Pain, food, fabric,fury,colour,
Pain, food, fabric,fury,colour,
You can get lost in a saree. Not in its myriad folds but in its patterns.
Childhood memories of seeing my mother.Of holding on to the folds of her saree for dear life when she picked me up after I had careered down some two flights of stairs outside our apartment.Of seeing my six month old brother clutching the corner of its shoulder length bit with his chubby little fingers wound tightly around it like petals in stalk.When she hastly unwound them,leaving for work.A waft of her talcum powder when she walked by in beauty,her saree’s beauty.
Going to her workplace,after having been introduced to her boss I find these voluminous folds of a gorgeous Murshidabad muslin encasing the lady’s form like a candle. Ms. Malik ,always enclosed in white creamy cottons ,never changing colour or form which by itself was white,alabaster except for her thick dark hair rolled into a lose bun.She was kind enough to let me in mother’s office during my long summer hols.,one of the times when we didn’t take the LTC(Leave Travel Concession)to the south.I’d of course earnestly try to volunteer my time and effort to the best of my 6 yr. old ability.
Back in the 15th. century and earlier these garments were worn for comfort -as in a tropical environment there was no other better garment than a fabric fold that draped around you and made it air-conditioned- and designed too in the comfort of farms, foothills and huts.The natural surrounds provided the patterns as well as the materials to bring them into being. By the 60″s in the 20th. century, patterns for the sarees came to be designed and worked in corporate offices,essentially fashion houses spread out in the big cities of India,complete with mod-cons, the whole works.
My mother used to work in one such establishment.She asked the girls in the fabric room to supervise me while she handled her paper work.There I would be with them all working at folding the sarees in such a way as to fit them longitudinally into thick brown envelopes smelling of cellulose from the hills of Shimla and then stacked neatly into cartons made of fragrant pinewood from the hills of Nainital. A sliver from the carton still shows its place on my little finger where it got lodged.Endless conversations of husbands and children flowed-if they weren’t married they related things about their parents,neighbours and schoolmates- amidst constant pourings of ‘chai’,’samosas’ and Fanta.Sometimes another set of busy hands would take over and the girls doing would get down under the work tables for their twenty winks.
In a room close by Chopin Banerjee -the artist-in-residence would be giving some final strokes to a creation in ochre and yellow ,a fleck here,a brush there and survey it from a distance.The board held strong for it didn’t pucker or dampen either under all those sharp points,paints and patterns. Naina, his assistant had just come back from a degree in the US. All agog to incorporate everything that she had learned and meticulously reproduce which would then essay a Benarsi fitting.You could run a rousing encore to her Garhwals.They were amazing.Her drawings looked straight out of the miniature paintings that hung on the wall of the tiny textile artist’s studio.
Laden with some pencils and paper myself,generously provided by Chopin, I’d try to concentrate on Minnie’s sunglasses-another intern- and try to draw them. Next I’d extricate the plasticine clay in my pocket and capture an impression of the little block that Minnie had created to stamp on the bit of Japanese fabric laid out in front of her.I would attempt at making a secret language of plasticene paisley blocks dipped in orange juice stamped out over Chopin’s sketch paper and then puzzle over later to figure out what was in there. I had just completed reading the Five-Find Outers by Enid Blyton and was all eagerness to try solving an imaginary mystery by communicating through orange juice ink ironed out for visibility.
Chopin, Naina and Minnie worked hard. They ate sandwiches standing,didn’t order for ‘ chai’ or ‘samoasas’ and didn’t duck under their tables for rest.They looked remarkable,very fascinating,glowing with ideas,constantly chattering,discussing ways to make patterns for wefts, for warps,their endless tesselations and variations.In a few months time their’s would be the designs printed in shipments exported to different continents and worn in sares by the elite in India.I would sometimes sidle up to them to see what they had made and they would show me these gorgeous- picture calculations,they seemed to me.
My mother would then come for her coffee break,fetch me and take me to Nirula’s ice cream parlour,a furlong down from Connaught’s pillars called Connaught Circus.Dad would join us and I would then go to his workplace, an oil corporation,government owned,quite drab and desultory compared to my mother’s.
Ya. This is a light bulb.Shipli looked at the bright happy face drawn on the face of the bulb. Reema had well pro portioned it and given it a red collar. What a splendid idea! And then Reema and little Mini left. Shipli felt a sudden twinge of sadness. Did your mama say that she’ll drop you tomorrow? She’d asked. “No dear. It was just for today.” Said the old girl honeyed in complexion with sparkling eyes and a cheerful smile as she escorted her younger sister away.
Oh it’s time to help Allah Rakha with the bricks . And she ran off to fetch a brick or two to be cemented.
The construction of some 25 additional classrooms had started in full swing. Labourers were there all the time , some slept in the scaffolding that ran around the needed area,some with haversacks strung around them to hold babies much like the ones that tea plantation workers wear.They deftly caught each brick that came flying down from nowhere so to speak.
One commotion there. A little bird he had got in between the scaffolding. Ramji ran off to fetch Kaka who was busy perpetrating the day’s dinner. He came back with Kaka who took a little stick and shifted one of the wobbly planks ever so slightly. It fell clumsily thankfully landing over to the side. But what happened to birdie? There it was,fallen among some dusters with a soft thud slightly wounded. Shipli ran to pick it up. “No”. Admonished Kaka. If you a ever touch a bird it will never again be accepted by its parents. He then took a sheaf of leaves which he had formed by shuffling them together and slowly eased the little creature onto it. “I am just going to leave it by the side . It’s mother will find it. He should be fine.” The duster must have protected the arboreal and sure enough when Shipli went to the spot the next day it had indeed flown off.
Presently Shipli’s grandfather came to fetch her. She was proud of her granddad. He was a freedom fighter. This was year 1970. But he hadn’t got the award yet that they distributed during the republic day parade. He will probably get it the folowing year.
I love plants. The African Violet.Petal by petal,drop by drop of fertilizer that goes into it.
Funny wall hanger with a biggish snout.Wither looks thou. Oh it’s supposed to be a coat hanger really. For all I know it might have held Gandhi’s coat.Left it in the laundry I did.Stuck it with that oh so stolid tape but works it does. I then changed its location to the arch near the dining room. Looks much better here. I now need to look for a really small African violet to fit in a basket and hang it on to this antique suspender. Three young ones have just sprouted. I have laced them by the bathroom tub. I am hoping they would gather some courage in the conducively humid environment and sprout for goodness sake.
There’s another by the laundry window. It’s little tiny shoots are peeking. Once grown I plan to cut away some plastic yet and fit it in. Just can’t wait.Oh the torture of having to be patient. To be sure it’s children and seedling who teach patience to crotchety adult
I remember in Singapore we had a second season of flowers.There they arose with a lot of fanfare,a full head of bright purples and pinks.For some reason I put off luck an year later. They got quite set for having been neglected. All summer. Hope to goodness they thrive here.
Six months later.
Yup they sprouted.I have a little family of five tiny tots. Two are still in the nursery- I mean the laundry.Two of them have been shifted to the bathroom.
Now I just can’t wait for them to bloom.
They bloomed last week two years after they sprouted.