Ever since I was a little girl, Dakshinapan in south Calcutta, had been a place of my dreams. On both its floors, stood different state emporiums full of each state’s specific handloom and handicraft. Utkalika, Manjusha, Mriganayani, Lepakshi, Gurjari and many, many more… You name it and it was there. Being an eternal lover of everything handmade, handcrafted and handwoven, I have spent many an afternoon looking at the gorgeous displays, mostly from outside the shops. Their beauty would often move me to slience. Sometimes, though rarely, I would step inside one or two of them and maybe buy a meter of handloom fabric, a cute pouch or a folder with stitchwork, something terribly small and insignificant that I could afford, just to see my dream world up close for a moment. Ah, those were the days.
Utkalika: Orissa Handloom Paradise
I got to know a while ago that today is National Handloom Day and it reminded me of a specific saree I have fancied for close to two decades now. It used to hang in display in Utkalika in the ground floor of Dakshinapan. I had seen it first when I was still in school, a bit of dazzle in black and red standing out remarkably even amidst other beautiful sarees. While my mother was busy shopping for more accessible and useful things, I had often gone dangerously close to the saree, my nose almost touching the thick glass, squinting my eyes hard to read its price from a price tag almost hidden in its folds. Rs. 7910/- it read. At least that’s as far as I could tell before an employee would inevitably come out from the shop and ask me if I wanted to go in. I would blush and move away, of course. But at night, when no one would be awake, I’d think about the delicate black pallu on the maroonish red saree. It had a bit of white in between to bring out the black. Its thick border had two layers of black and white rudraksha beads which made it inexplicably beautiful.
Yearning for an exquisite Orissa handloom
Years passed by. But every time I went to Dakshinapan, I found it still hanging there, blowing all kinds of minds with its gorgeousness. Did no one else like the saree? Was it too expensive for others as well? Were there more pieces and I was seeing a new piece every time? Questions used to come crowding in, only to be swept away by the magnetic charm of the saree’s beauty. I knew I could never possess it, but I was limitlessly grateful to just have had an opportunity to know of its existence and to see it at every visit.
My mother’s sarees…
My mother didn’t have expensive sarees. Her best sarees were printed Murshidabad silks which she sunned and ironed and folded and loved. The costliest saree I had ever touched at that point was my aunt’s yellow Baluchari. But this Utkalika saree was from another world, it was wild, almost refusing possession. I didn’t know what it was called, I just loved it from afar.
Now, after years of educating myself, I know that the saree was a bomkai silk, probably the most celebrated weave from Orissa. I know that the price I saw (or imagined) back then wasn’t probably as inaccessible as I had thought. I know that there are several other sources from where I can probably find a similar saree if not the same.But despite all information, I know my heart will forever belong to that specific red and black bomkai. I haven’t gone to Dakshinapan in 3-4 years and I don’t know when I will, next. But when I do, I promise that I will look for that dream saree no matter how relatively unremarkable it seems to my now experienced eyes. Because that saree won’t be for me. It would be for the 16 year old, slightly overweight, pimpled, unimpressive girl… the girl who, despite her crushing desire, was always very, very careful to keep a hairline gap between herself and the saree window so that her oily nose doesn’t leave a stain on the glass.
P. S. Till that day comes, here’s a consolation picture I just dug out from 5 years ago. This a suta luga I think, one of those few wedding presents I brought with me to Bangalore because time may have passed, but that middle class girl still loves everything handloom.