Loud Equals Happy

It is bad form to start a post with a question I think. But I would really like to know why we in India think the louder we are in a social situation the happier we must feel. I don’t share this feeling and I am quite sure that most people who are not part of that agree with me fervently. But put them in a similar group when a wedding or a birthday is being celebrated, they would not dream of saying No to amplifiers (in an open area) or even dream of turning down the volume, as the speakers blare out highly inappropriate and raucous Punjabi music – which happens to be the rage now – at the birthday party of a one-year old.

Every now and then people have open air parties in the park in our building and invariably the music is turned on with a thumping beat, even before the party begins. That is the DJ getting his act together before the people walk in. After an hour of this, while we timorous souls cower under the auditory assault, the regularly aggressive people start registering their protests over WhatsApp and magically, the word goes out and the volume of the music goes down. I have no doubt that the party-givers imagined that they were only spreading their happiness all around and were miffed that there were those who were not suitably grateful. Perhaps they should have tried to send over the goodies to all the people in the building. But nah!

Tomorrow is New Year and the music has already begun in the park. I generally prefer to sleep through New Year’s night  but every year it is difficult because of the park party and the firecrackers set off at midnight all over the city. Today no one will complain – maybe – because it is a building party and those who have paid 300 rupees each will want their money’s worth.

While they listen to their Kaala Chashma and the remixed Humma Humma, I shall try to pull the covers over my head and ..try.. to.. sleep. But I pray it won’t be Bulleya..

Sari Styles

At this point I am afraid my only reader is going to walk away in disgust after reading the title. I am counting on his innate compassion to stay on after the initial reaction.

Suddenly it struck me that the Gujarati way of wearing a saree is so much neater and highlights the pallu as it should be displayed.

In every saree shop we see women taking great pains to pick a saree with an elaborately designed pallu – either woven or embroidered or just printed – and in fact the rest of the yards of material is often discounted in preference to the most decorative pallu. And then, while wearing the sari the pallu is just bunched together and thrown over one shoulder, bedsheet fashion, as R. would snigger. It does not flow down in a graceful sweep nor does it fan out to display the beauty of the  weaver’s craft, it just lies in a mass of cloth as if that is all there is to it. At best it is folded and pinned. This the usual urban Indian style seen all over urban and even semi-urban cities and in the smaller towns. Rural India has different ways of draping the sari and Bollywood village women wearing the saree in their own inimitable way exist only on the screen thankfully.

The Maharashtrian nauvari is nine yards long but is a very distant cousin of the South Indian Iyer nine yards. The Marathi women wearing their traditional sarees easily break into the most vigorous dance possible while the Iyer Mami is very sedate and dignified even if there is a considerable amount of leg on display. The younger mamis generally are very distracted while in their nine yards because half their attention is on the slowly unravelling saree. They are in constant peril of having to bunch up the nine yards in their hands and rush into the nearest room and call for help. The fact that they, traditionally speaking, cannot wear a petticoat inside, does not help matters. The younger women these days prefer to wear tights before draping  the nine yards saree. At my own wedding, my saree had been tied for me by a nameless Mami and I barely lasted through the saath pheras with the saree trailing behind me before I was ushered inside for a retying. (Nameless Mami, I shall seek you out and kill you, if you are not dead already.)

During the time of my grandmother, girls were married in their early teens. My grandmother used to tell me how she wore the six yards sari before marriage and switched over to the nine yards when she was married. She was thirteen at the time. She was very petite and could barely carry the weight of nine yards on her frail body. She also had to wash it every day and hang the wet mass on the clothesline. From the age of thirteen, she wore a nine yards’ till she died at the age of seventy five and almost till the end she would wash her own clothes.

Nowadays of course the saree is going the way of the kimono and is fast becoming a  matter of sartorial choice (!) for many urban women. They choose to wear it after much thought and discussion and only if other women at work agree to wear it on the same day because who wants to be the odd one out? In colleges the girls decide on a saree day and turn up in beautiful sarees belonging to their mothers and draped on them by their mothers, who else.

