Silk Saris and Shammi Kapoor

What is the right way to buy a silk sari (Kanchipuram variety)?

The least knowledgeable person (i.e. one who has the credit card) accompanies several excited women to a traditional shop where you squat uncomfortably on the mat laid on the ground in a small single gala shop. The salespersons are very patient (by dint of long experience of trying to sell to undecided and vacillating women) and strews expensive silk saris all over the mat in your front. After overcoming initial confusion (“I had this blue silk sari for my marriage – 18 years ago, I can’t repeat it”), women zero in on a few. This is where the stronger but patient and gentler sex steps in resolutely. (You would be staring helplessly at several confused women looking at similar looking saris for ages). The more intelligent and experienced ones look at a few of the selected ones with a critical look and suggest discarding a few of them. Then the remaining should be lovingly handled and with a far off look (the woman should imagine that the spouse is remembering when he first saw her as a maiden stepping into womanhood) order the woman to drape the sari and look at the mirror.

The trick is for the man also to look at the mirror along with the woman. This exercise is to be repeated with a few of the selections and after a secret look at the price, identify one sari in which you tell (in a whisper to her ear) that she would look gorgeous. Women have strong instinct and would look at you with doubtful eyes (wondering whether you know the difference between Rusk color and jamun color), but you should be able to convince her to select the one which you feel is the least damaging to your purse and to the woman’s appearance. Perhaps, you may by experience select the right one (saree I mean, as a man’s ability to select the right woman is at a huge discount).

I did all this couple of weeks back. The shopkeeper helpfully told us that he would complete the “falls and beeding” ( if you don’t know this is, then you are not married and should remain so) and we could collect it few days later. When we went to the shop, the sari was misplaced and we were perforce compelled to repeat the routine mentioned earlier. Both of us exclaimed that we had a better choice this time.

The shop is in Matunga (in Mumbai). It is where all emigrant Southies landed in last century. So it is still full of Udipi restaurants and lots of Gujaratis who love south Indian food. We had a choice of restaurants to go. Padma and I decided on Rama Nayak’s hotel near Aurora cinema, which serves only Idlis –yes only Idlis and coffee. It has over 20 varieties of Idli with their characteristics explained in the menu (unlike Thai or continental food where you wonder what ingredients it consists of). Rama Nayak started Udipi Hotels in Mumbai in 1920s and is quite well known in Mumbai. The Idlis we had were quite good and we were pleasantly surprised that a small hotel with 6 tables to serve only 24 seats and standing space for another ten persons could survive for many decades.

We then went to Shanmukhananda Auditorium where a Shammi Kapoor songs orchestra was scheduled. I had booked tickets in advance and dragged Padma with me. The Auditorium is the biggest in Mumbai with a capacity of around 3000 seats in ground, first and second floor. The program started in time to a sparsely occupied auditorium which filled up within the next 45 minutes. I looked around to gauge the response. Most were in beyond 40s (some came with walking sticks and some with their children holding their hands) and were nodding their heads enthusiastically and clapping in a disciplined manner. Anil Bajpai – one of the troupe- sings very well and is known for singing Mohd Rafi songs.

All of us had heard these songs several hundred times in the last few decades. But hearing them live weaves a magic. The tune whispers thru the music broad gauge of our brain and travels swiftly to the heart. Many older men and women (age being a comparative measure) lip sync the songs continually, and some portions of the songs evoke spontaneous applause. The long opening music of “aaja aaja” in Teesri Manzil is an eternal favorite. The drum beat is fascinating and coupled with guitar it simply creates an out of the world feeling. I have many times wondered how one or few human beings can create great music (whatever be the language or genre- film, classical, rock, blues etc.) through their imagination which etches a lasting impression in our souls.

The greatest reward that the world bestows is on new creations arising out of human intellect- painting, music, sculpture are some examples. The intrinsic value of the painting-canvas, paint, frame etc. may not be much. The value that the human imagination and intellect adds to it is hard to estimate at the time of creation or even many decades or centuries later. What today’s generation would more easily relate to in this category is Apple products –I Pad, IPod and so on.

The orchestra was not great, the singers other than Bajpai were competent but not of first grade. Totally thirty songs were sung. The mike broke down twice surprisingly. Padma and I felt that Golden Greats (run by another professional) is a better one. But some of the songs captured the original spirit very well. Shammi Kapoor was known for his efforts in injecting good music in his movies. Hard work always pays. Even after four or five decades, we find that the songs are sung by young persons who were not born when these songs were first heard by my generation. There must be something which touched these young individuals heartstrings when they first heard these songs. While such kind of singing has a huge commercial element to it, good music has a purity which the brain can recognize and the heart can admire at all times.

We had reached Matunga by local train. Train takes around 35 to 40 minutes from where we stay. Car travel can take at least an hour if not more, plus huge hassles for parking. The first class compartment was empty while going at 5 .00 p.m. Walking thru Matunga is a pleasure as there are lots of old memories which get refreshed. It is a lively place. Many old buildings are reconstructed now, however with little parking facility. It now has a dominant Gujarati community , with southies moving to inner suburbs in the last five decades.

While returning also we caught the local train. It was crowded and we had to skip one train. The next one had standing space for me. Padma travelled in the ladies compartment. Two young men were watching an English movie with subtitles and earphone in a lap top. I too watched it for some time. The hero seemed to have extraordinary powers which he later said emanated from his shoes. I then resumed reading my novel.

We got down and reached home within an hour or so of leaving the auditorium. It was a good evening, well spent. Good Silk Saree and Shammi Kapoor.


  1. subharaman says:

    Nice blog. Anil Bajpai is a very goopd singer. He was actually discovered by our society member Mr Venkitachalam and was singing for a band called Nostalgia. He is duplicate Rafi. I have heard him and I like his singing. I did not know that people still visit silk saree stores at the famous Bhiwandiwala building at Matunga when there is Nalli Chinaswami Silks at Mahalaxmi and Oberoi Mall at Goregaon. Wish you a happy deepavali and wonderful year ahead. Your blog was good to read. Best Regards. Subharaman

  2. Kirthana says:

    Nice.. Nostalgia. Memories of Mumbai. Thanks again.


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