Searching for the stylish.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
One afternoon The Delhi Walla arranged to meet Tina Babbar at her apartment in Sector 56, Gurgaon. A creative director with a TV production house, she has more than 100 handloom saris from across the country. This is astonishing because this charmingly chirpy woman grew up in a Punjabi family. And as any Delhiwalla will tell you, our cheerful and bubbly Punjabi women prefer the billowing salwar suit instead.
Ms Babbar confesses she used to look down upon the sari as something worn by women old enough to be ‘aunties.” But then she married the Tall Dark Handsome Lalit Balachandran and, as part of the deal, got a mother-in-law from Kerela who had a great passion for saris. Now in her late 30s, the former Ms Babbar possesses scores of Mangalgiris, Gadwals, Taants, South Cottons, Kanjeevarams, Patolas, Dhakais, Bandhanis, Chanderis, Kasavus and Mekhelas.
[Note to the reader: From this point, we’ll refer to Ms Babbar as Mrs Balachandran.]
Mrs Balchandran says that her husband’s mother, a retired school principal, played an important role in making her fall for the sari. Although once during the early years of her marriage, she did innocently mull over the idea of recycling some of her mother-in-law’s most beautiful dresses into window blinds for their 8th floor apartment.
But a great many Banarasi saris have been woven in Benares since then.
Wearing a black Gadwal cotton that has a burnt-orange silk border, Mrs Balchandran brings out some of her many saris into the drawing room and shows them one after another. The audience consists of her two little daughters, Anannya and Ishani, her mother-in-law, Meera, and a family friend Rajbala.
Here is Mrs Balchandran’s beloved ivory-colored Kasavu. “See the delicate gold border,” she says. The kitchen maid, Seema, comes out from the kitchen and joins the audience. And here is Mrs Balchandran’s stunning red-and-blue Kanjeevaram, with peacocks swarming over the sari’s border. “Just look at this lovely Mukaish embroidery,” she gushes, while unfolding a pink sari she bought from Lucknow.
It is impossible to believe that this woman was a stranger to the sari until a decade ago. “Putting on a sari meant too much planning and preparation,” she says, talking of the old days. “It was stressful. I constantly feared I would trip over my sari.” In fact, Mrs Balchandran would grow so agitated at the prospect of wearing a sari that her husband dreaded the moments when her anxiety levels would go up for not being able to get the pleats right. Her ease with the drape progressed over months and years. Today it is her most preferred dressing choice.
Next week Mrs Balchandran is going for a trip to South Korea to meet her husband; he is a Merchant Navy officer posted at a shipyard there. “Of course, I’ll pack my saris,” she says, taking out yet another sari.
Tina’s Sari world
1. (Tina Balachandran with daughters Anannya, right, and Ishani)
5. (Meera Balachandran)
8. (from left-Rajbala, Tina, Meera Balachandran)