I inherited Ma’s Bou-Bhaat saree.
Loosely translated in English – bou = bride, bhaat = rice or food. This saree, I am wearing in the photo, belonged to my mother. She wore it on the day of her Bou-Bhaat.
After the bride has entered her husband’s home, soon to be her own, she stays indoors only to emerge the day of her Bow Bhaat – usually a few days after the wedding has taken place. This is because the bride would have travelled from another city or town. On the day of the Bou Bhaat the groom’s family invite family and friends to a banquet. The new bride is introduced and blessed by all; she will share in the meal. I have been told those older customs had neighbours bringing food for the bride and she would only eat from her husband’s house at the official banquet. I don’t believe this was the case with Ma as a new bride.
My hands are gentle as they take the saree out of the cupboard, unravel the many folds, and lay it out on the bed. Royal purple with silver embroidery running the length and breadth of this absolute gorgeous six yards of Banarasi silk tissue, woven with very fine silk threads that give the texture of tissue. Extremely delicate and absolutely divine. Handwoven from Banaras, city of mystics, where the holy river Ganga flows clothed in gold from the morning sun and jewelled plumes of thousand floating lamps during evening puja. Where weavers weave their magic into yards of Banarasi silk sarees.
I let my eyes rest on the saree and immediately a sense of peace floods over me. Time to showcase Ma’s saree, I tell myself firmly, and begin to drape it around me. I have only once worn it outside, to an event, and never after that. Afraid I might mess it up. Ma’s benediction rises; I feel the power of her strength of character, who she was and how she brought us up.
After her wedding, Ma would have left for her husband’s home – a journey of roughly four hundred miles. They must have taken the train. Who else was travelling with them? Our aunts, Baba’s sisters? Our grandmother and great-grandmother? I don’t know because I never asked. Something I regret to this day.
In India, during the time I was growing up, we never thought of asking our parents about their childhood or growing years. Why was this? Why did we not simply ask? Did we not ever imagine that, once upon a time, parents themselves had been children? In all fairness, I believe this had to do with respect for our elders. We thought it would be bad manners. We did not want to pry.
Ma did share some stories about her childhood – the time when the horse that drew their carriage turned ballistic and almost killed them; or the time when she leaned against the car door that had not been locked and fell out. The wound wasn’t too big, thank goodness, because the car was stationary at that moment.
Another time, Ma told us how she had been chastised by an aunt for exposing her ears and was made to rectify this breach of conduct before stepping out of the house. Females, at that time, had to wear their hair in a special way that their ears would not be exposed.
I decide to sit on top of the stairs for the photograph. Lighting isn’t the best, and there may be unwanted shadows. In my anxiety to not trip on the saree and ruin it, I forget to remove the picture from the back. Now, I can’t help but smile as I begin to type. I know Ma will understand.
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