I remember the gentle rat-a-tat of my tiny feet against the cool steel surface of the almirah. How I’d make my way up to the top shelf, balancing on my toes with my heart throbbing in my chest and all the way up to my ear-drums. I could hear my breath, rapid but soft, rhythmically tuned to my heartbeat. The almirah’s rusty hinges creaked as I clambered up, giggling to myself as adrenaline flooded my system. Now balancing in-between two shelves, I’d stare up at the wooden box draped in silk. Almost involuntarily, I’d reach out for it with trembling hands, slightly afraid of being caught one more time. But I was unapologetically rebellious. After all, the heart wants what it wants and I was not the type to give up.
Before I knew it, my mother would be standing right behind me and I’d immediately come scampering down the cupboard. She would glare at me as I’d trace my steps back to the ground. I had only ever seen the embroidered saree in photographs. Some scattered in a random box in the cupboard and others kept neatly filed in gold studded albums. It is sacred, so I had been told more often than ever. A rite of passage. It was only ever meant for something auspicious like holy communion and I was barely seven years old. Eventually, my curiosity faded and so, I stopped trying to climb up the rusty almirah. I almost even forgot about it.
Until a few years later, I reached out for the wooden box again. This time, with my mother’s permission. Eight yards of unwrinkled, dull gold silk curled up against my fingertips as they dipped in and out of the meticulously embroidered motifs. Eight yards of my family’s matrimonial ensemble in my arms. One stitch delicately interspersed with the next, adorning the fabric in perfectly embossed geometrical patterns. Mosaics and lattices. Floral and paisley. The intricacy was hypnotising. It made my head spin with adoration.
I went back to look at the photographs. Four generations of women in my family elegantly draped in the paisley-patterned silk fabric. Each one, carrying the roots of our heritage with unwavering pride. Weaved in-between the Lucknowi embroidery, are a hundred love stories that bind my family together, and more than a million that describe those fostered by the Indians and the Mughals. An amalgamation of timeless endearment.
Sometimes, I like to imagine wearing it myself. Wrapping the soft silk fabric around my waist, pleating it and letting it uncoil towards the floor. I imagine myself beaming in printed photographs that cradle a love-story of their own. And all I do, is wonder if I too will carry the embroidered legacy with the same charm and poise as my ancestors once did. A feeling of pride and euphoria doused in elegance and grace engulfs me. A small, yet powerful sense of individuality tucked in-between a hundred embroidered love-stories from history.