I mentioned my grandma in my last post and it seems like a good time to stop and take a little look at her. My grandma was called Mary, she was a tall and slender lady and studying to be a typist. My grandpa Thomas Daniel met her in her early twenties and instantly fell in love with her and said he wanted to marry her. They married and were together till the end. I have always been told that she always very stylish and I never knew what that meant in sari terms but I the choice of print, colours and how she carried it off. My grandma was strong, devoted, humble, warm and charitable. I’m thinking now about what my granny’s relationship with Sari would have meant to her. If she were alive for me to ask her today, she would most likely brush off such questions as nonsense because wearing sari was natural as her own skin and effortless as breathing. She wore sari most days of her life as I’m sure the women of her generation did. It was a constant and part of her so there was never a need to adapt or change to other types of clothing. She would visit England a lot to visit her eight children and many grandchildren and she always wore sari.
She would stay with us in Newcastle when I was around five years old. Never one to idle about at home waiting for us all to return, she used her sewing skills and found a job in a button factory. I have to pause here and picture this. This was Newcastle around 1980, it was grey, cold and bleak and Margret Thatcher had been elected as Prime Minister. Over the next four years the north east would become a battleground of industrial action with the miners strikes and there was growing resentment against ethnic minorities. Against this backdrop my grandma went to work in a factory, staying true to herself in her sari. Looking back it was an incredibly brave thing to do and she enjoyed it and went back to the factory whenever she would visit us over the years.
I found out only about ten years ago that grandma hired out space for a Handloom business on the grounds of her house in Sri Lanka. They employed about 50 people working in a warehouse behind our house, which as a young child I never even knew existed. They would weave cotton mainly for tea towels. In Asian countries the relationship with cloth of all kinds seems so intrinsic with life from growing it in fields, harvesting and preparing it, weaving and dyeing and then wearing these saris and sarongs close to their bodies during the day and often to sleep in for many years, passed around mothers, sisters and daughters till they wore out. Even then the material could take the form of bedlinen, children's clothes and everything was handmade. It’s easy to see why my granny had no need to ever not wear her sari.
This simplicity, this constant and authenticity is something I crave, just like granny’s home always being a place of comfort and space to just be yourself. I tire of changing fashions, the cheap excess, marketing machines, factory worker exploitation and everything in the end going to landfill. There’s little relationship with our clothes and our lives and clothes themselves lack meaning. At the momentfor me, the sari is another form of expression but I have to admit, the more I look in my wardrobe of countless options and garment combinations, the simple sari it is becoming more alluring and even liberating.