Of Fabindia, mismatched blouses and pseudo-liberals

I’ve been rummaging my mother’s wardrobe for hours in search of a blouse to go with my Fabindia Kota saree. I need the two to be glaringly mismatched, like that Carnatic singer-cum-mini celebrity on my Instagram feed. My mother doesn’t seem to get the idea though.


 

My initial impression on Fabindia was made when at a literature fest in Delhi, I saw their brand worn by seemingly well-read women and girls ladies. I knew I was moved for life as I watched similarly dressed others on national television express vocally their critique/opinions on issues of the nation-state.

That’s when I decided I too would paint my life not with H&M or colors of Benetton. I was ready to embrace the Fabindia life – not only elegant, in vogue (and ridiculously overpriced) but also a sign of brains, wisdom and good taste. I mean, sure you’ve to wash them separately in shampoo but I don’t mind as long as I distinguish myself as an intellectual. The JNU kind.

The sari of course must be draped carefully to look careless enough. That somehow lets everyone know I stand for Indian culture and ethnic produce. And my solidarity with impoverished artisans.

All those ajrakh prints in indigo and maroon that are expensive enough to kill, but worth it because they announce my elite upper class or at least upper middle class status. Urban, classy, refined, English-educated and well-grounded with the Indian way of life. (Because I have an enriched vocabulary with phrases such as impoverished artisans etc).
To be worn with mismatched blouses – not because I can’t afford to match them (are you kidding me?) but because that’s the brand.
You know, that Fabindia look.

The stuff goes great with shades so I can step in and out of my (armchair) liberal look whenever I want to. You can stop judging me, at least I care about equality. And human rights.

Also, I paid for this shit.

I mean, this isn’t your 200/- kurta that was bought on a bargain off the streets, this was available only in 4 sizes catering to international standards, the smallest size available was still GIGANTIC for the native me to fit into but I still took it. I deserve some respect.

It’s almost sad how some alter them though – hand them over to tailors seated behind rusted sewing machines. If all you wanted was for the clothing to fit, you might as well have shopped at Max. But of course I support individual’s right to choices (now that I don my liberal attire). One should shop wherever they want to.

My Fabindia style was also inspired by a certain left-leaning uncle, who happens to be a women-empowerment evangelist. Back in the day he had my aunt quit her job to feed his insatiable stomach three times a day. I mean, food is important you know? Fabindia hangs loose and comfy against his throbbing skin on blood that’s boiling for (other) women’s rights.

I haven’t been to Sarojini Nagar since I got my first fat paycheck – the chaotic air and the crowd slathering their sweaty bodies against mine isn’t worth it, I realized. Again, I’m too busy attending the meet-up/litfests I mentioned before. Now I’m one of them.

Although I admit I have heard awful things being accused of the Fabindian style – ‘not everybody can afford it’. But come on it’s affordable for almost all, I cry.

All except the impoverished artisans. And you.

I mean if everyone could afford it, I would go unnoticed in a sea of kalamkari weaves and ajrakh prints – that isn’t the status symbol I pay for. I seem to have mentioned classy, make that class-marker, shall we.

The other day, an ambitious junior walked into my cubicle while I was browsing through the website catalog on my PC. “That seems like a reasonable price for a Fabindia kurta. I can finally afford one myself”, she seemed delighted.

“Dear”, I tell her, genuinely apologetic and squishing a fly that as its final bad decision landed on my 9k Kota sleeve. “That’s the price of the dupatta the model’s wearing with the kurta, not the kurta itself”, I had to explain to the poor girl (no pun intended).
Thank god Fabindia upholds its values.

Hopefully she knows she can buy an entire wardrobe at Sarojini market for that money (make that four).
The dyes from both places are going to run out when you wash their clothes anyway.


I hit “post” on my new Instagram picture captioned “Couldn’t find a blouse to match but this doesn’t look too bad does it?” hashtag ethnic hashtag handloom hashtag Indian fashion.
Afterthought : I feel qualified enough now to add hashtag human rights. Another picture, maybe.

