The sari started it. It was a dark olive green pattern on a darker olive green background, with an intricate black and white border about 18 inches wide running the length of the sari and culminating in a shoulder drape that was entirely black and white. I persuaded her to wear it as she seemed interested in being persuaded. She had originally chosen a white, silk, salwar kameez with a red-gold border that i felt was better suited to the red, plastic hangar it hung on. This evening she was unconcerned with her usual itemised unhappinesses that she carried around. I think that is why she listened to me.

Standing in front of her wardrobe I remembered the many saris she collected over years in varying shades of pink and peach. Despite our jewellery and fabric choices being poles apart, i always admired her when she dressed up. Fair skinned with a touch of pinkness, cheekbones heightened with a touch of rouge, some gloss on her lips, enveloped in a bubble of perfume, wide hips draped tightly inside a heavy saree, her long thin, dark tresses loosely arranged in a braid that hung down almost to her knees, a dark maroon kumkum on her powdered forehead, a long mangalsutra hanging till her navel, she would emerge and leave behind her a trail of varying fragrances from her perfume, soap, face powder and shampoo. Her larger than life, high pitched voice vied only with these trailing cloying fragrances.

Peaches, plums, generic flower patterns, stems, leaves, creepers, branches, japanese cherry blossoms, roses in every hue (including blue), birds, these are some of the recurring motifs from my childhood. Sometimes there were real flower Ikebana arrangements that dotted tables, dressers and even the tops of toilet flush tanks. Other times there would be giant, fake flower arrangements in heavy, glass vases or you would suddenly find a spring of cherry blossoms hanging from a book case. We were already used to the plethora of large and small potted plants that simulated an almost equatorial atmosphere in our centrally air-conditioned, high-rise apartment in a rich, urban city ironically situated in a desert. Just in case the family forgot what wild flowers looked like in that artificially created green city, she would cover the tables and beds in the house with what looked like carpets of jungle creepers. Bedspreads, towels, sheets, table covers, even carpets were selected carefully to create an environment of a lush, springtime meadow everywhere you looked. The walls, thankfully, were mostly plain cream except where she hung, no doubt with parental pride, children’s paintings and their 1000 plus piece puzzles.

For a while she collected fake stuffed birds. Colourful finches, robins, sparrows. They could be found perched on the very real, jungle creepers around the front room. Sometimes a honey coloured plastic rose and a sprig of pink silk buds would be arranged amidst the leaves of a green bush that had not satisfied her by flowering. It was all very kitsch and surreal. One of the many ceiling-high creepers, arranged menacingly around the dining table, had the odd tendency of periodically sprouting long moustache like tendrils. Sitting down to lunch in the filtered green light, you would be forgiven for feeling jumpy when said moustache tapped you on the shoulder as it swayed gently in the draft from the air conditioning vent overhead. Sometimes one of the fake birds would fall from its perch onto the dining table and lie there stiff amongst the hot steel vessels full of rasam, rice and ghee. She stopped collecting birds when the cat vomited chewed bits of a fake bird that had the misfortune of falling to the floor.

The green sari took me down memory lane and I suddenly understand why I never took to the art of surrealists.