Mama’s Saris

Did you grow up combing your Barbie’s blinding blond locks? Rooting around a Crayola box for the “Burnt Umber” or “Ochre” since “Flesh” looked nothing like your own? Ahh…those self-conscious days are over (for the most part) since that crayon is now “peach,” Bratz dolls come in all shades of colors (and flavors of sluttiness), and there’s even a magazine for young South Asian kids (Kahani) that’s as awesome as Highlights! (OK, fine. Kahani‘s a lot smarter. If IQ=DQ aka “desi quotient,” I wouldn’t be writing in this space, mmkay?)

mama's saris small.jpg

Anyway, adding to this glorious list for sepia kids – longtime Sepia commenter, meetup regular, and all-around lit-star Pooja Makhijani just published another book! Mama’s Saris is a beautifully illustrated children’s book about a young girl mesmerized by her mother’s luscious sari collection, yearning to play dress-up, to grow up to be like just like her mother.

Pooja is already well-known as the editor of the sensitive essay collection Under Her Skin: How Girls Experience Race in America and has written for many youth/teen magazines. Most remarkably, she writes about universal childhood themes (such as wanting to wear your mother’s clothes to feel grown up) in a South Asian context, with very specific desi details.

While most of us look back on our childhoods with adult eyes, Pooja somehow retained the uncanny ability to delve into the past and write about it with a childlike sensibility intact.

Reading this book, I remembered my mother helplessly shooing me away as I tried to catch the gold lights in her party saris with my grubby hands…and the time we went shopping for the first sari I could call my very own…

I think I’m going to buy another copy as a gift for Mother’s Day. I’m keeping this one for a daughter I may have someday.Pooja.jpg

In her Author’s Note, Pooja writes:

When I was a child, my friends and i used to pull out our mother’s fancy clothes and play “dress up.” I remember all of us trying on hats and shawls and scarves and gloves, falling over in leather pumps and getting tangles in colorful costume jewelry…

For me, it was my mother’s saris – her dress-up clothes – that were captivating. They were every color you can imagine – apricot, olive, green, sepia – and had names like Baluchari (saris woven with animals and kings and scenes from Indian myths), Banarasi (timeless silks from the nothern city of Varanasi), Kalamkari (hand-painted saris)… Since her saris were too much for me to handle, I would instead steal her dupattas… and drape them the way I thought a sari would be arranged. This compromise sufficed until I was tall enough to wear her saris and, finally old enough to buy my own.

I wrote Mama’s Saris after realizing that my own fascination with my mother’s fancy clothes was not unique. It seemed as if each of my female friends, regardless of ethnicity or age, remembers being captivated by her mother’s grown-up clothes. By dressing up like their mothers (and emulating everything else that they did), they would be just as beautiful, too.

Oh, and she keeps her own collection of saris, “carefully folded in a suitcase under her bed, just like her mother does.”

Damn. That’s it. I’m off to go call my moms before I embarrass myself by dissolving into a flood of sentimental tears right here.

34 thoughts on “Mama’s Saris

  1. Have ordered this from – can’t wait to see it. My 4 year old daughter (and actually even my 6 year old son) love to see me dress up in my “Indian clothes”. Needless to say, all my sarees are from my mother who had a serious addiction to Kala Niketan in Bombay in her hey day. I never wore them too much until recently when I discovered the “fake wrap around” saree. Now a bunch of my sarees have been converted and I wear them whenever I can! Who needs a basic black dress when you have a hot pink, green and gold saree 😉

  2. This book is gorgeous (and my company published it!), I have already sent a copy with a sentimental message written inside to my mom for Mother’s Day.

  3. I’ve been waiting for this book for so long I’m bursting at my seems right now. I’m so excited. Can we please know if there is going to be a signing. I want to go get my girl Pooja to sign it for me and mom will get a late mother’s day gift. She will love it. I

  4. 🙂 I heart this book, and Pooja.

    Cicatrix, you no longer have to worry. Crayola now has Multicultural crayons.

    Speaking of Crayola… when I was a kid, one of my teachers told me that Burnt Sienna “couldn’t” be my favorite color, even though it’s #44 on the list.

  5. i’m sure i couldn’t possibly handle reading this book right now…. it’s way too much of a tearjerker! but my mom has a bit of a sari obsession and i can’t blame her. she looks fabulous in them. i learned to wear them just like her (with the chhedo unpinned and falling off her shoulder)… if only i could figure out the patli in the front!

  6. i’m totally reviewing this book in my magazine. and of course, getting a copy for mommy, too.

  7. Congratulations Pooja! The cover looks beautiful. I enjoyed your interview with Mitali. May the book be a huge hit.

  8. Thank you, everyone, for your kind words and support.

    Cicatrix, many thanks. I hope your mother enjoys the book.

