“Jaya, the dress is totally faded,”
“That’s okay, Amma, but the jade green, with gold embroidery it is so beautiful” replied sushila’s daughter. Like this one here,
“I’ll get you another one from the fair,” promised Sushila,”This one is frayed,”
This was the same promise Tahira had made to Jasmine, her daughter when she took the dress, from her yearning hands to deliver it to Jemina Khan, the woman whom she worked for, it brought home 150/- Rs. For the day, that took care of the day’s expense. She had to run the house till Abdul returned from Kabul.
to care about weaving, to make weavings is to be in touch with a long human tradition. We have people woven, first baskets and then cloth for thousands of years, but for Tahira, it was her essence, the fabric long staple cotton from the fields of Egypt, were brought to by lanes of Lahore, Jemina Khan, the owner of the fashion house brought designs, they were cut by master darzee’s who tailored it to neat precision, the designs then traced out to the fabric they were embroidered by the deft hands of the women of the zanana all for measly wage of 150/ rupees a day. When it was sold in the markets of Arabia or Dubai to American women, it sold for more than what these women earned through the month.
To young Jasmine, Jemina, with her flowing hair, lipstick shined lips, and painted nail, was like the exotic bird from wonderland. The jade frock that ammi had embroidered would make her look like Jemina Bi, she would paint her lips with crayons, that Karim Bhai had brought back for her from last trip to London.
But Jemina bi had taken it all away, for a moment Jemina appeared a monster, but Jemina held out a little box to her, a box that still had a colours in it, Jasmine had seen Jemina paint her eyelids, and her lip with this.
“Bibi, don’t spoil her with this,”
“Tahira, you are not just a worker, you are a friend from school, and I have a new one, let the child play with it for few days.”
“Jasmine, “called out Jemina,
“Here is a twenty rupee; this is for being a good girl and understanding your ammi,”
Jasmine, held the precious twenty rupees in her hand, and the box of colours, to Tahira it was the ultimate nail, that reminded her how impoverished she had become.
Laila, the daughter of the American lady wore it along her India trip it was as if the chasm between the cultures of her father’s childhood land and her childhood land was meeting. The western cut of the dress, with eastern embroidery, the mute western jade colour, on an eastern fabric.
We could sleep but the loom of life never stops, and patterns which was weaving when the sun went down is weaving when it comes up in the morning so was Laila’s reality, trapped by the Jewish traditions of her mother, and rootless of her father, and the innate American culture. The reminder of her roots came alternate years when she visited her grandparents in a quaint Indian village for a week. This was okay visiting her uncle at Chennai, or aunt at Delhi, it was the village that fascinated her. Yet she could sense her father’s need to be detached from all of that. It was as if he wanted to eradicate all contact from something he was ashamed off. Of course daddy at Delhi was different from Dad at Chennai, or Dad at Bluefield.
She outgrew it, like she outgrew her quaint Indian roots, her sister Sheela refused to wear it, like she refused to acknowledge her Indian origin, the dress journeyed to Laila’s Indian cousin, shamala,
From being an exotic party wear, the dress had faded to being a comfort zone, to be worn to playground. The vibrant embroidery had faded the elegance and frivolity gone; it was a dress with a glorious past but now a familiar fading presence. Shamala outgrew it too, “It looks too old give it sushila, her daughter can use it”
So the dress had reached Jaya, sushila’s daughter. Of course the ironed frock, had come from America, never mind it was made in Lahore next door, but it travelled, like some of us forever, to seek other states, other lives, other souls, now it had come to rest.
Jaya saw the glimmer in the fading sheen of the gold work. The zipper that did not look like anu’s gold zip but was the same shade as the dress. The lingering fragrance of the deodorant that Shamala had used. The dress took Jaya to the wonderland of America. She had seen Laila and it made her feel that she was Laila, when she wore this dress. She had worn it to savitha didi’s wedding of course not for the main event but for those smaller one, where people dressed well and danced. This dress had a great status appeal; it was given by the “amreeka- didi”. The wedding season was over, so was the monsoon, the dress came out on Ganesh chaturti and one Navaratri dance, after which it the dress became part of her daily wardrobe, participating in the small and great triumphs of little Jaya’s life. And Now Amma had come up with this,
Her lovely jade and gold dress was cut up to mop the floor and dust the wardrobe. The wanderer rests in peace or should I say a piece?
Coming to think of it not all wanderers, are lost. Some of us travel for ever, seeking other states, other lives other souls.