“Are you buying these for her?” The turbaned shopkeeper pointed at me.
“Yes, my daughter is getting married,” Dad said.
“What does she do?” the shopkeeper asked again.
“She’s a doctor,” Dad responded.
“Why bother buying her all this stuff?” the man exclaimed. “She is worth her weight in gold!”
“Yes! She has always been a good girl.” My dad smiled.
I resolved there and then to make him proud.
Shopping For The Wedding
I was not born into royalty, but my wedding trousseau was fit for a princess, because in Dad’s eyes I was special. When it was time to select my wedding sarees, my mom sent me with Dad to Kala Niketan, one of the pioneer shops for designer sarees in Mumbai, established in 1942. We went to our destination on the red double-decker BEST bus.
It never once occurred to me at that time as to why Mom did not accompany us. Neither did she suggest what saris I should buy. I was used to wearing pants and skirts and knew little about saris other than how pretty mom looked draped in her crisp cottons and her soft pastel georgettes.
Recently, when I asked her this question, she said, “Your dad had a fine sense of style.”
Saris By The Yard
The #90 BEST bus from our house in Chembur took us an hour-and-a-half to reach the shop. We sat on the top deck and enjoyed watching a diverse crowd of Parsis, Hindus, Sikhs, and Christians get in and out of the bus.
Dad pointed to a humble guesthouse and said that he had stayed there on his first trip to Bombay when he was interviewing for a sales position in a pharmaceutical company. He laughed and remembered the maska-pao (buttered toast) he had ordered at the nearby Irani restaurant after receiving a Rs. 2000 signing advance. He said his hands were trembling with joy. He laughed and talked about his childhood in Lahore, his school, his friends, but never about the partition of India, and the great exodus on both sides of the imaginary line dividing the country without compassion or consideration.
“We’re here to select sarees for my daughter’s trousseau,” Dad told the shopkeeper, who sat cross-legged on snow-white sheets.
The shopkeeper unfolded the bright red and gold bridal zari sarees. I selected a shimmering red and gold tissue with an intricately woven broad brocade border. It was the best piece he had in the store. I was done shopping. I looked up at my dad in gratitude.
“Select a few more,” Dad urged me, “for special occasions and for casual wear.”
A Dream Saree
“How did he know all this?” I thought, but I acquiesced and selected three Kanchipuram silks in pure colors with silver embroidered wedding processions on the borders and pallus. A violet for myself, a ruby red for my mother, and a terracotta brown for my mother-in-law.
Then my eye landed on a midnight blue sari with small red roses woven with fine silver stitches on the border. This was a dream of a saree.
I instantaneously imagined myself wearing this magnificent fabric and being whisked away on a magic carpet, like in the stories in Arabian Nights. Then I selected a youthful looking sap-green organza with a riot of silver roses peeking through a woven trellis. For casual wear, I found two printed silks in gold and navy and pearl and maroon, something akin to the sarees smartly worn by the air hostesses in those days. Then I turned my eyes to a white and beige Kashmir silk with delicate embroidery.
Dad pulled my hand away. “Why do you want to buy old women sarees?”
“They have a subtle charm,” I said. Dad bought those for me, too.
When our shopping was complete, he paid the bill. Not once did he haggle over the price. Not once did I think whether he had that much cash on him. Because, in those days, there were no credit cards, and merchants did not accept personal checks.
We loaded the big bags of sarees into a black and yellow Fiat taxi and drove back home. As I marveled at our purchase, little did I know then that this was a special moment. This would be the first and last time any man would buy me eleven gorgeous sarees in one swoop.
Later, when I related this incident to my dad’s younger sister, Neelam, she said that Dad had bought all of them gifts with his first salary. A doll, a toy plane, a saree, a shirt, a shawl… He had probably spent all his money on gifts for others.
That generosity was his gift to people. There was no yardstick to measure it with.
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