The hours billowed into late afternoon. Everyone was in a terrific mood, including Dharma. The biriyani was excellent. There was just one instance where Allarmelu and Kanna cried as Dharma teased them that it wasn’t goat meat they were relishing in the biriyani, but the peacock from the garden. He had to work hard at the insistence of Chellamma to admit to the girls that he lied. The prickly moment was finally soothed by more candy floss, more singing and dancing, till the girls dried their tears and felt the salt in their mouth from the sea air. They concluded that the beach was a body and the sea its tears.
When they returned to Surya Vilas, the customary tea had to be drunk in the library upstairs, with Gowri, Ruku and Dharma. Chellamma heard to them recounting with hilarity all that had happened. When it was her turn, she looked up with a full smile from a sari border she was examining.
‘Why can’t these people darn the saris the way they used to?’
‘I think you need to wear smoother anklets’.
‘I know, Gowri, but that day with the puja I had to wear the ruby-studded ones. The stones in the left anklet were coming out of the setting. That’s what started ripping the threads as I walked.’ Chellamma made her case.
‘Is that your wedding sari?’ Dharma gazed longingly at the subtle gold on the border and across the pomegranate pink body of the sari. It was hand-woven, naturally, but had the perfect design.
‘I know a very good weaver who will make it good as new,’ he smiled to himself.
‘How soon can it be done?’ Chellama’s urgency could be felt in the room.
‘Chellama anni, for you time should be no concern…’
‘It is the wedding sari, it has to be blessed again at the harvest Pongal next month,’ came Ruku’s retort.
‘Consider it done,’ Dharma said as he looked cheerily at his sister-in-law and sisters. He licked his fingers free of the almond halwa that he’d washed down with the cardamom tea. He washed his hands ceremoniously, twirling each gold ring on his little, ring and middle fingers. Then he took out his monogrammed handkerchief with a dancer’s flourish and wiped the diamond, emerald and rubies on each of the rings, touching the corners of his lips. He then flicked open his engraved silver box and took a pinch of snuff.
‘You’re such a dandy!’ Gowri said. ‘I wonder when you will grow up.’
‘When you see the sari perfectly done at Pongal, I will make you mark your words.’
Chellamma had carefully pleated and folded her wedding sari that her mother and grandmother had worn before her. Each succeeding generation had increased the length of the border, as women grew taller. ‘You won’t forget will you?’ she pleaded as she gave it to Dharma.
Allarmelu burst into the library washed and talcum-powdered. ‘Amma, Amma! Look I’ve written a poem,’ she said waving her slate and chalk and ran to hug her mother. Her aunts instantly began singing the refrain from the slate. Dharma felt he had made some advance in coming across favourably, and now he would have to live with the interruptions. He was pleased. He saw Allarmelu, nuzzling her head on her mother’s stomach, catching her hair on the gold key ring. Gowri and Ruku moved closer and undid her strand of hair.
Allarmelu saw the ancestral pomegranate pink silk sari with the sunset orange border interwoven with gold slide from her mother’s arms into Dharma’s hands. Its weight was sumptuous. She could smell its fragrance of turmeric, frankincense and sandalwood. A few dried tulasi leaves fell from the inner folds of the pallu. She felt the cool smoothness of the satin blouse around her mother’s waist, and the smell of sandalwood on the moist skin of her belly. Her mother’s butter-soft hands touched the back of her neck as the sari slid away. She felt the fingertips of her father’s sisters adjusting her plaits on either side of her head. Allarmelu saw the soft brown eyes of her father’s youngest brother resting on the sari, as the clock chimed seven that evening.
Excerpted with permission from The Sari of Surya Vilas by Vayu Naidu, Speaking Tiger Books. Get your copies here.