Two women. Two destinies.

We wonder, if amidst the hullabaloo of Sarita Devi’s refusal to accept her Bronze medal at Incheon, Korea, and the consequent furore it’s created, anybody would have realised that by some bizarre coincidence this North East boxer, two years younger than Mary Kom, was born on the exact same day as the icon? Yes, both women share a birthday on March 1 (different years of course).

And given how these things work, one wonders if this bizarre coincidence of being born on the same day as another vastly more famous and feted boxer, might have further added to Sarita Devi’s great hopes for herself and her utter dejection when her chance to fulfil them by entering the semi-finals of the boxing tournament were thwarted?

Mary Kom
Mary Kom

Think about it. On one hand, you have the example of Kom, the subject of a Bollywood film, the poster girl of Indian boxing, the darling of fickle crowds and difficult sponsors, and on the other another, an equally hardworking girl, inching her way up on the sidelines, dreaming big dreams, having to face the heightened expectations of those around her and hoping against hope to also reach the same heights and achieve the same goals?

Sarita Devi. Pics/PTI
Sarita Devi. Pics/PTI

How much more pressure on Devi then, how many more hopes and how much bigger when those hopes are dashed? In many ways, Kom and Devi are two sides of that coin known as luck. Born on the same day, one a winner and one tragically in the shadows. What a story it is!

Handmade people
“Some people aren’t too sure where rural India is...but it’s out there and actually some parts of it have gone ‘techier’ and global,” says our friend, Sally Holkar, the attractive founder of Women Weave Charitable Trust, who has made India her home, and who has, with her indefatigable commitment, introduced that wholly wondrous garment – the Maheshwari sari – into the sartorial vocabulary of Indian women.

Sally Holkar
Sally Holkar

The Trust is run as a pretty tight handloom organisation in the middle of nowhere; (“As in, no electricity, no connectivity, no running water, no roads,” she laughs) but which has regularly, and with great precision, been turning out beautiful textiles, woven by traditional tribal weavers. And now, word comes in that those textiles are about to hit over one hundred Nordstrom stores across the USA! “Thanks to Piece and Co, an ethical business out of Chicago.

2,000 pieces will be woven in Agai; 2,000 in Maheshwar, which is WomenWeave’s home base. It’s been an excellent partnership and a great learning experience,” says Holkar, who for a brief spell in the eighties wrote a fine column on food for the Indian Express, where we were also a columnist, before she went on to author critically-acclaimed books on conservation and urban lore with the late Sharada Dwivedi.

“Next time you visit Kanha National Park, drop in for a visit to the area’s first international high tech/low tech weaving village,” says this Texan, who had studied Political Science at Stanford. “You’ll find excellent hospitality and beautiful khaadi scarves. Why go to America?” she asks.

Why indeed. And for those who want a handloom hand-woven quick fix, we’re told by those in the know that the Women Weave: Kishmish Artisans Gallery next Monday and Tuesday is a perfect partnership of handmade garments and accessories.

She said what?
We love ditherers. People who answer questions directly and succinctly make for excellent soundbytes, but are so tedious. Our vote has always gone to the meanderers. Bob Dylan, the world’s greatest lyricist, dithering away on an interview. J Krishnamurti taking a year to answer a simple question and John Lennon, driving his interlocutor crazy with a counter question that has nothing to do with the subject at hand.

Kiran DesaiJohn Lennon. Pic/AFPBob Dylan
Kiran Desai, John Lennon. Pic/AFP and Bob Dylan

Having said that, we also believe there is a limit to shilly-shallying. As was demonstrated when Booker winner Kiran Desai was interviewed by noted author Heidi Julavits for ‘Women in Clothes’, edited by Julavits and Sheila Heti, on the eve of its release.

Sounding like a caricature of the deeply sensitive writer with deeply sensitive views on everything Desai at one point (and apropos of very little) says “I lament having to give up Indian clothing now that I’m here (New York). It’s one of the most fun things about being an Indian woman.

But it’s really time-consuming. All these people manage to have clothes like that because they have servants. With the saris, you wash these great lengths of fabric, and then you hang them on huge lines or down your balcony. Then you starch them and then someone stands on one end and you stand on the other end and you pull it to make it tight and starchy. Then it’s ironed. So it’s a lot of work.”

To be honest, it IS a stream of consciousness kind of conversation and so we must suspend belief when to Julavits prompting: ‘they have grommets on them. That dig into your body!’ Desai replies: ‘Remember after September 11, when everyone was terrified that anyone who looked strange in New York would summarily shoot something? Well, my aunt has only worn saris her whole life, and her son told her: “You’ve got to try to wear jeans.”

So they put her into jeans and she couldn’t sit down. I kept saying, “Sit down,” and she’d reply, “I can’t!” You have to have some sort of self-respect in the end that doesn’t alter depending on where you go, which place you, travel to. Ideally, I would come up with some sort of uniform, something I’m happy in, that’s not dull, but also that I could wear all the time.’

Come home Gertrude Stein. Bring your smocks and bonnets and Long Johns while you’re at it. Or as someone drolly commented on the Desai’s ruminations: ‘when writers go nuts.’

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