After months, or possibly years of borrowing from Mother, or wearing hand-me-downs from sisters and cousins, or, if you’re lucky, brand new ones tossed your way as gifts, you come to the big milestone: buying your first formal sari. Although this is just one of many rites of passage in the complex tapestry of life in Dhaka, or indeed, a good chunk of South Asia, this is nevertheless, an important one to any Dhaka woman.
This monumental event is not to be confused with the casual trip to Gausia for that printed cotton or georgette to wear to a campus do, no. This is something far more monumental, more ‘personal’, more so if you’re paying for it, but even if you’re not, this is the first time you are picking one that will define your individual style at the season’s biggest events. And so the hunt for the perfect one begins.
Where to start? There’s no dearth of options! You could head out to the shiny malls in Gulshan, Dhanmondi and Uttara to check out the latest Bollywood chic fare. Whether it’s a sari inspired by recent blockbusters, or something from the upcoming releases, you’re bound to find something there.
If you prefer something closer to home, then there are always the designer boutiques with their big brand names, and reinterpretation on traditional weaves. Maybe, just maybe, though, you might want to experience Mirpur Benarasi Palli.
Straddling Mirpur 10 and 11, comprising some 110 shops, this community of weavers originally hailing from Benares and Bihar have long made a home for themselves in the heart of Dhaka. On an off-season afternoon, should you head that way to commence your search for that perfect first sari, you will be transported to a world of quaint long-forgotten gentility.
Step into any one of the stores; the older, the better to experience the magic of the quest. You are greeted by eager attendants, who will usher you to a seat and listen intently to whatever it is that you’re requesting. If it is something that their store holds, the search begins right away; if not, they point you towards a store that will have what you are seeking.
Fantasy lore has numerous anecdotes that state that it is the sword/wand/dragon that chooses the person, not the other way around. If you leave yourself in the hands of these experienced craftsmen, they’ll have you believing the same about your sari. The petite belle? A nice fluffy Jamdani to add volume. The willowy woman? A sensuous Katan that clings to her curves. While you lose yourself in the spell of their compliments, they pull out their wares, unfolding, pleating, frowning over colours and weaves as they consider the merits of each. Yards of fabric cascade to the carpeted floor to lie in indolent pools of colour, jewel tones reclining by the softest pastels.
Finally, you see it. The Sari. The one that stands out amongst the rest, the one you can envision yourself turning heads in. Suppressing a squeal of excitement, you hurriedly seek out a few ‘back-up’ choices, and then proceed to bargain out a suitable price. Thus begins the next stage of the quest, a polite dance of words, smiling negotiations, more melodramatic than 70s cinema.
You plead with the vendor to consider your emaciated wallet; he sighs and claims that you are breaking his heart. You pretend to walk away, dejected. He calls you back, begging you to reconsider. You stand your ground, declaring that in spite of the beauty of the sari he holds in his hands, you cannot spare another paisa. He relents gracefully. There are satisfied smiles around, and as your conquest is carefully folded and packed into a box, someone is sent out to fetch soft drinks to celebrate with.
After the money exchanges hands, and the shopkeepers have exacted a promise that you will return, you step out, head held high, arms proudly bearing not only The Sari, but also another one that you have been convinced to purchase, ‘because it makes you look like a fairy princess’. During the ride back home, you feel transformed.
Model: Isha and Ana
Photo: Sazzad Ibne Sayed
Wardrobe: Manick Banarasi
Makeup: Farzana Shakil