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Feasting on Friendship

Last Sunday, a dear friend and I met for lunch. Although we live less than ten kilometers from each other, we meet less than five times a year. Our last rendezvous was at a breakfast event earlier this year, which she was hosting. In between entertaining others and keeping things in check, we hardly got the time to ‘catch up’.

So this time, there was a lot we had to fill each other on, mostly her trials at running her own business, interpreting mixed signals from a certain gentleman of interest, dealing with her supportive but anxious parents with regard to her 30-year-old unmarried status and mutual exclamations at the horrors being inflicted by our ex-boss at a company we began working for right out of graduate school.

If I had to pick a best friend (among women), she would be it. In addition to being classmates at college, we had found a common interest, namely, commuting from the same location to our classroom nearly 20 kilometers away. When I wasn’t playing (and praying for) the empty bus lottery, I would hitch a ride in her cantankerous white car. Our adventures in that disheveled beast included water puddles at our feet from the leaky roof, lizards resting behind the steering wheel and a disruption in our philosophical ramblings by the sudden demise of the engine on a highway stretch with no help. The final straw was the shocking disappearance of that crippled metal mass from outside the office where we had begun our journey together into paid labor. The car was finally retrieved but by then my friend had fallen out of love with it. She gave it away to the plumber and got a swifter ride. And it has been so long since the fateful day that even the second car is being done in for a fancier ride this October.

Lunch at Cafe LotaShe and I were born in the same year, nineteen days apart. Being zodiac twins meant that over the years we had shared horoscope defined drivel that was supposed to explain our lives. To no one’s surprise, it never did. As we dug into a steaming Vegetable Stew with Appam and an aubergine curd dish with parathas, the conversation veered towards our present lives that couldn’t have been more dissimilar. Even though we spent two years at our first job together, the ensuing joys and sorrows have been uniquely our own. And yet we have been few dialed numbers away, hers being among the few that have been imprinted in my mind, unmarred by memories going digital.

Even though we haven’t been very regular with our correspondence, we ease into it when we do meet. There are no shields, pretenses or hidden cobwebs. It’s confession closet and more.

Nothing compares of course to the one time she called, nearly three years ago after a very long gap.

“Heyyyy (the long drawl is a must for our greeting)! How’ve you been? Lets meet soon. It’s been forever.”

The usual drill is for us to decide time and place, dependent mostly on which new restaurant we want to try, and then we meet soon after. This one time however, when she called I was lying flat on my back having given birth to my little girl a few hours before.

“Dude, you are not going to believe this, but I’ve just had a baby. So, yeah let’s meet soon. Come to the hospital maybe?”

And then we laughed and laughed.

Apple Jalebi at Cafe LotaSince then we’ve met several times, always with the little girl who addresses my friend as her own while distinct aromas pepper our ramblings. This time they posed and paired and shared a meal. And we parted having amassed stories until next time and after discovering that I could enjoy a sugary apple treat (with the right company) even if I’d never given it half a chance before.

For all our feelings of sisterhood, when we meet or call each other to spill all, there are portions of each other’s lives we’ve narrowly missed. That is the shape of things with us and this is how I know we’ll always be; without ceremonious chatter or forced smiles, but almost always with savory bites and hungry ears, waiting to devour the tales of lost time.

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A Short History of a Six Yard Love Affair

2014-03-25 23.35.53-1This was the first time I wore a saree. ‘Wore’ is perhaps not the proper word for wrapped-around-clumsily. ‘Wearing’ a saree is an art one can only cultivate with practice over time. But this picture from the early nineties is certainly the earliest recorded saree moment in my life.

Most of what followed is lost in the tattered transparent sheets of countless albums and in unopened boxes in the corridors of my mind. And yet some of it resurfaced as I began to look back at my relationship with the six yard wonder.

At a Fancy Dress event in primary school (still in the early nineties) I found myself in a plain white saree (borrowed from a nurse at the local hospital) to play the part of Lady Justice. With the customary black ribbon across my eyes and a weighing scale in my hand, I walked onto the stage very slowly, trying hard not to trip or touch anything as my head, hands and face were all covered in multaani mitti (Fuller’s Earth) to complete the look. Perhaps I won, and if I didn’t it must have made me quite mad going through all the effort for nothing.

Next we fast forward to the school farewell, our official ‘Prom Night’. I say ‘official’ because this involved the school and teachers while another ‘unofficial’ version ended up being wilder. Every school girl awaited this glorious event with bated breath and only a hint of trepidation. ‘What must I wear’ was narrowed down to ‘Which of my mother’s sarees can I rock’. For me it had begun with a close battle between a plain black chiffon with a gorgeous zari border and the make-you-blind plain peacock-blue georgette. I had always loved how elegant, not to mention sexy, the black always looked on my mother. But the blue, oh the blue. If you had the figure for it, that wrap was a showstopper. Farewell time came after my two year pizza-every-week fatty phase, so the blue won. And of course everything went as planned till I walked into the party and found a classmate wearing a similar saree. Should have gone with the black. Bah Humbug!

After that, saree moments became largely restricted to family weddings, except for two instances in college. One involved a combined birthday treat of two friends at a pub in Delhi, where “Lets all wear a saree” turned the night into the wildest time a bunch of sarees must have had. All attempts to retrieve pictures of this event came to naught at the time of going to print.

2014-03-25 23.12.12The second college-saree hoopla was the farewell. This time I had no doubts what I was going to wear…Mamma’s black and breezy yellow polka-dot wonder. College was the time I realised that for all my I-wish-we-could-wear-pyjamas-everywhere belief system, what I was really beginning to get obsessed with was polka dots. Big, small, black and blue, I have a pair of dot shoes too. And so I drove more than 40 kilometers to and fro in that crazy yellow saree, which ended its day with a “We may forget everything else from this day but everyone’s going to remember you wore this saree” from a friend donning the blue in the picture.

My own, and many other, wedding-saree-events later, we get to my last rendezvous with a saree, which was at a wedding nearly three years ago.

Over the years I have been gifted several sarees, mostly by my mother carrying the unique designs prevalent in different parts of India back from her travels. Those and countless others have been locked up in suitcases that are rarely opened. I have also gifted my fair share of sarees to others and that had been my only encounter with sarees up until now.

Then last month we had a first. At a fair, amidst the clamour of drums, music and street food scents, I fell in love.

Under a stack of shiny materials my eyes caught sight of shimmering white cloth. I bent forward and pulled it out from the layers, discovering a bright orange, pink and zari border. I ran my fingers over it, trying to identify the texture of the piece with my limited knowledge of materials. I turned to the man at the stall to clarify if it was indeed the silk I thought it to be. He nodded in agreement. I held the fabric between my fingers yet again, just to be sure.

“Where is this from”, I asked.

“Benaras”, he said, and then added, “We only bring the best from our city here.”

I didn’t bother to interrupt the sales speak. I had already made up my mind.

2014-03-25 23.17.01Nearly 25 years after I draped a saree for the first time, I bought a saree for myself, my very own Benarasi.

That same day I also lost my heart to a peacock on cotton that journeyed from Bengal for me.

This is only the beginning of what promises to be a long and fulfilling love affair.