The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, March 18, 2001

Her stitched amulets
By Jayanti Roy

AFTER my marriage when my spouse and I set up our house, we managed to get almost all modern- day articles needed for a comfortable lifestyle. We had beautiful furniture, up-to-date gadgets and other household items in addition to decoration pieces and paintings. We set them all over the three rooms of our tiny house and watched with pride. The house looked like a pretty picture out of illustrated magazines.

As we started with our daily life, I had a nagging feeling that still something was amiss in our house. Despite filling it up with all possible luxuries it could not be somehow converted into a home. But what that magic touch was, I could not figure out. Though I knew what was wrong. The house was too stiff. It did not bear signatures of our personalities. It was like a hotel, picturesque but cold; like a stranger, well-mannered but indifferent.

Then my mother visited us along with her presents for us. Not just articles lifted from any gift shop but well thought out, indispensable, simple items. There were kitchen gloves, multi-pocket wall hanging, cushion-covers, table clothes, mats, towels and runners. All these things she had herself stitched, embroidered or painted. She put each piece in its appropriate place, her face lighting up with the joy of a little girl setting up her dollís house and with each action of hers my house gradually metamorphosed into a warm and secure place under the sky. Suddenly, I uncovered a secret.


Those were not just bits and pieces of stitched, embroidered or painted fabrics but magic material. Each piece was an amulet, a precious thing, to be appreciated, loved to spin stories around and later to feel nostalgic about. These were her expressions of joy in being able to bring up her children on her own principles. These were the marks of a womanís individuality with which she stamped her household.

My mother lost her mother at a very young age but her inner urge to create beautiful surroundings could not be held back due to lack of guidance. She pleaded with the neighbourhood women to teach her sewing, knitting and other handicrafts but they discouraged her and refused to share their skills. They closely guarded their techniques as precious secrets. But my mother was not to be discouraged by such trifle hindrances. They only made her all the more determined. Gradually by watching others do it or with occasional help from a kind aunt she managed to master those skills. She now invented new stitches and techniques, practise them in the evening by the lamplight and took pleasure in teaching them to others.

I still remember a breathtakingly beautiful piece with the motif of a large pearl-white conch-shell lying on a fleshy pink coloured lotus flower with green leaves. The work was faultless and neat to the extent that one could feel the hardness of the shell and the softness of the petals simultaneously.

Then, there was another decorative piece with a verse by Rabindranath Tagore, embroidered in black. Red-flowered, green-leafed creepers were interwoven with the letters. The verse said, "The end of the road is not my destination but the temples along the path where I serve the humanity". The wall hanging immediately took me to those old days when values were the most precious aspect of life, traditionally handed down to the next generation.

On our dining table we had a tablecloth with a rather modern motif. It was an underwater scene of colourful fish and waterweeds. To my childhood eyes it appeared vivid and the creatures living. It had been the centre of many of my fantasies woven during dinnertime. That pattern was created by my father and showed the appreciation and respect he had for my motherís talents. Their joint efforts were all over our dresses, smokes and frocks. It showed how they enjoyed sharing their creative faculties and also how the simple skill has proved to be a strong bond between the two.

Now, when I see her sitting on the sunny terrace, bending over her framed cloth, deftly working each stitch, I wonder if she realises how by handling over her magic amulets to me she has highlighted the charm of simple mandane things and their mysterious power to create honest love for all that is simple and beautiful.

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