Pre-Owned Sarees For The New Bahu…

She had never felt cherished and carefree as a young bride, enjoying being attired in finery. Later on, she could have worn them at any time. But one loves to play Holi in March only – not in the remaining months.

Pre-Owned.

The title must have caught your attention – pre-owned? In ‘pre-owned’, the ‘ed’ part gives the image of the disappearing previous owner and the ushering in of the new owner. Now let us call them ‘second hand’, and immediately one gets the feeling of it’s being a used thing no longer needed, willingly discarded.

And the ‘pre-owned’ article in question in this story is/are sarees.

Please don’t lose interest. The ‘pre-owned’ part was an attempt at ‘being positive’ because that is the contemporary craze. They tell you to look at the past, to change your perspective, and to let go because all the negativity is harming you. Victim stories are a no-no. The whole media hoopla is about an empowered woman.

Sadhna’s story is also one such story.

So many thoughts flitted through Sadhna’s mind as she sat in her affluent, well-decorated cabin facing the reporter who had come to interview her. Their magazine was running a special issue on the businesswomen of the city. Since she was the owner of Reewaz, a thriving saree emporium, she had been requested for an interview. And here she was indulging in flashbacks while asking the journalist to have a cup of coffee.

As a bride, Sadhna had been full of hope, happiness, dreams, and expectations. All the brides get ‘vari‘ that is the gifts from the var’s (bridegroom’s) side. She was unable to understand in the beginning, but then it dawned on her that the sarees she was given by his family were used sarees, not new. She was used to hand-me-downs among her sisters, but she felt that a bride did not deserve this kind of familiarity. Being a well-brought-up girl, she did not question her MIL, SIL, or husband. The purse she was gifted too seemed not to be new. Even the necklace she was given was for want of a better word ‘strange’.

Sadhna did not share this knowledge with her family. What was the use? They were so busy having a sigh of relief – the last daughter married at last. She kept quiet on both fronts, but it taught her a valuable lesson.

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Just as her family had treated her as a responsibility to be bundled off at the right time (she was all of twenty-one!) her new family also was not going to treat her any differently. She would be treated as a glorified maid, a child-producing machine, etc. She quietly listened to her new husband who thought he was God’s gift to her.

Sadhna was unable to decide. Either he was naïve, not able to evaluate what was going on right before his eyes, or he was very cunning and self-centered – interpreting facts to suit his high (oh, yes!) self-esteem.

In the first week after the wedding, Sadhna realized nobody in the family was happy with the mandatory gifts of clothing she had brought for them in her dowry. No direct complaints; instead meandering stories fell to her ears which were not deaf (!), which were alert, and adding to her problem was her alert mind which was analytical too.

A week later, here is the innovative way her youngest married SIL went about this business, “Bhabhi, you are lucky. Arrey, my in-laws were so vocal, so crude. Everybody criticized the furniture, the utensils, the clothes I had taken as gifts.”

Some of the relatives had not yet departed. It was a women’s gathering. There was a chorus of agreement of ‘mine too’ by all the women sitting there. Nobody had a positive comment. The whole feedback was negative, with each woman showing that her experience was worse than the others as if all the tragedy queens wanted to win the trophy of being The Worst (or The Best) Sufferer.

And in all this exchange her SIL asked her innocently with just the right inflection of curiosity. “Bhabhi, a sareewala comes to Didi’s house to sell saris. She, her MIL, and SIL buy saris from him. I exchanged the saree you brought for me. He put its price to be two hundred rupees. Is that price right? Or have I been cheated? Because I paid another two hundred and bought a printed silk sari instead.”

Sadhna wanted to clap at her manoeuver. She had had her say and maintained the veneer of politeness too. Or at least that’s what her SIL thought but her words actually conveyed “Umh – two hundred only! Cheap! I wear expensive sarees double that price!” Sadhna gave a non-committal reply, ‘At least you got the saree of your choice, Didi.”

By now Sadhna had gathered the power equations of the family. The two elder daughters had been married long ago and were not much involved in the decision-making. The youngest was the driving force and the MIL totally relied on her. Two years ago, she had had a big showdown with her in-laws and since then she had been waiting in her mother’s home for the hubby to come and persuade her to come back. Sadhna was sure gifting old sarees to the bride must have been her idea. “Mummy let’s save some money. I will give my sarees to her.”  She must have replaced her used sarees in Sadhna’s trousseau taking the new ones, who knows?  “I will become the saree seller and sell you sarees one day, dear Didi. You just wait!” vehemently thought Sadhna burning inside. Mutely she watched the whole show. The seed had been sown.

Her husband’s elder brother’s wife, who had been exiled to her mother’s home for the last two years (Sadhna had noted the coinciding of the time), had been expressly called to attend the wedding. It was a matter of family honour. The worst touch came when she asked Sadhna in private, ‘Is there a blue silk saree in your vari? So many of my things are gone! They must have opened my Godrej almirah – though I had locked it before going. My father said he had given the two sets of keys to Mummyjee. I didn’t know this. She must have used the other set of keys. My yellow silk saree too is missing. Some of my ornaments also – when I had gone back I didn’t know I will be coming back after two whole years. What kind of women are these!”

Sadhna kept a diplomatic mum though she had got that blue silk saree (its greasy stains not to be forgotten) in her vari. Meanwhile, the explorer in her had explored the family albums. She still believes one can judge a lot about the family by going through the albums of the family. She had seen her youngest SIL’s photograph in an orange saree, carrying the purse that Sadhna had been gifted. That orange saree too was in Sadhna’s vari.

