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He had wanted a normal muddled, unpredictable life. Slowly love moved out of their relationship and was replaced with contempt for each other.
Pallavi rummaged through her mother’s sari collection. “I just cannot fathom why someone would collect so many saris in their lifetime,” she muttered. That was a strange comment since her own livelihood depended on people hoarding saris. Pallavi was a designer with one of the famous sari boutiques in Mumbai. A boutique frequented by the crème de la crème of Mumbai including many Bollywood celebrities. She was appreciated and known for her work, meticulous, and creative.
“Am I really aiding this madness of hoarding in people?” she wondered wryly for the first time, with her hands on her head, daunted by the sheer magnitude of her work.
Her mother Sindhu Shivakumar was a renowned socialite, and social worker, quite like many of Pallavi’s clients.
“Actually, ma was just a social menace,” Pallavi said under her breath looking at her mother’s supine form on the bed. Could she hear her? The doctors had said that they were not sure. It could not be ascertained yet. Sindhu had suffered a massive stroke a couple of months back. She seemed to have lost all sensation. Pallavi had rushed back to Bangalore. There was no one else to do that. Pallavi was an only daughter. The first month had been fine actually. Her mother was in the hospital, completely non communicative. Pallavi was working from home. One visit every day to the hospital to check on God knows what, was all she had to do. There was really no difference from one day to the other, but it seemed the right thing to do. After all it seemed to be a matter of days before her life ended.
Pallavi spent the rest of the time researching and learning about her passion, fabrics, motifs. She had located some GI tagged weaves in Karnataka and got in touch with the weavers to understand how she could use them in her work.
“That was the reason, I stayed back so long, not to look at that person’s face!” Pallavi muttered in recollection, as she pulled out the saris and started stuffing them into suitcases.
After a month, quite unexpectedly, her mother opened her eyes. Everyone marvelled at Sindhu’s will power. Pallavi stopped the daily visits, making up excuses whenever she could. Looking into her mother’s eyes was not her favourite activity to say the least. When she did visit, she felt that her mother was boring into her. She spent as much time as she could with the doctors, escaping from her mother’s room as soon as possible. Then Sindhu started responding to touch and was able to eat liquid food as well. She was unable to move her limbs though. And she did not respond to voice. Her cardiac and lung functions were stable, and she was pretty much living without life support.
The doctor said that Sindhu could be in this condition from a few months to forever. But there was no need for hospitalization. What did that mean? Well it meant that she had to take her mother back and take care of her! Pallavi swore under her breath as she recollected the shock of that. “You could not avoid putting me into trouble,” she told her mother accusingly.
Pallavi had to return to Mumbai. So, she arranged for her mother’s care in a very expensive hospice care, because her mother would not stand any other, she knew. What if she did regain her senses and looked around! She would throw a fit if her surroundings were not perfect enough for her.
Anyway, that was where she was shifting her tomorrow. Pallavi was surprised to learn that her mother’s financial situation was not what she had thought. They had not really been in touch much. She decided to give her mother’s house on rent to pay for the hospice.
“They even have colour coordinated furnishings and real artwork on the wall,’ she told Sindhu as she pushed away the full suitcase and pulled an empty one. She had asked the movers to clear up all the books and albums. They held too many memories, far more than she could handle.
Coming back to the task at hand, she could easily see at least 200 or more saris in this cupboard alone. There was a tanchoi, orange and pink with the delicate pattern in gold. A Nakshi Kantha with the full sari embroidered with beautiful patterns, a few whimsy tie and dies in blue, yellow, green, of course a dozen kancheevarams in many hues.
Pallavi laughed. Her mother would never have believed that Pallavi would become so knowledgeable on them. She had hated saris. Saris were synonymous with her mother. They stood for her elegance which was celebrated, stood for the gentle but ravishing perfume that always emanated from them. Stood for the ease with which she would stand out but fit in into any crowd, without being the least bit self-conscious.
It stood for Pallavi’s own awkwardness, on whom nothing seemed to stand out. It stood for her self-deprecating slouch, which she carried even today. It stood for the endless comparisons to her mother in her growing up years. It stood for her mother’s oppressive control over her.
