, have been during relatively mundane days when I have had full days of work, of running around, boarding buses and trains and generally keeping busy. My latest adventure with one of my mother’s south cottons was only two weeks ago when I wore a sari for an event that I was partly organizing. Not only did it stay on all day, I boarded a bus in it in the evening and travelled all the way from Mangalore to Bangalore over night and embarked from the journey with not a pleat out of place. Novices to sari-wearing will understand what an accomplishment this is! Considering that when you wear a sari for the first time, you are eternally scared that it is so precariously held together that it will fall off. I had no such worries, it just stayed. That south-cotton was a beautiful maroon with a mustard border.

I was of the opinion that saris, like so many things in society, were inconvenient and specifically designed to slow down the ‘woman’. ( which feminist amongst us hasn’t gone through that ‘bra-burning’ phase only to discover that not wearing a bra actually can be more uncomfortable and counterproductive to the liberation we all seek). But I find that draping 6 yards around yourself can be one of the smartest things you can do. Agha Shahid Ali spoke of the Dhaka muslin sari as ‘evening dew’ that can be ‘pulled right through a ring’. Dhaka muslins are gone and even when they were there, they were expensive. But south cottons continue to be light and flimsy, falling carelessly over your figure like the wind. The wind between your legs gives enough ventilation to carry you through hot summer afternoons. The extra, seemingly useless piece of cloth that hangs behind you can be used to cover yourself and protect yourself from the cold. Moreover, good saris last forever. Some of my mother’s and grandmother’s saris date back to 30 years ago and still look new. I am not going to lament the disappearing sari lest it does disappear like the Dacca Gauzes, but I am convinced that I wont let it happen in my lifetime. The sari is the new bra !

Agha Shahid Ali wrote Dacca Gauzes, a very beautiful poem full of lament and woe. Something that is rather infectious and I cannot but feel I missed out on something by not know what a Dacca Muslin felt like. But then again I should just feel the morning, dew-laden air to know!

Dacca Gauzes

Those transparent Dacca gauzes
known as woven air, running
water, evening dew:

a dead art now, dead over
a hundred years. ‘No one
now knows,’ my grandmother says,

‘what it was to wear
or touch that cloth.’ She wore
it once, an heirloom sari from

her mother’s dowry, proved
genuine when it was pulled, all
six yards, through a ring.

Years later when it tore,
many handkerchiefs embroidered
with gold-thread paisleys

were distributed among
the nieces and daughters-in-law.
Those too now lost.

In history we learned: the hands
of weavers were amputated,
the looms of Bengal silenced,

and the cotton shipped raw
by the British to England.
History of little use to her,

my grandmother just says
how the muslins of today
seem so coarse and that only

in autumn, should one wake up
at dawn to pray, can one
feel that same texture again.

One morning, she says, the air
was dew-starched: she pulled
it absently through her ring.


7 responses

  1. Marinha

    upload a pic..

    November 21, 2009 at 2:19 am

  2. sumanyav


    November 21, 2009 at 4:49 am

  3. sumanyav

    BTW, Marinha, how do you like the Agha Shahid Ali poem?

    November 21, 2009 at 5:08 am

  4. Sameeksha

    well , I am so inspired that I think i’ll buy myself a nice cotton sari .. 😀

    November 21, 2009 at 6:44 pm

  5. i would like to know if this sari is a double cloth?

    July 28, 2010 at 11:32 pm

    • sumanyav

      no it isnt! i presume, by double cloth you mean some kind of inner lining, in which case it isnt. And it is a single weave throughout.

      July 29, 2010 at 2:56 am

      • noo double cloth means two plain cloths woven simultaneously…if its not a much of trouble can you email me the pic of whole sari as in whole sari in the shot from one end to the other….since its for my thesis

        July 30, 2010 at 3:58 pm

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