My wife, Manasa’s day started, as usual, with WhatsApp. She smiled as she saw the message from her cousin, Nalini, from Bangalore. Her daughter, Rupa’s wedding was fixed for the Christmas vacation, so relatives and friends could attend, writes Dr. Raghavendra Rao.
“Manasa, we have reserved a room in Apsara Hotel with Wi-Fi, sauna and other conveniences. You must attend with Madhukar. Now, I bought several saris for relatives and have attached their photos in WhatsApp. You’re special, so the first choice is yours. Select one. I will keep it for you.”
Manasa quickly opened the attachments and saw the sari photos. There was one, a double colored violet Mysore silk sari in a shade of red. The palluhad golden swans. She was ecstatic.
“Keep this one for me,” she e-mailed back to her cousin.
Rupa’s wedding was performed on a grand scale in Bangalore. The groom came on a white horse, the bride in a palanquin accompanied by relatives, friends and Nadaswarapipe players. Manasa thought the ceremony was worth attending.
That evening, after the reception and dinner, Manasa opened her sari gift in the hotel room.
“Madhu, this sari does not look attractive, you know. The photograph of the sari looked more beautiful than what it looks like now.”
“Manasa, easy now. Why don’t you look in the daylight? Let’s sleep, now it is quiet late.”
Manasa didn’t sleep well. She tossed and turned, perhaps thinking about the sari.
The next morning, after breakfast, she chatted with her cousin. Tactfully, she led the conversation to the subject of saris. “Are there any more left?” she asked.
“No Manasa, I gave you the best one. It’s the latest fashion. They say, Sridevi, the famous actress, wore that in a movie, not the same sari though. In sunlight it is violet, and under artificial light it is red. Your friends will envy you because they think you got two saris from me.”
“That’s what I thought you would say.” Manasa did not like the sari. She carefully packed it and placed it in her travel suitcase.
After the hubbub of the wedding ceremony quietened, my wife and I went on a pilgrimage to the Goddess Mahalaxmi’s temple in Kolhapur.
Thousands visit the Goddess every day, especially, women consider it a great privilege to offer a sari to Mahalaxmi. They believe they will gain much virtue in doing so.
The priest places the sari for a second on the Goddess and offers the sari for hundreds of rupees to devotees at the sanctum. People may buy the sari from the priest. Women believe it is a great asset to possess such a sari. Later, the sari merchants in the town buy the left-over saris from the priests wholesale and sell them to pilgrims in their shops vouching that they were worn by Goddess Mahalaxmi.
Manasa got a brilliant idea.
She carried the sari in her purse. At the temple, she bought a bamboo plate with flowers, incense sticks, a coconut, and camphor. She picked the double colored sari and neatly adjusted it on the plate. She and I joined the serpentine line leading to the sanctum.
That day, Deity Mahalaxmi was decorated with colorful flowers, and bejeweled in diamond ornaments which shone like thousands of stars under the oil lamps. The priests had clothed Mahalaxmi in a violet sari of rich silk fabric with raised patterns in gold threads. The fragrance of burning camphor and incense sticks was overwhelming. The priests chanted mesmerizing Vedic hymns.
Manasa, with great reverence, handed over the bamboo plate with the sari to the priest with 1,000 rupees as dakshina. The priest, chanting Sanskrit poems, covered the Goddess for a second with the sari that Manasa had given. Then he folded it.
“Amma(Mother), do you want to buy the sari for 20,000 rupees?”
We came out. Manasa was happy she had donated the sari to the Goddess and earned a lot of virtue. She thought the sari would be offered to poor people and thus she would reap some more virtue.
After a couple of days, we returned to Bangalore. That evening, we were packing to catch the plane to Los Angeles when Manasa’s Aunt, Nagamma, showed up. We hadn’t met her for several years. After chatting for a few minutes, Nagamma said, “Manasa, here is a small gift for you. It is precious.”
“Aunty, there is no place in my suitcase. We’re late already. Please, next time.”
Old Nagamma was like a leech.
It was hard to get rid of her. She opened a suitcase, shoved the packet in and tried to close the case. She couldn’t. She sat on it, and being hefty, it worked. “Ha, ha,” she laughed.
We hurried to Bangalore airport and caught the plane to Los Angeles.
After a week of shaking off jetlag, Manasa opened the suitcases one by one. In one of them she found a small packet wrapped in Indian Expressnewspaper. There was a note pinned to the paper packet.
“Dear Manasa, I went on a tour bus to all the holy places. At Kolhapur, I found a precious gift for you. I haven’t given you anything for several years. Enjoy it. Aunt Nagamma.”
Manasa opened the packet, and there it was, a violet and red double colored silk sari with the palluof golden swans.