Delhiwale: Inside author Manju Kapur’s sari closet
Manju Kapur’s collection of saris is a treasure. Some are stacked in her closet, while others lie folded in two steel trunks with neem leaves pressed in for protection.delhi Updated: Jul 17, 2017 11:02 IST
Manju Kapur’s world pulsates with an understated elegance you would find in salons in the novels of Proust or Tolstoy.
The writer lives in Durga Bhawan, an old-world mansion on Akbar Road. Her neighbour is the vice-president of India. Her house’s longest corridor is lined floor to ceiling with dark wood shelves stacked with thousands of books.
One afternoon we enter this place to explore Ms Kapur’s famously exquisite collection of saris.
She is sitting on a sofa beside the piano, draped in a white sari, as light as a drifting cloud.
“I got it from Dhaka a few years ago, while in Bangladesh for a literature festival,” she says. Ms Kapur runs her fingers over the cotton fabric. “It’s so delicate,” she murmurs as if talking to herself, “like a cobweb.”
Ms Kapur owns about 100 handloom saris. She takes us to her bedroom and points out the sheet on the double bed: It’s a patchwork of different saris.
“I get old unwearable saris that I don’t want to throw away stitched into dohars and kholis,” she says.
Ms Kapur’s tailor comes to her house every day. As a rule, the colour of her blouse is always different from that of the sari she is wearing.
She pulls out a large drawer. It has blouses, arranged in a four-colour scheme: white and beige, red and maroon, black and blue, and green.
Ms Kapur’s cupboard is stacked with dozens of saris. Many others are stored in two steel trunks with neem leaves pressed in them as a protection from pests (the leaves come from the two trees in Ms Kapur’s garden). Taking out her saris one by one, she says she used to wear them more frequently when she taught English literature in Delhi University’s Miranda House College. She quit the job a decade ago to concentrate on her writing. Her sixth novel was published in January.
These days, at home, Ms Kapur usually wears skirts or kurtas.
“Look at this Orissa sari... it is at least 35 years old... my husband gifted it to me.”
Ms Kapur, 68, is married to businessman and writer Gun Nidhi Dalmia. One of her daughters, Maya, often wears saris as well.
Ms Kapur’s most enduring and annoying sartorial distress is a consequence of her height. Indeed, most saris are not made for women as tall as her — she is five feet eight inches. Her tailor has to add an extra length of fabric to each sari she buys.
As an extra treat, the lady of the house shows us her collection of bangles. They are hung on a rack arranged on one side of the sari wardrobe.
On leaving the room, Ms Kapur points at the green curtain at the door. It is a sari, of course.