Notes on Antique Textiles, Folk Art & Timeless Traditions – Jaina Mishra
Hindi was a compulsory language to be learned at school. And language is usually taught through written material – stories about this and that from every day life.
Sometime in my early secondary school – we had a chapter in our Hindi book called ‘Chhodi waale baba – literally meaning the old uncle who sold bangles.
It talked about the conversations between the bangle seller and the women buying from him as he went from street to street selling his wares. That was my first introduction to choodis or glass bangles as I had not yet awoken to the idea of ‘adornment’ or shringaar.
Bangles are one of the 16 ‘shringaars’ or 16 adornments a woman indulges in to make herself alluring for her man. Women of the old world – like my grandma – lived that life in totality without any confusion second directions suchs as ‘career’ and were perfectly happy to live only for their man and their family. And to them shringaar was an important part of presenting themselves in the evening when the man returned home from work.
I discovered glass bangles only a decade ago and have loved them ever since for their colors, for their tinkling and their simplicity. And these became part of my dress code for a long time. There is a funny story about the time when I asked if I was a madam (or a bai) on account of my dress code, reminding me that it is usually my beautiful helper maids or the elderly who wear these (and other dress code elements that I had adopted)
In most small towns the choodi waale baaba – the seller goes from street to street to sell his wares as do most sellers – including vegetable vendors, milkmen, sellers of plastic buckets and wares, metal pots, mattresses and every other imaginable thing! Retail therapy happens at home.
Since communities are close knit, when a bangle seller is stopped by one woman, others also gather around and the group sits down for a happy chat. There is bonding, the seller is offered water and if he is known to them for years, even a cup of tea.
The women surround him and he attends to the first customer …. he checks the size of her wrist and then selects the right ones from his wares in the desired colors.
His stock is predominantly red and green – preferred colors symbolising marriage. But he also carries a range of other colors. There are other types – those with meena work or gold embossing and those without, those with a ‘disco’ shine and those without, those with ‘paasa’ or angular cuts
across the circumference of the bangle …. and many other types.
The selection process continues with each woman holding out her wrist to him and him finding the right one for her.
A very pretty process.
Here are some pictures taken in a slum area of Bombay.
Note the babies and children in the gathering behind me.
This is possibly one of the few domains of a woman’s life that an unknown man may enter with sanction.
I’ve met one bangle seller who took it upon himself to educate a younger & clueless version of me on the significance of bangles. He reminded me that these are not just empty symbols of marriage – they need to be cared for and looked after – they symbolise the fragility of the beautiful bondage – that once broken these cannot be repaired again. The sincerity in his sermon was endearing – after all he would have made less than 2 dollars revenue from me. And though I may write it off as a strategy for customer-retention I cannot deny his sincerity.
The innocence and beauty of these symbols and the world in which all this holds true is so attractive – and when we hear about this it is hard not to chase such an ideal world. But do these worlds really exist? Do they look as pretty from the inside as they do from the outside? Seeing the lives of my close cousins and the people I meet in my travels it certainly looks like a model that IS really pretty!