The Silk Skirt


The molten afternoon sun pours into the living room, playing hide and seek with the furniture and the curtains.

I narrow my eyes into a piercing look that will somehow help me thread the sewing needle that is in my hand.

On my lap is a multi-coloured silk skirt that belongs to my daughter. I am in the process of removing ‘the tuck’; meaning letting out the stitches that have been used to tuck-in excess length.

This skirt was bought four years ago. Silk skirts are usually sold as material, which we then get stitched into skirts. The material usually comes in one standard size, which can fit any age from 10 to 18 years.

And therein lies the magic. The tailor stitches the skirt, with multiple folds within, for a small girl of ten. As the little girl grows, one layer of tuck comes out each time she gains height.

And that is what I am doing this afternoon. As the sun catches the golden threads in the skirt’s border, my eyes are scrunched in concentration, a ‘stitch-picker’ and a needle-thread taking turns.

It takes a good hour to go around the whole skirt, while being careful not to damage the beautiful material.

I smile as I think about my childhood. My sisters and I had skirts that lasted us for nearly a decade. Being the ‘middle-child’, I would both receive my older sister’s skirts, as also pass on the ones I outgrew to my younger sister.

The silk skirt was the dress of choice for most festivals and important occasions at home. Our mom would braid our hair beautifully, and tuck-in a strand of fragrant jasmine flowers. We would wear glass bangles to match our skirt, a small chain around the neck and jimikkis in our ears.

During such festivals, when our grandma used to watch us, she would share memories of her own childhood and silk skirts.

Girls wore a lot more jewellery in my grandma’s time than we did as kids. When her mother braided her hair, she would weave-in strands of a very fragrant flower called the thazham poo (fragrant screwpine) that would leave the hair smeling heavenly.

I smile fondly at all these memories. I come back to the task at hand. I remove two layers of tucks, and realize how time has flown, and how soon my daughter has grown.

Lots of things are changing, but some traditions don’t change, and I hope they continue with my daughter too!

After all, these are the threads that connect us to the past and to our future, and give meaning and depth to our lives.

I thread the needle again, as I get ready for the last round.

Handing down love


My son turned 13 today and in keeping with our family tradition, I asked him to meet me in my room after dinner.

Curiosity was evident in his eyes,  but he merely nodded. My wife and I had gifted him a course in kayaking. There was also a glint of excitement in his eyes, as he probably expected another surprise birthday present.

He walked into my room, with me,  after dinner. With great ceremony, I opened the drawer on my table. I took out a small gift wrapped package and gave it to him.

He opened it with a lot of excitement. I could see his face falling, when he saw that it was an old, battered geometry box. There was a letter taped to the bottom of the box.

He looked at me, quite puzzled, waiting for an explanation.

I told him, “Open the letter.”

The letter ran into many pages. I told him to start reading from the last letter, dated 24th August, 1919, written by my great great grandfather to his son, on his thirteenth birthday.

My son quietly read all the letters, letters written by many fathers to many sons, to their sons. Nearly a century of family love there. Some letters were humourous, some were filled with love, some with dos and don’ts.  But a great archive of our family’s history, its shared love, and a wonderful tradition. He finally came to my letter and read it.

He looked up, and asked, “But why the geometry box?”

“Oh, the geometry box was probably handy, when my great great grandpa wanted to get this going,  what he also did was inscribe his name at the bottom of the box, with the date”, I said.

My son flipped the box and saw the metal engravings of his ancestors and laughed when he saw my name.

I also added, “The instruments in the set can be used even now. They are of excellent quality. After you are done with it, inscribe your name and pass it on to your son.”

He took his gift and walked out of the room. I know for a fact that 25 years from now, his throat will catch the way mine is now, when he writes a letter to his son, and wishes him well.