Wear Me. Or I'll Die.

There was this story doing the rounds when I was small. It was about a roaming merchant. A merchant of cloth, who went door to door selling his art on cloth. The curious thing about this merchant was that he didn’t go to just any house. He'd choose his houses carefully. And then go there when the woman of the house was alone.

The story about him was that sometimes he sold his stuff way below his art’s worth. What made him make these untradesmanlike decisions no one knew. Perhaps he was a true artist to whom these issues of commerce didn't matter. Or maybe he had a larger plan.

The cloth merchant was rarer than his story. No one actually knew anyone who had bought any cloth from him. Actually no one could.

He’d arrive at his chosen house on a panniered bicycle, ring the bell and when the woman of the house opened the door for him, he would simply say "Sari". I don’t know whether it was curiosity or some magic in his cloth, eyes or bicycle that made women buy his stuff without him saying anything other than the most obvious.

Women would buy his beautiful saris but never wear them. The story goes that they wouldn’t wear the saris for fear of spoiling them. They feared that the gold, silver and bronze in their embroidery would get oxidised by the gaze of careless admirers.

But the story doesn’t end there. The saris, unworn and unappreciated, would lie at the dark depths of trunks and cupboard shelves for months. Then suddenly one day they would start calling out. "Wear me. Or I'll die. Wear me. Or I'll die." This plea would first begin as a muffled whisper from inside a trunk or a cupboard and then it would grow louder and louder till the women could take it no more. Funny thing was that no one else besides the purchasers could hear this plea.

The women would finally give in and wear the sari. The moment they’d wear the sari the yards of cloth would start fluttering. Like a flag around a flagpole. The fluttering would reach an uncontrollable frenzy, forcing the women to go out into the open. Once outside, the free-end of the saris would rise like a hood and cover their heads. Then their wrapped bodies would start spinning like a top. And spinning, the women would disappear right in front of the eyes of onlookers.

I didn’t know anyone whose mother or aunt had so vanished into thin air. But the story caused my brother and me to fear for our mother.

Around the same time a friend of the family came to our house with a man we'd never seen before. He was an embroiderer who specialised in saris. This 'uncle' was known to mix with all sorts of people, so him bringing  an embroiderer to our doorstep though a first was not particularly uncharacteristic. Somehow uncle managed to convince my parents about how brilliant this man was and how for the first time in her life my mom would have a sari made just for her. The next day this man was given a place in our verandah where he stretched a sari in the rectangle of an empty charpoy and he began to work. I don't remember this man very well except that he was dark, had big teeth and he smiled a lot. Also that he was very fast with the needle. In a matter of two or three days he was done with the sari. When I think about him now I just draw a blank as to the colour of his sari or the kind of embroidery he did. Except that he was from Moradabad and had worked in Bombay for some time. Perhaps it was our fear for our mother's safety that caused this kind of an erasure. Or maybe he WAS the otherworldly cloth merchant who caused us to forget important details about him.


  1. Wow!!
    Magikal, very very nice.

  2. magical it truly is... like the beginning of a lovely long delicious novel that you sink your teeth in.. loads of matter in here.

    loved the spinning into thin air bit!

  3. What an interesting story Dhiraj - well written - I was hoping to hear some more about the saree and your fascination with embroidery and was disappointed when I scrolled down to the full stop.:-(
    Thanks for sharing


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