Pallavi had never owned a sari, to this day. But she designed them lovingly with zealous detail. There was surely something enchanting about the drape. It was a weave of ironies, simple yet sophisticated, traditional yet modern, unstitched, yet fitting.
“Maybe as I get older, I begin to see beauty where I least expected it before,” she smiled to herself, feeling the fabric with her palms.
Her mother had been a perfectionist, a very possessive perfectionist. She was always sure of what would happen, how her day would go. She planned obsessively, even the smallest detail. She would have decided her outfits for the next one month at any time. The project she handled for NGOS were so well executed, that corporates would be ashamed. Her parties were legendary for the attention to detail, right from the kind of colours, themes, seating, entertainment.
“Was that why you hated me so much?” she looked at her mother sideways and asked her. Pallavi had always thought that, in fact she knew that her mother hated her. Pallavi was the one unplanned occurrence in her mother’s life. Her mother was an heiress once. She had fallen in love, hopelessly, got married to her love, much against her families wishes, and had given birth to the child of their love.
But it was hopeless. He was really not in her league either in intelligence, or in looks or in ambition. He had wanted a normal muddled, unpredictable life. Slowly love moved out of their relationship and was replaced with contempt for each other. They separated and her mother was back as an heiress, with her heir in tow.
Things would have been back to normal if her heir had not resented her so much. Pallavi resented her mother for separating her from her father. Her father was fun, unpredictable. He did not care if Pallavi wanted to go a party in pyjamas or vice versa. He woke up and planned his next 5 minutes. The rest of the day was unplanned.
Pallavi had never balked at showing this resentment to her mother. She did badly at school and extracurriculars. She slouched all the time and wore baggy shapeless clothes She refused to talk to guests and shut herself in during any party. Her mother had worked the reverse gear. She constantly chided her, advised her, met with the teachers, ordered her to mix with people. Pallavi felt that her mother was spewing her frustration about her father on her. She never lost an opportunity to complain about her daughter and tell about the sacrifices she had to make. Well their life had been nothing short of a fight.
And so, when she got an opportunity and started earning, she moved away to Mumbai and kept her distance. She shunned everything that reminded her of her mother.
“Where do I throw all of these? Maybe I will give them all away to the people in the slum. Serves her right,” she chuckled. Her eyes travelled to the top row. The saris there were arranged neatly, colour coordinated and by type. A beautiful yellow caught her eyes. The colour of sunshine with pastel prints. That was an interesting pattern. She picked it out of professional interest and spread it. A note fell from it. Patola print, Ahmadabad, 2006.
My God! She actually kept a note on each sari. She removed a few more. Each had a note. There was one with the note, Painthani sari, Nasik, 2006.Further down, a Mysore silk with the note, Banarsi, from Parents for my 25th birthday, 1990. And one more, Kasavu sari, wedding sari, 1994, that must be from her father.
“Good that I never gifted you one! I would hate to see it stacked here like it was a sari library! I think, emotions skipped you ma!” she said sarcastically as she picked up an elegant black Mysore silk with one with a thin golden border, a little roughly.
The note said Seemantham, my baby shower, 1994, the happiest day of my life. Can’t wait to see you my darling! Come soon!
She spread it out on the floor. She saw her mother, holding her belly covered in the smooth black silk, “Can’t wait to see you my darling”
There was no mention of the weave, no impersonal notes, just, “Can’t wait to see you my darling!”
Only half aware of what she was doing, Pallavi picked up the saree and tucked it in clumsily into her shorts. Every fibre of the Sari seemed to tell her, “Can’t wait to see you my darling!” Tears ran down her cheeks as she sobbed uncontrollably. She threw the Pallu over herself and turned to look at the mirror.
She saw her mother’s eyes looking back at her, saying, “Can’t wait to see you my darling! Come soon!”
“I am here Mama,” she whispered back to the mirror. She had found her mother’s love, where she least expected it.
This short story was shortlisted for the December 2020 Muse of the Month short fiction contest.
Image source: pixabay
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