Artwork by Mariam Taufeeq
Strolling in the house on a Sunday afternoon, I found mama sorting out her wedding clothes. To my surprise, she wanted to give them away after nearly two and a half decades of storing them in an old wheel-less suitcase.
My mother believes that holding onto memories makes one weak, yet she carefully stores Nano’s handbag with dried motiya flowers in the inside pocket that nano probably forgot to throw out. Nano loved motiya flowers or so my mother tells me, which is why I occasionally pluck them for her. She believes holding onto material possessions makes one weak, yet she holds onto the baggage of Nano’s memories and loves the smell of the fresh motiya i pluck for her.
It had been years since mama gave away her navy-blue reception lehenga. The only dress she saved was her scarlet red baraat lehenga with the wide forest green borders. However, the soul of the outfit was its dupatta- scarlet red and forest green. The red chiffon of the dupatta was delicately laced with the green silk border. The sheerness of the dupatta was blocked by the large and small zari floral patterns. All the flowers in this arrangement were etched with golden wool and metal threads. The overemphasis on the gold colour was neutralized by the sequin embellishments in the middle.
Intricate small dabka flowers resembling cherry blossoms were embroidered with a golden metal wire thread where each petal coiled in loops and formed a large irregular-shaped circle with the flowers drawn together.
On the red chiffon part of the dupatta, the flowers nestled green sequins in the middle and the cherry blossoms on the silk forest green border held red sequins in the middle. The complementary colours on the green border and red chiffon seemed like two alternative universes bound by the recurring golden colour. Despite the fact that they are opposites, they complimented the colour contrast of the dupatta.
When I compare the dupatta I saw in the suitcase with the pictures in her wedding album, the golden wire zari threads seemed to have darkened over time. The pictures in her bridal room have this dupatta placed on the shoulders, while in the group pictures, it is draped over her hair.
Few and far between, you could also see the golden zardosi flowers at the end of the cherry blossom bunches that were the most intricately detailed. It looked like a cross arrangement…like a bluebell emerging from the pistil of a lily flower. The bluebell had shading strokes of red thread on its petals that glowed on the forest green border and green thread strokes on the chiffon part of the dupatta simultaneously.
Plain gota patti was arranged in four parallel semi-circles connecting one flower motif to the other. The outer end of the green border was exaggerated with recurring golden thread triangles.
I have always had my eye on this dupatta. Maybe because it appealed to me aesthetically or that it was held as a chaddar over my mamus on their Mehndi entrance. This is how the bride or bridegroom entered their dholki ceremony and the dupatta was placed over the Sofa where the groom or bride sat. Of course, now we have extravagant ideas of couples entering in boats, life-sized flowers, rickshaws, jeeps, and whatnot.
The mehndi ceremonies of all my mamus took place at my nano’s house. I had grown fond of this piece of flamboyant cloth; I cannot really pin down the reason for my affiliation with it. All I knew was that I wanted to keep this scarlet red chaddar.
You might have guessed it by now. My mother was unfortunately cursed with a hoarding daughter. Hoarding was a nightmare for my mother and yet here I was: the green alternative border to my mother’s chiffon existence. I later learned that my hoarding trait was originally demonstrated by nano when mama was exhausted giving away nano’s belongings when she passed away…some of which, including a few paintbrushes and hand painted mats I had kept for myself.
As she untied the knot of the makeshift dupatta gathri containing old fancy clothes of my siblings to give away, she also dragged the ancient suitcase from under her bed containing the red wedding dress. I could tell by the look on her pale face that she didn’t have plans to give it away initially, but her fondness with the lehnga tore away or the emotional attachment became so overwhelming that she was compelled to give it away. Maybe that lehnga held her back.
I will admit that I admire this trait in my mother to not be emotionally held back by material possessions, but I am far from this sublime state of mindfulness. She took her lehnga out and put it on the pile of clothes to give away. I had one question recurring in my mind: Why would someone give away something that they saved for nearly two decades? I tried to quietly take the heavy dupatta out of the pile, but I was caught in action.
She stared at me hoping the need to raise her voice wouldn’t arise. I begged her to not give this lehnga away, or at least keep the dupatta. She wondered why I wanted to keep it.
She asked, “Do you want to wear it at your wedding?”
I moved my head in dismay and said, “I want to revive the dupatta with a plain Anarkali dress”
She didn’t look convinced to which I finally revealed that I want this dupatta for my Mehndi ritual to hold onto this tradition. As a hoarder, my explanations for keeping things cannot be trusted because I usually never want to throw away anything.
Still not convinced, she sat with me for a minute telling me that I will have a new trendy chaddar for that. When I kept on insisting, she gave up and she revealed the real reason why she doesn’t want this lehnga for any of her daughters.
She said, “A widow’s baraat chaddar is far from an ideal choice…we used this as a chaddar for mamus’ Mehndi when your papa was alive. I would never let this be the fate held over your head on any occasion…have you ever noticed that people hesitate to invite widows at weddings?”
No further explanation was needed to convince me. For her, this dupatta was a recollection of a terminated marriage and a painful memory of her spouse that she was held back by. I find my mother to be a practical woman, but realizing that the woman who didn’t complete her iddat believes in a widow’s curse was desolating. While I would have otherwise fought for that dupatta because I don’t believe that the inanimate piece of cloth can have the potential to ruin my relationship, I now understand the pain affiliated with it.
When I hoard onto memories, be it mama’s letter to her khalas, her childhood pictures, papa’s page of calligraphy, nano’s handsewn woolen blankets, it does take me back, but not for the worse…after all, I haven’t lived through these memories. My experience with these antiques is to live a nostalgia I never belonged to. To mama, it serves as a stabbing reminder, forcing her to relive a memory that was otherwise neatly tucked away, out of sight.
Despite this difference, one thing was common: our intense love for the red dupatta, even though for different reasons, but for that brief moment, we realized how significant its presence was to cause pain to one while bringing the joy of upholding tradition for the other.
I wonder if the woman who wore this dupatta would have worn it knowing it belonged to a widow? Did her marriage last? Regardless, if I had a chance again, I would keep that red chiffon dupatta.
Now, I have my eyes on her black and silver sequin pouch.
By Noor Q. Malik