 

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Monsoon Diaries : Steel tumblers and tea in steel tumblers

I can drink tea directly from the steel tumbler at home – the smaller one with the steel handle – only when I have prepared it. Because with Amma’s tea there’s enough only for 4 modest-sized glasses (or 5 or 6, based on how many of us are missing from home), no more. And why would you drink from a tumbler if your glass had as much (tea) to offer? Unless you didn’t want to bother washing that extra glass.

We also have in our kitchen the steel tumbler with the steel handle in a bigger size, it lets me pretend I’m chaya-adikaling (beating tea?) over the kitchen sink that temporarily functions as a spillover tank for the tea I send flying all over. Usually little, if any, is left by the time I’m done performing the rhythmic beating (adikal).

Image result for south indian tea shop gifA scaled-down demonstration of beating tea. When you really perform the act, it should look something like this :downloadBeating tea/Chaya adikaling (to scale) for people who haven’t witnessed the sorcery. I’m a bad witch, I guess. Also a bad translator.

I specifically mentioned the steel handle of the steel tumblers because we also have in our kitchen a steel tumbler about the same size with a black plastic handle that we take kanjivellam (rice water), and occasionally tendercoconut water in. We don’t use it for much else, it lays abandoned in an unwieldy corner of the kitchen until somebody falls sick. And then all of a sudden it is everywhere you look.
(Kanjivellam has been claimed by Malayali Achans and Ammas and Ammummas and Appoopans to have high nutritious quality. Some go as far as assigning analgesic, antiseptic and antibiotic properties to the magical drink).

Since the arrival of June, the steel tumbler for kanjivellam with the plastic handle has taken over my home.

 


Evenings are for tea.
Mornings are also for tea but morning chaya would be Amma’s monopoly.
I like to be generous with tea, both for myself and others. It helps that I’m bad at discerning proportions, unlike my mother. There is not too much difference in our processes, only in our products.

Amma’s chaya (served in glasses) :

1. Pour enough water in the vessel for 4/5/6 people
2. When it boils, add enough Kannan Devan Tea powder aka chayappodi
3. Add enough boiled milk followed by enough sugar

Define enough? Quite ambiguous yet not exactly uncertain, rather open to interpretation. Are we doing modern art?
Enough is enough!

My chaya (served in glasses and a tumbler) :

1. Pour water in the vessel. Take some out if I think it’s waay too much but otherwise I do not meddle. Like I said, I’m generous. A little too much water = a little too much tea. And that never hurt anybody. No?

2. Add tea powder when the water boils – enough chayappodi to color all the liquid, doesn’t matter what shade as long as it appears brown. (If not, you probably shoved in the wrong condiment. Throw out the water discreetly and start over).

3. Add milk – how much ever is left in the paal paathram (also did I mention I’m generous).

4. Time for more tea powder because you knew that was waay too much milk before I even added it.
Yes indeed, waay too much is Amma’s daughter’s catchword.
Define waay too much? That’s cute, you’ll know.

5. Sugar, usually followed by some more tea powder. More sugar. What? Be generous.

And there you have it. The path to attaining high BP. But that never killed anybody. No?

 

I was middle class before being middle class was cool

I lived a major part of my life thinking we’re a poor family. It started when I was really young, like 5 or 6, was confirmed by the time I was 7 or 8, and stayed until I was done with my 10th (15 years). By ‘poor’ I don’t mean unable to afford meals, but more like we have the bare minimum and nothing more. Of course we weren’t anywhere close to rich, but I was young and I didn’t know there existed such a thing called ‘middle class’.

Yes we were middle class before being middle class was cool.

(Although I thought we were just poor).

I mean we’d lived in staff quarters since I was born (Engineering quarters till I was 4 and then Medical college quarters), I never owned more than 5 presentable (to non- relatives) clothes at a time, 4 cousins shared one double bed during summer vacations. That might be enough for a regular child but me being the self-centred kid I was, it was the more personal stuff that convinced me we were poor.

My parents were of the opinion that Manichechi (my aunt) already spoiled me by buying everything I wanted so they were under no obligation to make matters worse.

For starters, I never got any dolls from my parents – Barbie or otherwise – the fact that I never wanted any doesn’t matter. All little girls need dolls, okay? Buy your own daughter some dolls, for my sake. And when they paint monsters on the faces and detach all the limbs like I did is when you stop, knowing that she doesn’t deserve any. I also innocently checked under the frock for underwear (there wasn’t one), probably would’ve highlighted them as well.

