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Ammi's old trunk
It used to be an annual winter ritual - my time with her, when she'd take out all her old saris, angarkhas, fragile chiffons and tissue-and-brocade dupattas to sun them on the terrace. Each one had a story woven into it.
The winter sunning was a ritualistic affair that Ammi was fanatical about. The day would begin early with her trying to hurry through the cooking and cleaning. Almost always it'd be a simple but perfect meal of daal-gosht and rice with a cucumber-carrot-mustard pickle. By ten o'clock, she'd be done and I'd wait with mounting anticipation for her to unlock the old green trunk in the bedroom.
The first thing to waft out was the smell of cloves and dry tobacco and neem leaves - an old but fragrant smell.
I had my favourites in that trunk. Ammi knew this and teasingly she would fish them out last - or so I thought. It was not the case, as I found last year when I opened the trunk alone.
It was all about taking out each outfit carefully, unwrapping the muslin, gathering the cloves and the leaves in another square of cloth to be used again, and piling the outfits neatly on the bed. It so happened that my favourites were deep down in the trunk and took some time to surface.
The red carpet in the living room was carried to the terrace and thoroughly beaten by the maid before Ammi's treasure was laid out on it. Ammi and the maid would take each dupatta and each sari and gently shake out its secrets.
There was the stunning orange-and-black tissue dupatta threaded with silver and edged with a brocade border. It had been specially woven by the Banarasi neighbour in Surat at the behest of Ammi's dadaabba for her first reading of the Quran when she turned four.
I'd drape it over my head and prance about the house pretending to be a bride, pulling shy faces, making Ammi roar her big-hearted laugh. There was the delicate gold sari, which her nani left her as her inheritance. Ammi's nanaamma had nobody to support her financially;she lived all by herself in a small house with a jamun tree outside the window through which the cool moonlight filtered. The story goes that on the nights she prayed the tahajjud namaz, she'd find three or four gold coins under the jaanemaaz. The peach brocade gharara with a velvet top and silver gota work on the neckline still retains its nawabi stamp. It was worn by ammi's nani, ammi and me. Perhaps the most spectacular was the transparent organza fuscia angarkha to be worn with a backless blouse embroidered in gold thread with silver gota underneath. Ammi would insist that the older generation knew how to look sexy without revealing too much. Each sari was hand woven for Ammi's trousseau. The mustard-and-gold banarsi is still my absolute favourite. The silk is threadbare now in some places, but as I hold it against my cheek, I can still remember the stories she told me. I hope this does not end with me.
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