It was one of those days when I recalled the lost nostalgia of Delhi’s Chandni Chowk lane at that twilight hour. The regal remnants of the Jama Masjid juxtaposed against the large ugly black wires hanging precariously over rooftops. In that chaos of rickshaws, human beings all rushing towards destination unknown. I sit back quietly and admire the untouched beauty of the place. Sitting at the Kashmiri Wazwan restaurant which overlooks the Jama Masjid, I order for my nun cha and watch the handsome Kashmiri men and beautiful women, unaware of their natural abundance of beauty. I know this makes them even more beautiful. The beauty that is unhurried and without any effort.
I love this trip into nostalgia. I soak in the ambience and watch the stores that are full of Islamic clothing. There are hijab stores and more. I am transported into mini Pakistan. The shops selling kebabs, men with kohl-smeared eyes and their Pathani suits. I spot a green sharara kameez. I am lost in the sheen of the green and the minimalist zardosi work on the pockets.
I walked up to Ajmal Khan’s store, which had a board written in Urdu calligraphy. He welcomed me in. Showed me many Pakistani sets that blew my mind. Told me names of serials that he loved watching and his customers too. So he dressed them up like the women of the serials. He found me staring at the green velvet set. He called it Noori.
He held Noori against himself and said it was the colour for me. I told him I was a Bengali. He didn’t believe me and said my zubaan was clear. I couldn’t tell him about my first crush who spoke chaste Urdu. I had learnt the difference between Zalim and Jalim; jalim as a Bengali would say.
He negotiated the price of the velvet kurta over a cup of tea and a samosa. I couldn’t say no to him. I went into the trial room and put on the kurta. It fit me like a dream. The sharara length needed to be altered because my height was of a petite Bengali woman, not the Pakistani serial heroines. He said, “Give me 15 minutes and I will get this done”.
Velvet because of its softness has a high cost of production. Velvet was introduced in Baghdad during the rule of Harun Al Rashid by Kashmiri merchants. We also have Ibn Battuta who mentioned that royalty of Mali wore that fabric as a caftan on Eid. Here, I was feeling like royalty wearing the abundance of this regal fabric.
I recalled the days of my life in those lanes. My ride into the known lanes of Delhi 6 was always with my friend from school Shimonti Sinha. We, two Bengali women were high on romance and hunger of the past. We didn’t speak at times, we would just look at each other and know that it caught our senses unaware.
I pack my green velvet kurta and walk past the lane of Ballimaran, home of the great poet Mirza Ghalib. That large door still has the Mughal architecture. I see Kashmiri men in Pathani suits standing against the door. They have large bags of walnuts and kesar. They look tired from the unrelenting reality of restarting life outside their home. I understand that he too searches every day for a release from this hard life in the capital of our country.
I did wear the Green velvet kurta without any jewellery. The kurta spoke aloud that evening against the sequined black western outfits of other women. What Indian clothing does to me is incomparable to any western outfit. I guess style is when it’s in your skin, when it is forced it kills the inherent nature of dressing up like you own the space.