The most adorable sight that thy eyes can behold is that of a child in her first saree, her small strides burdened by girdles of fabric (quality immaterial) and her vain efforts to keep her anchol in place. She will carry a heavenly smile garnished by shyness, innocence and pride of being Mommy, at last.
Two small occasions are etched big in memory because of the loving sentiment they manifest. Abba's university mate, Nuruddin Ahmed Chacha (an anti-British activist with Bangabandhu) presented my daughter Eeman her first saree, red of course. The other is of me buying from the footpath at Asad Gate the first one, again red, for Mysara, my granddaughter. Their joy and exhilaration 20 years apart were indistinguishable.
Eeman now wears a saree stylishly yet most gracefully, well usually for some wedding or a major dawat. All grown up, and a mother to my grandson, even draped in a saree she remains the baby I held at Sheffield's Northern General Hospital during her first hour on planet Earth over three decades ago.
When we were BUET students in the mid-70s, Dipti one day arrived in a saree instead of her usual top and trousers, raising my eyebrows. Unknown to her my mind was doing a rotary blade trying to figure out whether I had forgotten any occasion; at that stage in a relationship that would have been suicidal. "All my regular clothes are at the laundry, this is all I had," she beamed. It's been 45 years, but saree can imprint that much of a lasting impression for its elegance.
My Amma died in a saree. She was of the jovial sort. 10 minutes before she breathed her last, she was merrily watching television, her funny side still alive. As she lay draped in white for her Janaza prayers, and me offering my supplication to Allah (swt), I could swear she looked as angelic as she appeared all her life in six yards of drapery. Her body was surrounded by aunts and sisters, colleagues and friends, almost all wearing the saree and reciting verses from the Holy Quran.
Perhaps the fondest memory I have of my Dadu, mother to Abba, is of her unfolding story after story on warm, sweaty evenings in the darkness that shrouded our village Sutiakati, Pirojpur in the non-electricity era of the late 50s. It took me to have my own children to realise that she almost always manufactured those extempore tales. We lay on a sheetol pati spread on the high brick plinth in our uthan. The Taal pankha swaying tirelessly by her wrist giving us tranquil moments among the restless jonaki. I don't remember what she wore. But, in the times gone by, it had to be a cotton saree, and white too.
In 1952, people of from all walks came on to the street in solidarity with the demand for Bangla as a national language of the then Pakistan. In the forefront of the daring michil defying armed police were women, many of them students. Dressed in sombre white saree, they exuded a powerful message to the Pakistan junta in Karachi. The women were looked upon as honourable voices of a nation prepared to make the supreme sacrifice for their mother tongue.
During our War of Liberation in 1971, "Bangladesh Mukti Shangrami Shilpi Shangstha" sang patriotic songs and presented cultural performances at refugee camps and localities in liberated areas to inspire freedom fighters as well as to lift the spirit of a war-affected nation. They moved in an open truck, carrying the banner "Joy Bangla". There were several women cultural activists among the Muktijuddho artistes. Their faces pale from the arduous journey, but they beamed stars that brightened our sky. And, by the by, they all wore saree, colourful sarees radiating the prospect of happier days…taara shudhu Bangalee…kadam kadam egiye choleche….
At the Bangladesh War of Liberation Field Hospital, women freedom fighters (doctors, medical students, and volunteers) served under severe inconvenience with minimal medical supplies and dismal equipment, wearing saree. Their dignified attire symbolised graciousness, the care of a mother, and the resolve to free a country under siege. There will never be a higher national ambition.
If not from the cradle to the grave, but surely from around six to her last breath, the saree has adorned womenfolk of the region for aeons. Its local appeal has periodically transcended national boundaries, its adoption of vernacular motifs has time and again found context elsewhere.
Symbolic of a mother's selfless compassion, a woman in piety, a daughter's metamorphosis to adulthood, a bride's journey to a new family, a grandma's magical prowess to bring down the moon as she weaves bedtime lullabies, the saree entraps acres of short stories, narratives and classics of millions of individuals over centuries. Above all, it epitomises the overall attitude of a Bangalee woman.
And yet we find the occasional child of the same 'Ma', her anchol at one time his only haven on earth, in the garb of literary practice, shaming the same saree. There is the atypical father who paints on it a stigma in exercising free prose. The out-of-character husband will spit forth rhetoric to portray sexism.
Reducing the garment to a flimsy cover of a body per se, such a chauvinist has lost the scent of his mother, forgotten the affection of his sister, and erased the tip on his forehead lured by his Dadu.
A person and an event are essential elements in any connexion, their respective attire no more than a respectable facade of their inner magnificence embodied in their personality.
Dr Nizamuddin Ahmed is a practising Architect, a Commonwealth Scholar and a Fellow, a Baden-Powell Fellow Scout Leader, and a Major Donor Rotarian.