Fragrant connections


One of my dear friends has invited me over to to her house to celebrate Sankranti, the Indian harvest festival. As part of the rituals, my friend dabs a little perfume on the back of my palms. The perfume is of the champak flower. I inhale deeply, the perfume is fresh and fragrant.

The fragrance transports me to my husband’s childhood home, where his parents had planted two champak trees, when they started construction of their home after marriage. The trees are more than fifty years old now, and form a fragrant archway at the entrance to our home. Both trees are still flowering.

When he was still with us, it was my dad-in-law’s job to collect the champak flowers from both trees. Since the trees straddle three floors, one has to go up to the terrace on the third floor to pick the flowers. A specially designed long stick, with a small hook at one end, was the tool of choice to gently nudge the fragrant flowers from their branches. The flowers were collected in an orange bag (a wire bag made at home by my husband’s mom). The beautiful creamy yellow of the champak flowers beautifully contrasted with the orange of the bag. Once he was done, my dad-in-law would leave it in the living room. My mom-in-law would retain a few flowers for herself, to offer at the altar during prayers. The rest were for neighbours, who would drop-in at various times to take the champak flowers. Some would call from the gate, and my mom-in-law would pass it to them after a quick chit chat. Some neighbours would come home and stay for a cup of coffee and exchange local news.

By noon, the orange bag would be empty and go back to its rack in the store room, till the next time. In the evenings, when the sun would go down in the sky, and a gentle, cool breeze would blow, the delightful and invigorating fragrance of the champak flowers would waft in the air. We would usually stand at the entrance and close our eyes in bliss.

All the nostalgic memories come back to me now, as I bid bye to my friend and thank her for her hospitality. Beautiful champak flowers, fragrant memories and deep friendships. I sigh in pure contentment.

Tailor made


Earlier today, I chanced upon some black and white photos from my childhood. The pictures made me smile. My sister and I are wearing identical frocks in most of those pictures.

That was how it was back then. We would go to a garment shop, and choose running lengths of fabric. We would head to the tailor shop afterwards, for our measurements to be taken. The tailor would make identical clothes for my siblings and me, only the sizes were different.

The tailor’s shop was located in the crowded market in our town. It was a small shop that had a narrow entrance. The shop had shelves along all its walls, running from the floor to the ceiling. One could barely see the shelves, crammed as they were with customer orders.

I always wondered how the tailor was able to remember, when each order was due. Deep within the recesses of the shop were the sewing machines, all of them busy all the time, with men or women bent intently on a frock or a blouse or a shirt.

The main tailor, usually had a pencil tucked behind his ear, and a measuring tape slung around his neck. He measured, noted, gave instructions to his staff and managed the whole pipeline.

Picture courtesy – http://www.shutterstock.com

While, during non-festival times, the tailor usually delivered our orders promptly, it was not so during festivals, especially Deepavali.

The fabric buying took place at least a month and a half before Deepavali. We would rush to the tailor to place our orders. And even at that early date, the tailor would lament about the pipeline, and about how difficult it was going to be to deliver our clothes early.

And then the negotiations on the delivery date would commence – between my parents and the tailor. We would come home with a receipt for collection and an acceptable date for pick-up.

Just a fortnight before our due date, whenever we visited the market, we would drop-in at the tailor shop to give him a gentle reminder. There were no mobiles or text messages to do the job. The tailor would nod and wave vigorously each time – to reassure us that he had not forgotten us.

Our dad would usually pick up the tailored clothes on his way back from work. After dinner, we would get a peek at our new clothes. They were packed away and stored carefully till Deepavali.

The years just flew by, and then came the era of off-the shelf clothes, and our visits to the tailor dwindled.

However, after marriage, we Indian woman still go to the tailor to get out saree blouses stitched – ‘tailor made’ exclusively for us!

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.

Moments of nothingness


The week’s craziness has abated, though not completely. This is the Indian festival season. Navratri’s barely over, and we are already barrelling towards Deepavali.

After many days, this morning I got a few minutes to sit on my living room couch and gaze out through the balcony window. A few moments of nothingness.

I believe that looking out at the world outside is immensely therapeutic; you are oblivious to your own self, as you watch life happening outside.There is so much contentment in just being.

image

            Courtesy – en.wikipedia.org

As I watched, a lazy pigeon feather swirled round and round, enjoying the gentle breeze on its way down. A beautiful pigeon sat on the balcony grill and watched the world. My hibiscus plant moved gently with the wind. Crisp laundry fluttered in the service areas of many homes. Curtains billowed in the breeze.

Faraway, traffic moved at the junction; cars and buses filled with people. Everybody with a purpose, going somewhere, meeting someone.

Birds chirped; and now and then clouds hid the Sun from view.

I felt philosophical, as I watched life happen around me.

Most days we run from one mad chore to the next, never stopping or slowing down, never pausing to see that the plants in our balconies have grown buds, or that the orchids are in full bloom. Sometimes the cacophony of our minds and the noise of traffic and technology hide the beautiful music of chirping birds and the whispering breeze.

It truly felt great to observe and not participate. Before I got dragged into the chaos of everyday chores, I took a few deep breaths and enjoyed my few moments of nothingness.