Weekends at Dadima’s house were a lazy affair, for me that is. I woke up late, wandered around in my PJs, with my hair in a tangled and disheveled mess. Dadi would be up by 7.00 a.m. and would wash her hair, starch her cotton saris and put them on the clothesline for the maids to stretch out and dry. Dressed in freshly ironed white cotton salwar suits, she would then proceed to supervise Smaller (yes that was his name) as he polished all the brassware in the house.
Around 8.00 a.m. she would notice that her bed was not made because I was sleeping in it! She would try to wake me up. I would moan and groan and throw the blanket over my head to muffle the noise. She would then peel the blankets away from me and insist that I wake up that instant. I would join her for breakfast after hastily brushing my teeth. Still clad in my wrinkled nightie, I’d take a look at her freshly scrubbed glowing face, her damp hair loosely held with clips with not a single strand out of place, and sigh. The idlis on my plate looked off-white against the brilliance of her kurta. I knew what was coming next. She would tell me to go have a bath and get dressed before guests started trickling in after ten in the morning. There were the regulars – the family doctor, the nieces, office staff, and then sometimes someone unexpected came along.
After breakfast, I hid in the guest room which doubled as my study room when there were no house guests. She would seek me out and give me another disapproving look before I meekly went to take a shower. If I was too lazy to comb and braid my long hair, I would just put it up in a bun, which would meet with instant criticism. “Buns are for old ladies. It doesn’t suit you!” she would say the moment I walked into her room to watch some TV. Jeans were also not her favorite. Or faded T-shirts for that matter. Both of which happened to be my favorite weekend outfits.
For years I wore a white uniform to school and Dadima wore her white starched cotton saris with matching white sandals. Given the nature of the place she worked in, carrying a white handbag and expecting it to stay white over a week was wishful thinking. Dirt, dust, grime, ink, carbon paper left no mark on her black handbag which she carried to work every day. The white handbags came out for special occasions – parties, weddings and conferences.
White was something widows wore to somehow symbolize the lack of color and joy in their spouse-less worlds. But one look at Dadima was enough to let you know that for her white was a fashion statement. She did not wear make-up, jewelry or a saffron dot on her forehead like married women. Her blouses were always stitched in the latest style, she wore dressy heeled sandals, chic sunglasses and a big-dialed omega watch. White did not make her look colorless and boring, but made her stand out. It was her trademark. Her signature. Her power.
No matter what her health was like on any given day, she would get up, wash up and get dressed. If guests were coming over, she would brush her hair and sit up straight on her bed with the support of pillows. Even at the hospital, she cared about her appearance. She never wanted to look sickly, hapless and pitiful. To portray herself that way meant that she was weak and could be easily tricked. That did not bode well for a business woman who wanted to be taken seriously and respected for who she was.
White demanded respect and helped her get into places others could not. In hospitals, she was mistaken for a physician and could enter restricted spaces and even talk to senior doctors who were not very approachable. The lack of color also concealed her true identity. She could pass off for a Jain, Christian, Muslim or Sikh. And when people cannot pin you down and compartmentalize you based on your appearance you become universal. Now white does not magically confer all these qualities to a person who merely chooses to wear it. I have seen other widows who wear white but don’t yield the kind of power she does. So why did it work for her?
Widows evoked images of heartbroken women, shunned by society and living on the fringe, boding bad luck for those who crossed paths with them. I vividly recall one such widow. The widow next door in her faded orange sari with her prickly hair peeping out of the edge of the sari clumsily draped over her head. Her wrinkly face and arms made me wonder if she ever had oil baths. But what struck me the most were her sad soulless eyes. In fact she had an air of melancholy that somehow seeped under my skin and made me shudder. Every time I saw her I quickly looked away and secretly pledged never to be her.
Dadi had sparkling, lively eyes, sometimes full of mischief. A strong positive vibe emanated from her. Her white clothes almost gave off a glow and it attracted one and all. She took the stigma associated with white and turned it around to her advantage. Probably because she never once looked for pity and knew pretty darn well how to take care of herself. In fact she took excellent care of herself. She never denied herself or neglected herself like widows were wont to. She moisturized her skin, ate vitamins and a lot of healthy foods. Every Sunday the family doctor would come take a look at her and check her pulse and heart.
People notice the way you dress and the way you portray yourself to the outside world. When you neglect this aspect of yourself, people don’t take you seriously. Dress sharp and people know you mean business. A well-dressed person is also confident and competent.
The law of attraction also plays out in this. When you dress like an affluent person, wealth and abundance must naturally come to you. If you dress in tattered, unkempt clothes your financial situation could deteriorate. Dadi dressed well and attracted abundance of all kinds into her life.
I still like to wander around in my PJs till late in the morning but I try to tidy up my act when I go out to work or when I have people coming over. When I wear white I feel a connection to my grandmother and feel powerful and confident. Thank you Dadima for teaching me to dress for success.