In the evenings, Maami our maid cooked us snacks. On Maggi days, she boiled a single packet of Maggi and apportioned the noodles onto three plates. One packet for three okay?

These were only subtle hints my parents were throwing at me. There were more cruel ones.

I don’t think anybody could relate to Swamy (from Malgudi Days of course) more than I could. (Well maybe Achu Annan could). When Swamy prepared the Shopping list for Swamy and had to think hard to make sure those few things he jotted down were the only ones he needed and reflected at how his needs were so little, I must tell you I already knew he was stretching it a bit too far. Of course only to have the list brutally dismissed by his father’s “Take whatever you want from my drawer, I don’t have money to spend on all this.” I was relieved to know there existed other households like mine, if only in books.

The first time I asked my father explicitly for pencils (I don’t know why I remember it this way but it was really explicit) he cheerfully replied “Oh why didn’t you tell me you wanted them” and bought me a whole packet of Apsara HB. The next time I decided to cheerfully ask since I had such a considerate father, he asked me what I’d done with the bunch he bought me the last time.

You needed to reason for everything. Buying groceries at the Margin Free Market, he’d stand in billing queue with the full basket and say “Now go grab whatever else you want quick”. Pleasantly surprised (it was my first time, how would I know?), I picked up no less than what my tiny arms couldn’t carry. My father cross-checked the items and only what I really needed went in, plus 3 kitkats.

Next time on I had to pick things up before he stood in the queue so he could filter out Paru’s excesses. Trips to Margin Free ended that way, me attempting a critical examination of my own choices (really I was only trying to decide what I could hope to coax him into buying).

We always bought new clothes for Onam and Christmas and Deepavali but it was usually my uncles and aunt who took us shopping so I assumed we probably didn’t have much money to spend on that, or whatever grownup reason they had. And we never owned anything fancy at home or to wear.

At British Library we could pick 5 books among the 3 of us from WonderLand kids’ section (alright 2 since Achu Annan hardly cared about it) and I was under so much pressure to finish reading as many books as possible while we were there so I could take home other books. And I would negotiate with Kannenan, how many do you want to take? 3? Why are you picking THAT it doesn’t even look nice – if you’re taking 3 today it’ll be my turn to take 3 the next time. (*scrunches up face* you HATE books, why’d you do that to me Mr.Kannan, why?)

British library taught me I should always space my kids properly.

Also our Medical college quarters was so stuffed with all the furniture. During powercut nights you could hear Lagaan songs playing from Achu Annan’s Walkman and I would be choreographing my way through all the clutter, dancing wondrously until my toe hit against a stupid tea-pow. I’ve learned over the years that no matter how big/small the living room or even the house, my father will find a way to fill it with furniture.

So the time that I was very young I don’t know if I thought we were poor as in poor poor (‘tight’), but I knew that our lives had a lot of constraints. Also read : you can’t always get what you want, you may almost never get what you want unless your parents are in a good mood, ESPECIALLY if it involves spending money. And I took it upon me to correct them if any friends had the notion that ‘college professors and doctors earn reaally well’. (I don’t anymore since they revised the Pay scales).

I only realized when I was 15 that I’d vaguely thought of us to be people without money. (Some things you don’t realize, they’re solemnly understood, or something like that.) What happened when I was 15? My second brother went to college somewhere poor families probably don’t send their kids – no it wasn’t somewhere superposh but you don’t know how unresourceful I thought we were. You should’ve seen my face when I asked Amma if we could afford it and she replied with a suddenly formal ‘both your parents have been working since before you were born, we should be able to afford education’.

I was furious with her for almost a month after for letting me believe we were poor (it’s still true we didn’t have a lot of money) but of course I was happy we weren’t anymore. Not that we lived any different post-realization.

From time to time I complain to Amma about how I had to compress all my Shopping Lists for Paru just like Swamy did, and how having 3 kids was a bad idea and they should’ve had just me. Well you turned out fine (define fine? :D), she says, now get a good job and you can have kids and raise them the way you want.

She only says that cos I already told her if I ever have kids I’ll leave it upto her to raise them.

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Also, 2 kids maybe fun but 3 is the best 😀