Being true to my culture and traditions has been an important part of my upbringing. From my childhood to being of marriageable age, my parents loved following traditions. Be it wearing a pattu pavadai (Tamil for silk lehenga-skirt) when I was an adolescent, or getting my hair oiled every night, or wearing a bindi on my forehead for all occasions.
We’d celebrate all functions in full South Indian fervour, from waking up at five in the morning, drawing elaborate kolams (rangolis) to cooking authentic dishes. I did it all with great enthusiasm and love. Not only was I the perfect daughter, but my parents had prepared me to be the “ideal” wife too.
And soon, it was time for me to tie the knot! My parents had found me a handsome, intelligent and well-settled man who was based in Bangalore. We decided to have a five-day Tamil wedding ceremony in Delhi. With the wedding preparations starting in no time, the search for my kanjeevaram bridal saree started as well.
The shopping began at some of my favourite saree stores in Delhi. The first stop was the emporium that had quite a variety, but not really the bridal piece I was looking for. Next came showrooms like Nalli, Chennai Silks and a few more in South Extension. I looked through more than 300 sarees in shades of vermillion, saffron, red and maroon, but couldn’t find that special one among them.
My parents thought I was being too picky, but I wanted to look and feel a certain way. I had grown up seeing my mother clad in rich, golden and bright kanjeevarams that she would drape carefully, measuring and keeping every pleat equal. She’d pin her pallu in a particular way; so neat that I would stare at its symmetry in awe. I wanted my bridal saree to make me revisit these little stories. I wanted that every time I wore my wedding saree, or even looked at it after my wedding day, these memories should flash back.
As the search went on, we flew down to Chennai to be in the ultimate paradise of kanjeevaram sarees and spent three days hopping in and out of T-Nagar, but to my dismay, I found nothing! I still bought one that was close to being my ‘wedding day’ saree but it was more of a stopgap arrangement to take the worry off my parent’s mind.
We were back, and this one random day as I was watching TV, my gaze fell upon a dusty photo frame of my parent's wedding. When I gave it a closer look, I saw mom in a reddish maroon saree with small, round, golden flowers woven all across the saree. She looked beautiful, and even though the photograph had faded, I was trying really hard to have a closer look at what she was wearing.
I instantly asked her to show me her wedding saree. It was packed so carefully, dry cleaned and wrapped in polythenes. I unpacked and spread it wide open over the bed, and I think that's when I had an epiphany! I knew right at the moment that I would be wearing my mother’s saree for my wedding. It was just the right shade of red, even though the golden had lost its lustre. My mom thought I was foolish to even think of something like this, but my father understood.
The real challenge however, was how I would fashion these six metres of fabric with memories into something that would represent my style, without it looking like an old piece pulled out of the cupboard, and yet be rooted in traditions. A couple of phone calls later, I found a solution to that as well.
A designer and friend helped me with this. She added sequins, used chemicals to bring out the shine in the golden zari, and gave it a brand new makeover keeping intact its original vintage vibe. She took almost a month to do all of this, and the end result was spectacular! I wore a different blouse, adorned the traditional jewels and was all ready to get married in my dream wedding saree.
It was an heirloom piece, not just woven with stories of generations but also stitched in memories of every single person involved in creating a saree that made me realise that fashion is about emotions, it's about how it makes you feel.