The late afternoon sun was playing with me as I hid in Amma’s* saris that stretched drying on the wires across our calm courtyard, making temporary colourful corridors. I could faintly hear Amma’s bangles and ‘payals’ as she walked around in her room, changing into a fresh sari, adorning her perfumed hair with fresh flowers. Appa** will be home soon.
I continued playing; running my fingers across the length of the saris, stopping to stroke a woven elephant or quicken my step to avoid the God motif with big eyes and tongue sticking out. The weavers had woven into Amma’s saris my whimsical playmates. A tiny flurry in the house alerted me to Appa’s return. I stood statue like, hidden between the saris.
I saw Amma greeting Appa and him gently slip something wrapped in a newspaper in her hands. Amma smilingly unstrung the packet while mouthing some half hearted protest over Appa’s frivolous purchase, to reveal a beautiful sari with pigeons on it. I slipped out from my hiding place and quietly hugged Appa’s knees. Appa picked me up in his arms,”So who are you today?” he asked.
Everyday I took it upon myself to entertain him, while he had his coffee, with impersonations of beings in my life – sparrows, our cow, the lazy cat that hid in our store…”Can I be you today, Amma?” I asked. Amma tickled my tummy and said yes; why she would even drape her brand new pink Kanjivaram on me to authenticate my role-play. Attya**** joined in and decided to be my partner for this act, furnishing me with a ‘bindi’ and bangles.
Everybody took their places in the Veranda that looked into the courtyard. I took my place behind the saris that were now stage curtains. I saw Amma hide her wide smile in the pallu of her sari, Appa’s eyes swimming with unshed tears of mirth, Ajji*** straining her now failing eyes to catch the action, Attya brimming with pride. Even the sparrows, mindful of the theatre etiquette, took their seats on the ledge.
My cheeks were tingling, ears buzzing, my mouth dry and it seemed as if cotton wool was lodged in my throat. In that moment, in that eternity, everything disappeared – my audience, the birds, the flutter of the saris and the ‘puk-puk’ sound of the distant tube well.
Attya, with appropriate dramatic flair, pulled the sari curtain aside to reveal me. I took a step forward.
As I stood there, on that stage, in that moment, in that lifetime, stillness enveloped me. Everything came together, everything was comprehendible and everything was how it had to be. I knew it to be the world of a performer. I recognised this space to be mine.
I knew I was home.
Thanks gorgeous Vidya Balan for lighting up the frame.
Thanks Gaurang Shah for this adorable handwoven Kanjivaram sari (available at Vaya Weaving Heritage), Vinit Bhatt for photography, Jatin Lulla for fairy like touch, Shalini Sharma for this opportunity.
*Amma: mother, **Appa: father, ***Ajji: grandmother, ****Attya: father’s sister