    Munira, I have a serious addiction to Kala Niketan.

    Uma, wow. Your praise means so much to me; I’ve admired your work for so long. I just read Remembering Grandpa this weekend. The book moved me to tears.

    JoaT, I am doing one reading/signing in NYC on May 24. It is a fundraising event for a New York City-based nonprofit, Girls Write Now (GWN). More details here. If you buy a copy of the book that day, part of the proceeds will go to GWN. (I will be doing other programming for children, parents, and educators in LA, Toronto and in the New York Metro over the next few months and into the fall.)

    shlok, I grew up in NJ, so I am especially excited to see a review of the book in DesiNJ.

    Nina, isn’t Elena wonderful? You can see more of her art from the book here. (Click on the graphic to enlarge.)

  9. I love this post. It brought back so many memories. Thaks for writing, both cicatrix and Pooja.

  10. Hey now! As much as I’d like to bask in Pooja’s reflection, I just wrote a half dozen words about her. I’m totally the cheerleader on this one 😉

    The book is so worth getting. The artwork is gorgeous, and unlike other South Asian story books for kids, this one is distinctly for South Asian Americans. I’ve been wearing saris more often lately (by that I mean I just started wearing saris to non family things) so this made me go dig out my own sari collection (in a bag, in my closet…what?!!! they’re folded at least!) and spread ’em out gleefully on my bed..

  11. cicatrix says:

    unlike other South Asian story books for kids,

    Um, not entirely true. Ruth Jeyaveeran’s The Road to Mumbai, and my books The Closet Ghosts (illustrated by Shiraaz Bhabha), and The Happiest Tree (illustrated by Ruth) are also out there in the picture book department.

  12. Interesting, lekin:

    1. The ‘Kahani’ link doesn’t work.
    If IQ=DQ aka “desi quotient,� I wouldn’t be writing in this space, mmkay?

    Didn’t quite get this one.

  13. Uma – my bad. I should have said “unlike most other” or something. I’m just thinking of the few I’ve seen, so thanks for pointing out the others.

    Sandeep, the link is now fixed, and the IQ=DQ thing is just a bad joke…

  14. Man, the Highlights reference took me right back to my childhood dentists’ waiting room. Does Kahani have an ethnic-appropriated Goofus & Gallant cartoon? So rad.

  15. Awesome post. I had stopped reading this blog for a long while, feeling that too many of the posts were either not on my list of interests, were too superficial or contrite. I absolutely loved clicking on the link for this one and discovering Kahani and this book, and the way that you write. I’m sure that daughter you may have some day would be proud.

  16. I had stopped reading this blog for a long while, feeling that too many of the posts were either not on my list of interests, were too superficial or contrite.

    Contrite? You think their posts express pain or sorrow for some offense?

  17. Wow! I’m so excited b/c I’m going to see pooja and hopefully hear her read this in LA this Saturday at the APA Book Festival (@ JANM for LA peeps) 🙂 I’m obsessed with POC kid’s stories and am SO glad that these books are out! yay.

    peace, p

  18. “Um, not entirely true. Ruth Jeyaveeran’s The Road to Mumbai, and my books The Closet Ghosts (illustrated by Shiraaz Bhabha), and The Happiest Tree (illustrated by Ruth) are also out there in the picture book department”

    Uma, you neglected to mention two of your other books that are favorites in our house: Chachaji’s Cup and Bringing Asha Home!

  19. thanks for pointing out the others

    No problem, cicatrix

    goriwife, glad you enjoyed my other books. Stay tuned, there will be more. And I know Pooja and Mitali have others in the works too.

  20. Uma, you neglected to mention two of your other books that are favorites in our house: Chachaji’s Cup and Bringing Asha Home!

    Yes, Uma and Pooja, thanks for writing that/reminding me of it – and Pooja congratulations on this book! Some weeks ago I had followed the video link from your website and enjoyed watching the readings by different authors from your compilation. Look forward to checking out your books.

    Uma, I came across your book while googling myself. The Chachaji in your book as well as the one in Ved Mehta’s book are, well, much older than me, but I’m sticking with my handle, and hope to read both books soon!

  21. just got your book today pooja. it’s great. i’m giving it to my mom, too. guess what else i found in our HNT database? An article where they interviewwed you when you were 16! check it:

    “I learned so much from other people,” she said. “I never saw Irish dancing before. I never even heard that type of music before.” A dancer herself, Makhijani has been learning Indian dance at a professional dance school for 10 years. She performed a classical Shiv Tandav dance from Southern India that was based on the myth that the god Shiva danced in heaven.

    That is you, isn’t it?!

  22. OMG! shlok, that is me!

    If I remember correctly, I was speaking to a reporter who covered a immigration/culture/family event at my high school. Would you mind sending me the text of the entire article?

    Wow. What a flashback.