by Roxann Sharma
(Fatorda, Goa, India)
My love of sarees is a lighthouse which beckons me home and is the compass showing me the path of return to India.
My affinity for sarees was not born out of familiarity with the garment. I did not grow up in a home where I saw my mother or any other relative wearing sarees. I did not grow up in environments where Indian aunties, barely touching five feet tall, unabashedly walked the streets in sarees. I was not witness to seeing the beauty of this garment hidden underneath bulky wool sweaters.
So, I do not know from where my passion for sarees sprung. My only guess is my genetic pool. Like those heavy silk sarees stored in almirahs waiting to be worn, my love for sarees lay dormant waiting.
My curiosity about sarees began when I decided to make a trip to India in my thirties. Artesia Boulevard in Los Angeles is known as Little India. It is where I went to purchase my first sari. It was rani pink and sheer. It conjured up in my mind images of Bollywood heroines, Kashmir, and romance. After purchasing the pink candy floss, I eagerly counted down the days until my departure for India.
But like most things anticipated, reality is the enemy of the imagined.
When I arrived in India, I quickly discovered that the sari is not a garment to be thrown on like a pair of jeans and a t-shirt. The first day I wore my sari, I felt like a little girl wearing my mom's clothing rather than a sexy Bollywood heroine. The sari fell off several times. Not knowing how to control the excess fabric around my legs resulted in me repeatedly tripping. Secondly, I discovered that wearing sarees on a daily basis was a "maid thing." Only at shaadis did most Indian women don their sarees.
Despite constantly being asked why was I wearing a sari, I continued. The more I wore sarees, the more apt I became in draping and carrying them.
For me, the sari is one of the few tangible documents I have which attests to my identity. My great grandfather was a young child when he and his parents left India for Jamaica.
The journey was arduous.
Women were raped.
Disease was rampant.
My great grandfather's parents died on the voyage, leaving him alone in a foreign land. An English family, took pity on him, and adopted him. They changed his name and taught him about God. Their act of magnanimity saved him but also further problematized connection with India. The bodies of the dead who died on the voyage across the kala pani were simply thrown overboard the ship into the midnight blue waters. Like them, my family history is buried in a watery grave.
Wearing my sari is how I connect to a past of which I know little. Every time I wear this garment, I smile coyly.
Because my sari speaks. It says your agenda failed. It says you failed in your attempt to disconnect me from my past.*****