Twenty years ago, there used to be a Bengali saree seller who would come home to sell his wares. I don’t remember how he came home the first time but I do remember the first saree I bought from him. A grey taant with large borders. It was a saree bought soon after the firstborn came to be. The saree is long gone having been loved and worn before it died in Amma’s rough and ready use. A light breezy saree in an unlikely colour for a young mother but it whispered to me.
I digress, this is not the story of that saree but of the saree seller. Let’s call him Radhagobind. Him of the soft speech and unerring instinct of the sarees that were most likely to beckon you.
He would come around a few times each year and inevitably I would succumb to the lure of the six yards. It used to be almost like a choreographed dance. We’d exchange pleasantries and he would open his huge cloth bundles and start displaying the starched sarees that almost looked like little rectangular boxes. Radhagobind would keep a constant stream of conversation going as I swiftly sorted my favourite colours. He would then nudge my attention to the newer designs and sometimes it felt like there was nothing really to pick when he would conjure a beauty. I didn’t know the extent of the diversity in the weaves of our land and never bothered to find out the story behind them. As a young woman, all I wanted was a collection of sarees like my mother’s. Simple, elegant and timeless.
Now I wonder about Radhagobind. Where did he come from? Were the weaves from his family, his village? Did he leave his family back home as he trudged through the hot, sweaty streets of Bombay to earn a living? Did he ever sell all his sarees? What happened to those that didn’t find closets to call home? Did his wife wear any of those weaves? Perhaps she huddled over a loom and taught her children to conjure up designs as she sang songs of longing for her man out in the big city streets…
So many questions and Radhagobind is nowhere to be found. Part of a lost network of saree sellers, he dropped off somewhere as the malls sprang up and businesses went online. The mobile explosion hadn’t taken place and he was a nomad with his bundles. I wonder if he gave up the Bombay dream and went back to his village and stayed in the land of sweet sounds and beautiful women. There is a tailor in the neighbourhood who has the same quizzical expression as Radhagobind and what if, just what if, he is the same lost saree seller?
On an aside, I spoke to a young Bangla salesman to get a little detail on the sarees my old man bought me from Kolkata. He was eager to help but all he could tell me was that they were taants. I have a feeling that there’s a little more to a couple of the sarees. But, there’s the insta sisterhood of saree lovers that always comes up to share their knowledge.