Oh, how I love the look of a sari! I think they’re so beautiful and graceful. I’ve secretly coveted them for years. I suppose I could have bought one, but I was always just a little shy about being seen in one in public. After all, I’m not Indian. People might not appreciate the huge, clumsy gori wearing such a gorgeous garment with the kind of cultural recognition it has.
But I’d see a particularly spectacular one in this or that movie and get caught up in looking at it, and lose track of the dialogue. It’s happened more than once, so I know I have a serious problem with this sari envy. Perhaps I’ll be the first person to have it recognized as a psychological disease and they can name it after me.
I’ll go to Berkeley once in a while, where there are a lot of Indian shops, from food to clothing to music to home décor. I always wash up on the shores of the sari shop windows at the intersection of San Pablo and University, lying limply on their sidewalk beach, gasping for metaphorical air and dreaming of how I’d look in one.
The last time this happened, my children were with me. My daughter tried to convince me I needed the peacock colored, sequined and embroidered one I was drooling over, and my son insisted he wanted to wear it. I ended up having to give a lecture to my kids on how expensive designer clothes were and that they weren’t something that mommy has a use for, nor does she have the bank balance to indulge in that kind of luxury, let alone anyone to wear it for or anywhere to wear it to.
But I still see that wonderful garment in my mind’s eye from time to time.
Flash forward to this week. I’ve been corresponding with a Punjabi-American gentleman who travels to the area for business. He’ll be coming to town in a couple of weeks and would like to take me to dinner. He seems rather amused in a good way about my rampant Indophilia and asked if I could wear a sari on our date.
Of course, I’m only too happy to oblige. At last, a reason to buy a sari! He suggested something dark to suit my complexion, but I was already way ahead of him, as I decided long ago I’d go for one in deep green to suit my dark red hair.
Budgeting is still a problem. I know I can’t afford the really nice georgette or silk saris with all the embellishments. However, at least one of the sari shops at my intersection nemesis is going out of business due to the poor state of the economy. I decided I’d try not to let my feeling bad for the shop owner get in the way of my desire for a beautiful sari at a bargain-basement price.
Well, I have almost paid off my credit cards. I guess an extra month or two of payments won’t kill me.
I found a parking spot right in front of one of the shops, which I decided to take as a suggestion that I should stop there first. It was a small space, crammed full of beautiful clothes. I made one circuit of the store, looking up at the prime merchandise draped over wall-mounted manikins and stopped at the counter.
It took a few minutes for the proprietor to acknowledge me. When I asked him what I needed to buy for a sari, he did his utmost to discourage me, from telling me that if I don’t know a tailor, I’d have problems with the blouses, to telling me how very difficult it is to drape one. I put on my oblivious doofus act and told him there were plenty of videos on YouTube.
Resigned to my invasion of his stock, he told me the ones on the wall were one hundred dollars and up. I said I wasn’t looking to get that fancy yet, and asked if he had any plainer cotton ones. He pointed to the rack at the front of the store and I set off to inspect all the green saris. There weren’t many in the right spectrum of green, so I settled on a burgundy and green cotton with machine-stitched detail.
There was no way I was leaving that shop without a sari. I’ll show you, I thought. You’ll take my money whether you like it or not. By the time I asked him for a matching petticoat, he’d resolved himself to the fact I was actually going to give him my credit card, and he managed to smile as I left and gave me the endearing head bobble that I love so much.
I went to look at the shop that was going out of business, and they had already completed the process. But next door was Ramson’s and I couldn’t resist checking it out.
It was a much bigger store with a much larger selection and I guess I’d hit the end-of-season jackpot or something because I found the perfect forest green chiffon with embroidery for a quarter of its original price.
The saleslady who helped me actually approached me, and was ever so friendly I felt a lot better about buying a sari in this store. It was no longer an act of revenge, but ever so much more enjoyable. She helped me find the perfect jewelry and bangles to go with it and climbed up to the top of the shelves to find the right petticoat.
I left Ramson’s glowing. I don’t even resent the extra month I’ll have to pay on my credit card for my two purchases.
I rushed home and tried on the chiffon right away. They make it look easy in the videos, but it’s slippery and uncooperative and it was rather unruly and I had a hard time getting my pleats even, but it stayed on and more or less looked the way it was supposed to. I had a sweet flash of nostalgia as a memory was stirred up, of hours I used to spend playing with my grandmother’s fabric in her sewing room, and wrapping myself up in something rather similar to what I was wearing now.
With a goofy smile I set out for the lobby to check my mail, reveling in the swishing sound I was making and the smooth feel of the cloth. I went upstairs to check on a friend of mine, whose mother just died, and brought a smile to his face when I told him “Namaste” and he saw how I was dressed.
My mood lately has been rather down, and in a short two hour period, a beautiful sari turned it all around, and brightened the day of one of my oldest friends at a sad time.
For this, for me, a sari will always carry a little bit of magic with it.