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.

Oil Baths


Each of us has special memories of our growing up years – and as we plod through our lives now, we do remember those days, when life was so simple and uncomplicated.

One of the most wonderful memories I have is about a ritual that our family followed on Sundays. Most people in our part of the world probably had the same ritual too.

Sundays were ‘oil bath’ days. The day went something like this. We woke up at 7 a.m. and had a light breakfast. After this, my siblings and I would sit on a straw mat on the floor. Our mom would then warm oil in a small wok, to which basil leaves, pepper corn, raw rice, hibiscus flowers etc were added.

Once the oil was warm enough to say ouch! when it touched the palm of your hand, the oil massage would start.

As our mom massaged our scalps with warm oil, our whole body would relax, and eyes automatically close – it was pure bliss. Our hands, legs and faces were also massaged with oil.

We had some old frocks that we wore for this activity. We were asked to soak- in the oil for a good 45 minutes. So, during this time we sat and played all kinds of word games.

We took turns to have our baths in hot water, washing away the oil with heavenly-smelling shikakai powder.

Once all the kids were done, the adults did the same.

Oil bath days had special menus, and the food was served piping hot. The whole family would sit and eat together.

After the heavy meal, my Dad would play 70s music; the deep voices of the singers lulling us into sleep.

We would wake up refreshed and relaxed, ready to have some hot cocoa or if we were lucky, a little cup of coffee.

Oil bath days were so special. They rejuvenated our minds and bodies, and also strengthened family bonds.