The Dacca Gauzes

I grew up surrounded by fabrics of all kinds in a place where the weavers of Dacca represented history, myth, memory, and loss. I began to etch and carve on clay and make my Textile boxes because of my own memories that grew suddenly sharp when I heard Robert Pinsky recite Agha Shahid Ali’s beautiful poem, The Dacca Gauzes, on NPR a month after Ali’s death.

Those transparent Dacca gauzes known as woven air, running water, evening dew:

a dead art now, dead over a hundred years. “No one now knows,” my grandmother says,

“what it was to wear or touch that cloth.” She wore it once, an heirloom sari from

her mother’s dowry, proved genuine when it was pulled, all six yards, through a ring.

Years later when it tore, many handkerchiefs embroidered with gold-thread paisleys

were distributed among the nieces and. daughters-in-law. Those too now lost.

In history we learned: the hands of weavers were amputated, the looms of Bengal silenced,

and the cotton shipped raw by the British to England. History of little use to her,

my grandmother just says how the muslins of today seem so coarse and that only

in autumn, should one wake up at dawn to pray, can one feel that same texture again.

One morning, she says, the air was dew-starched: she pulled it absently through her ring.