One of the things that reinforce Indian sisterhood like nothing else is saree shopping. Just walk into any well-known saree shop that stocks all kinds of sarees especially the traditional weaves and you will find that the place is crowded with mothers, grandmothers, aunts, great-aunts, sisters, daughters etc in all sizes and age groups.
There they sit in small groups on low chairs or stools or on the quilted floor watching mesmerised as the salesmen bring in heaps and heaps of rainbow coloured magic and spread them on the platform in front of them. As he unfurls each woven miracle before them they seem to come out of their trance and jointly take part in that most enjoyable of moments – the saree selection. Some extremely obliging salesman will even drape the saree around himself to help the audience see the beauty of the saree and visualise how it will look on them.
Selected sarees are kept aside and then comes the difficult task of deciding which one or ones to actually buy. Here is when the salesperson again comes to your rescue. He will help you by draping the saree on you in front of the store mirror, and that is when the sisterhood and all other relations come into play.
‘It’s beautiful, but maybe a bit too much.’
‘No. Not your colour. Not impressive enough’.
‘Too expensive. Too bright. Too dark. Not worth the price. But don’t you have that colour, design?’
This goes on and on until the perfect selection is made for each buyer.
Usually, the men don’t accompany females for saree shopping and even if they do, they behave like bystanders or usually sit a little away with other men, all wearing the same strained expression on their faces. Rarely though there are adventurous souls who can either survive this saree onslaught or actually enjoy the entire process of selecting ‘the piece’ after rejecting hundreds of them.
When we went hunting for that perfect Maharashtrian green Paithani together, Shefali and I, came across such a rare specimen. There in that store, he waltzed around circling his wife, taking pictures of each saree she threw across her shoulder, appreciating her, asking her to try out another, yet another or telling the salesman to show another colour or design. They then put their heads together to scan the pictures the husband had clicked. Not satisfied, they asked for more sarees which were promptly brought to them by enthusiastic salesmen.
This couple seemed to have been there long before we arrived and even after we left, they were still at it. I hope they found that perfect weave. I hope that when the wife wears the saree she sees that certain twinkle in his eyes. And I hope it is that perfect moment for them.