In fact, in Mumbai finding a saree shop is becoming very difficult. There are the galli shops which sell the ubiquitous polyester sarees in violent colors and designs and then there are the high-end shops in places like Queen’s Road and Dadar which have on sale and display the “designer” sarees with a lot of embellishments that can only be worn to weddings, preferably by the bride herself. It is only in Gujarati-dominated areas that sarees are sold in more numbers and varieties, even if many of them still have the unnecessary sequins and stones stuck on them almost as if it were de rigueur.

So we are back with the Gujarati saree which I wish I could wear, but not being a Gujarati, it would make me feel more than a little pretentious.

My saree shopping is all done in the South nowadays, because there it is still seen as normal wear for Indian women  and you can take empty suitcases and bring them back filled with sarees. I can hear R. say that it is what I do, but I tell him that as I do no saree shopping in Mumbai at all, I am entitled to do it on our trips outside Mumbai.

Shopping abroad is just that little bit less appealing because how many shampoos and foundations can one buy after all? Now if only them furriners would put their mind to creating beautifully printed or woven cloth with saree panna (width) I could create interesting sarees out of them! But our rupees would still fetch better value by the yard than the pound or the dollar. After all A. took back a beautifully embroidered saree for her Kenyan friend at less than $45!

After A Long Time

It has been brought to my notice that it has been quite some time since I posted on my blog. It is my dear and only reader who has been asking why I have been remiss. I had to tell him that since all my writing has been nocturnal so far – the result of sleepless nights – I suddenly seem to have been overtaken by sleep and have had to abandon my blog temporarily. Now I have determined to write – day or night – and not be dependent on my sleep patterns.

Apropos of that, my iPhone has been telling me that I have been sleeping for seven and a half hours straight when I know for a fact that I have spent much of that time out of bed. Perhaps I should be carrying the phone on my self for it to record my actual sleep time.

I have long wanted to write about the two people in my life I have really loved and looked up to – my Adyar Thatha and Adyar Patti. I wonder why we called them that because they did not move to Adyar till my grandfather was eighty three years old. They had lived in Triplicane for most of their lives before being forced to move from their rental house to another rental – a flat this time – in Mylapore. They lived in Mylapore for fifteen years.

I wonder who added the Adyar to their names. It must have been some wannabe relative who was awed by the connotations  of “Adyar” and disdained the Triplicane tag. Somehow Mylapore didn’t stick to their names. For the uninformed, Triplicane was distinctly downmarket, though in those days many middle-class Brahmin families made it their home in their genteel poverty. They were highly respected families as far as education went and deeply religious, but quite poor and led frugal lives. Mylapore was home to the fairly affluent Brahmins who were still very religious but tended to be advocates and judges, and their women wore silk sarees and diamonds as they bustled about. As for the Adyar set, who had ever met one of them? They belonged to the posh group who never set foot on the road (they possessed the few cars owned by Brahmins in those days) and moved in hallowed circles of wealth and power. I have no doubt that the Adyar people looked down upon the Mylapore Mamis as being too traditional while they in turn would turn up their noses at any Triplicane connection. In fact when my grandparents moved into the Mylapore flat in the care of my uncle, the tenants in the downstirs flat kept talking loudly (to make sure the upstairs family could hear them) about cheap people moving into their area. It was funny to think my uncle paid more rent than them and had more symbols of affluence to display than the denigrators below. I remember that each time I visited my grandparents the very same people were not above running to the windows to catch a glimpse of me.

Fifteen years later my uncle built his own house in a large plot in Adyar because he wanted his parents to live in a house owned by the family. It had been a long-expressed wish of my grandfather’s, though he had no expectation of its ever coming true, and my uncle being a devoted son set out to fulfil his wish and also named the house after my grandmother  as “Meenakshi Nilayam”. Both my grandmothers were named Meenakshisundaram though it was a name more commonly used for men.

But through all these moves, my grandparents remained Triplicane people at heart. They remained who they were, in the best possible way, though their surroundings and circumstances changed, and never forgot their past nor did they distance themselves from anyone in their lives. They led their lives according to what they had always believed and no amount of change could mould them into different people. They had so little of their own yet they seemed to be very rich in themselves.

Sometimes I wonder if in the quest to adapt we do not somehow lose ourselves.