For someone who likes specialized fabrics, a trip to the sari store is nothing short of miraculous. As breath-taking as the cascades of colored lights falling off the buildings for Tihar (celebration of light), the walls of the sari store are a brilliant mosaic of color from floor to ceiling. The colors are blinding, yellow, red, blue, orange, green, purple, trimmed with gold and silver, embroidery and/or beads. The brocades are mesmerizing. I realized that I didn’t actually know what a brocade was, so I looked it up :
Brocade fabrics mainly consist of solid or multi-colored silk threads, often times combined with gold or silver metallic threads.A brocade is woven by adding a supplementary weft to the weave, creating the illusion that sections have been embossed into the fabric, or embroidered on top of it.
The result is nothing short of magical.
I couldn’t wear any of these astonishingly bright colors, my skin would look yellow, but they do look beautiful against the dark skin of Nepali women. For my part, all I want to do is soak myself in the visual bath of color. I imagine my neurons firing at lightening speed, trying to keep up with the onslaught of new stimuli. Drunk on color, I wondered if I would have a hangover later.
Do you want a party sari or a household sari? My cab driver, Narayan, asked me. The party saris are very expensive. But of course, the dazzled bejeweled saris must be party saris. I didn’t know that there were two types of saris until he told me.
Today I saw four women, one in red, one in blue, one in green, and one in yellow, all trimmed in either silver or gold, walking along the street, presumably on their way to a social gathering that required a “party sari“. I wondered if they had purposed planned to wear different colors. They were exquisite.
Now I wasn’t planning on buying any saris when I came here, since I would not wear one, but I had a dream the other night about sewing quilts from silk saris and I realized that I could add some saris to my growing fabric collection at home. The stacks of color are waiting until I am too old to traipse around the world and am looking for a hobby for the home-bound. I don’t want the solid colored saris, I want the rarer, and presumably more expensive, brocade ones.
When I walk into a sari store, I am rendered speechless by the choices as well as by the colors. Entire walls are filled with folded saris of every color combination imaginable. I presume that Nepali women know what they are looking for when they walk into a sari store but, for me, I have no idea and am reluctant to ask the clerks to pull them off the shelves and out of their plastic wrappers just so I can look at them. I am not ready to buy one yet, but I would love to be able to “window shop”, but it really isn’t possible when everything is wrapped in plastic and sitting on shelves or in little cubbies. And so I walk by, peering at the shelves as if I could will the right one to reach out and choose me.
I continue to be bemused by the magic of color in this country. Even with its brightly colored cottons, Rwanda seems drab in contrast to the enthusiastic celebration of color found in Nepal. Perhaps it is the embellishments, the silver and gold trim, yet I found fabric in East Africa with gold and silver. It was all a heavy cotton. Perhaps it is the tremendous variety of relatively delicate fabrics, silks, cottons that are so light you’d think they were silk, cashmere so fine that you don’t even know that it is wool. Whatever it is, the seas of color in which I am able to immerse myself are seductive. They lure me closer and closer. I can’t seem to walk away. Saris, houses, temples, everything is awash with color, a celebration of the best that life has to offer by any standards. Even the layers of dust do not completely subdue their vibrancy and their enthusiasm.
Today I stood in the sari section of one of Kathmandu’s superstores, it was the original Bhatbateri my cab driver told me, now there are many in different parts of the city, including the one near my house. I reached out to gently touch a long multi-color brocade skirt that came with a brilliant royal blue scarf and a clerk suddenly appeared at my elbow. I opened the scarf, it was trimmed in brocade.
Where is the top? The clerk pointed to a corner of the fabric, I wasn’t sure what she was trying to say, that I would sew the top from a piece of this fabric, or something else. I wished I spoke Nepali. I wished that I wasn’t so overwhelmed visually. I wished that my eyes could discern the select few that I might want and ask to see them. But I couldn’t, every shelf, every rack, everywhere I looked seemed to beckon me.
Come over here! Look at me! I am the best! I am the brightest! I will make your heart sing if you come closer to look at me! Touch me! Buy me!!
I finally admitted defeat for the day. I folded the skirt and the scarf and left them where I had found them, to wait for someone who knew what to do with them to come along.
Driving home we passed multiple sari shops.
Is this where all the sari shops are?
Yes, but they are expensive here, Narayan explained.
Where are they not expensive?
Mangal bazaar in Patan.
Ahhh…. now I know where I am going to go the next time I want to be seduced by the magic of dancing color.