Tales from Inside the Trunk

08 Aug

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


15 responses to “Tales from Inside the Trunk

  1. memsaab

    August 8, 2008 at 2:44 pm

    Send her old sarees to ME! I will appreciate how gorgeous they are 🙂

    Lovely post, especially you wondering how you ever fit into her!

  2. Kanan

    August 8, 2008 at 3:04 pm

    ROFLMAO.. awesome post!!! loved it so much.

    The “burn it”s were hilarious. I think this is quite a common story. I remember I had a salwar made out of a saari (mom’s) that was made out of a pagdi/saafo (great grandpa’s). You’d think it would look horrible after all these decades, but it was like she said was “so beautiful” 😀

    But I know what you mean. *sigh* why is it so hard to let go of stuff that has sentiments attached with it? I never understood.

    Btw, baby Suri looks so adorable. She’s grown up so much now! Wow…

  3. M

    August 8, 2008 at 5:09 pm


    you sure we don’t share a mother? It’s either that or they are twins separated at birth 🙂 Not in the saving stuff dept – in the taste of clothing dept!

    I had the same polka-dotted dress as a baby, and amma made a similar one for my daughter when she was a baby!

    But very aww..inducing post…I LOVE old saris and have some samples from my grandmothers and grand-aunts. Gorgeous old Kanjeevarams, that are very frail now, but so lovely still. Am very glad to see some of these old designs coming back.


  4. pitu

    August 8, 2008 at 6:28 pm

    OMG send them to meeeeeeeeeeeee. I am the family packrat- my mom always has a heap of purana saris in a carton for me when I visit India and I take They hang in my closet and some are sooooooo old that they tore while being folded.

    I even screamed when my maasi tried to throw away her old, old, uniform saris (She’s an air hostess). So I took them all 😀 Now I have purana Indian Airlines saris in my closet in all their 70s and 80s glory. I also kept my grandma’s cotton saris and my mom’s dupattas. I keep EVERYTHING.

    I was in India this Feb and I spotted my mom’s bright pink faded caftan in an old carton so I quickly stuffed in my suitcase. Our cat tore it from the waist down on the left but it’s in my closet 😀

  5. pitu

    August 8, 2008 at 6:42 pm

    btw your dad is adorable. BURN IT!

  6. Partho

    August 8, 2008 at 10:08 pm

    Tales like these are what people read blogs for. You’ve made a lot of people’s day. Burn it Hee Hee.

  7. Rada

    August 9, 2008 at 2:57 am

    Nice, delightful post!

    More on the same lines, Amrita, please! 🙂

  8. terri

    August 9, 2008 at 1:08 pm

    I must be a very bad mom 😦
    I never save anything – no clothes, no toys, no artwork, no notebooks from 3rd grade, etc.
    Am, you could’ve posted your childhood photo instead of Suri’s.

  9. burn the PPCC too

    August 10, 2008 at 10:38 pm

    Aww, a lovely post.

  10. narendra shenoy

    August 11, 2008 at 12:14 am

    Brilliant! Enjoyed immensely. 😀

  11. desigirl

    August 11, 2008 at 1:05 pm

    You evil child!!

  12. dipali

    August 12, 2008 at 1:24 pm

    Lovely post, Amrita. Don’t burn it:)

  13. Amrita

    August 12, 2008 at 2:07 pm

    Well, now I know where to send my kabaadi 😛 You don’t actually think we got her to throw her beloved items away, do you? Oh no, she keeps all the sarees she loves but can no longer wear in a big cupboard in her mother’s house that she opens once a year to refold everything and gloat over. Sigh, I love my mom.

  14. jyothi

    August 20, 2008 at 3:41 am

    Loved it!!Loved it!!Loved it!!
    Absolutely reveled in the familiarity of it all:)
    Especially loved ur dad’s punch “Burn it”!!

  15. Amrita

    August 20, 2008 at 2:49 pm

    Thanks Jyothi 🙂

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