Daily Archives: August 8, 2008

Tales from Inside the Trunk


Amrita had a dress like this. When she grew up, she made her mother use it as a mop. Amrita wishes she also had shoes like that. She'd have kept them. 😦

Every so often in our house, we have to force my mother to go through all her old stuff and throw some of it away. It’s not that she’s a packrat exactly – it’s just that given a choice, she’d rather keep something than throw it. The trick, therefore, is to not give her a choice.

Afterwards, she’ll sulk for weeks and has been known to bitterly reminisce about some faded, forty-year old saree that would have been absolutely perfect for an upcoming occasion if only her dastardly, cruel family hadn’t nagged her into giving it away.

“I bought in Bangalore before your father and I got married. Your Auntie S took me and Auntie J to her favorite shop and we were paying the bill when my eye fell on it and I knew I had to have it! It was so beautiful! Look at it!”

“But Ma,” I protest. “It’s so old, the silk tears if you simply stare at it too long.”

“Burn it,” my father mutters from the next room.

“That is not the point,” she says with dignity. “The point is they don’t make sarees like this anymore. Feel that weight? See that sheen? Look at that zari work.”

“It’s very pretty.” I stare at the pallu, which is falling apart.

“It’s beautiful. You don’t know anything!”

And sometimes, I really don’t. There is this bright, canary yellow Kancheepuram saree, for example, that my grandfather bought for her when she’d just graduated high school – she’s been trying to guilt me into wearing it for years. I wore it once, out of the goodness of my heart, and felt like a giant sunflower all day. It was the first time I’d ever worn a saree and it took me three years to get over the trauma of that outing. I think her continued insistence that it is a family heirloom indicates that she means it as a mark of her affection for her father and a desire to share some of her history with me, but sometimes I wonder if it’s punishment for some crime I don’t remember committing.

“It does wonders for your complexion,” she assures me.

“Then how come all I see is a big yellow ball when I look in the mirror?” I ask, tugging at the stiff silk as it insists on standing around me rather than draping on my body. “An ugly, misshapen ball with a giant butt.”

“Because you’re a stupid child,” she says in disgust.

“Burn it,” my father mutters from the next room.

Hmmm. But in all fairness there are things that make me go “awwww” when she pulls it out from some trunk she keeps hidden under some bed, away from our critical eyes.

“Look at this,” she said one day, pulling out a tiny, teeny frock.

There is a picture of me at age three, my face beaming with delight as one of my aunts holds me in her arms while her husband looks on. I’ve got the last remnants of my baby ringlets curling about my head, my milk teeth shining brightly, and chubby hands stretched out to whoever was taking the picture. I have on a lime green frock with a white bib and smocking on the front. She’s saved it all these years. I notice that the whole thing measures about 12 inches from shoulder to hem. It is absolutely darling and I wouldn’t remember wearing it at all if that photograph hadn’t created a false memory of it.

“How did you fit into that?” she marveled, looking up at me as I towered over her.

I smiled and looked back at her, wondering how I ever fit into her.

“Burn it,” my father mutters from the next room.


Posted by on August 8, 2008 in Personal