Sadhana was basically intelligent. At that time, she could not have put into words what she was going to do. Her own family had never given her any importance. But she had dreams – now they too have vanished. She was feeling let down. Either she could give in to self-pity and anger with the whole world. Or she could inch towards realizing the important lesson she had learned that she had to become economically independent. She had to earn money. Many of her friends had picked up jobs and were enjoying their salaries. Her family had not given her that privilege. Their families were perhaps keeping part of these salaries to be used in their weddings. Her family could not wait to get rid of her. And they had married her off to the first available man without consulting her wishes.

The used sarees had proved to be the last straw. She was going to turn this insult of used sarees into a lesson.

This train of thought shows that she was becoming wiser and more equipped for navigating life. She realized that the hard times in your life are not always your fault. Describing all the things meted out to her would become dreary. Suffice it to say that the second-hand sarees were just the tip of the iceberg. In her mind, they symbolized the status that this family had given her. “Never again!” she vowed. First time by her own family and the second time by her husband and his family! Never again!

Cunningly she started collecting cash. She was still being gifted cash by her extended maternal family as is the custom when they met her for the first time after the wedding. She stopped handing it over to her MIL, keeping it herself…undisclosed. Her MIL’s denigrating tone and the comments that “they should have it, it’s the custom” etc., made no difference to her.

During the next two-three years she started stitching the clothes of her neighbours. She kept on slipping part of her earnings into her piggy bank. She had to give the rest to her husband who very happily took it.

By now she had learned to handle the male ego – stoke it, praise him, and slip in her own idea. This way, she knew, her idea will get a positive reception. She often talked to him about the saree sale she wanted to hold and how much she would enjoy doing it. It would be fun, and she added that they could get some money too… as if the money factor was an afterthought and not the main aim. Her maika was in Delhi, and Delhi is famous for its big markets. On one of her visits to Delhi to her mother’s home, she went to the wholesale market and bought sarees with the money she had saved quietly. She told her husband that her brother had financed her.

Back home she started requesting her working friends to help her. Most working women need to be well dressed, have a richer wardrobe, and have more disposable cash than housewives. And her friends helped her in selling those saris. On her next trip, she bought more sarees from the investment plus profit. Luckily there was a house to be rented in her locality. This time she rented it for a week and held her saree exhibition there. The word was spread by mouth only. The endeavour turned out to be profitable. The name of Delhi worked as magic and definitely, the prints and materials were different and more attractive than what was available locally, thereby giving the owner a chance to be ‘unique’ in her circle.

She had approached her goal of earning with curiosity, with a willingness to work hard, to “wander the mysterious path” rather than create a perfect map beforehand. Gradually she became familiar with the places in Sadar Bazar and Chandni Chowk etc. in Delhi from where she could get good sarees at good prices. Her attractive personality and business acumen, which she didn’t know she had, proved fruitful. She started getting supplies on credit also. She realized she needed a regular sales outlet. Holding exhibitions, sales, or showing saris from her home was not practical. Thus, she rented a small shop near her home and named it ‘Reewaz’.

Decades passed. Reewaz is a brand name in the city by now. Her son and DIL help her to run it. It’s their full-time job.

“We sell from traditional Kanjieevarams to Banarasis, unmatched collection, elegant colors, pocket-friendly range, casual to fancy party wear. Stunning sarees! And we have free parking!” trips from Sadhna’s tongue to the reporter.

At the back of her mind was lurking the Sadhna who was denied all the lovely silks, zaris, and zardosis that a bride should get; who was insulted with used sarees. If they did not have money they simply should not have given her any sarees. That she would have understood, would have appreciated, accepted.

Sadhna had dared to ask herself ‘Why’? Why could they insult her by giving her used sarees? And the answer she found was that they could do it because she was not economically independent; that she must earn, had led to substantial disruption in her life – a lot of planning and hard work. That’s how the human mind grows. When our mind deals with the whys and hows of our experiences, the inferences we arrive at never let it shrink back to the previous dimensions. It expands and we become more competent and capable. Emotional discomfort in life leads us to growth, to treasures we never expected to find. It’s true, she never got the feel of being young, cherished, carefree, enjoying being attired in finery. Later on, she could have worn them at any time. But one loves to play Holi in March only – not in the remaining months. There is a proper time for everything in life.

She came back to the present and looked at the reporter. “Our specialty? It is that we abhor the words ‘ordinary’ and ‘common’.  Everything we have is special – especially for the brides and their trousseaus. And one more thing. If the customer is buying for her daughter-in-law and brings her to choose her sarees, we have a special offer – a WBA – a ‘Welcome Bahu Appreciation’ – an attractive discount.”

She laughed aloud at the male reporter’s astonished expression. Silently, she continued in her mind, “Mister, this business came into existence because a bahu was not gifted new sarees!”

She wished she could turn the clock back and flaunt her ownership of this lovely emporium before her MIL and SIL. The MIL is long gone. Sadhna often gifts saris to her SIL as a silent “thank you” because she realized that forgiveness has nothing to do with feelings. It’s about deciding how to behave. It’s a choice. One can be kind and compassionate. Sugary sympathy is not required. The SIL had used her as a punching bag for her own hurts, but Sadhna was too dignified and did not believe in tit for tat.

She acknowledged her tormentors for the part they had played in shaping her. Regrets and blame games are not helpful, she had realized long ago. She was a successful businesswoman, and she had reached this spot in her life by being hardworking, fair, and balanced. Her choices led her to where she was today.

Image source: a still from the show A Suitable Girl

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