Connecting the dots


In many South Indian homes, the day begins when the lady of the house goes to her courtyard or front porch, washes it with water, and draws a kolam, which is artwork that usually uses dots. These dots are connected together, in many ways, to create visual treats.

Kolams are usually drawn free hand, with rice flour. The rice flour is gripped between the thumb and the pointer finger. As the hand makes the required movement, the rice flour is dropped at an even pace! And lo! In less than three minutes a beautiful kolam is ready.

When we were children, we took turns to draw the kolam every morning. As the first rays of the sun fell on our little town, one of us would take a pail of water, and wash the area around the threshold of the house. With a broom made of sticks, we would sweep the yard and remove all excess water. Then, we would get the bowl with the rice flour and start drawing the kolam.

We were usually taught these basic designs by our grandmoms or aunts or moms. As with any new art form, the kolams we created were distended and uneven, with fat lines. With practice, we got better.

We were given free rein to draw any kolam we wanted.

Starting off with 2 x 2 dot matrices, we moved on to 3 x 3, 4 x 4….and then 10 x 10, and to other shapes like triangles and circles!

Some of the designs are so intricate that they require a lot of concentration- one wrong move, and the whole kolam needed to be reworked!

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The satisfaction from learning and completing a kolam was immense.

The kolam is usually drawn as a sign of welcome to visitors, and also to bring prosperity to the home.

Kolams are also believed to have provided food to little birds and ants, so that they did not have to go too far away in search of food.

There are special kolam designs for festivals that we celebrate. These kolams are usually made with liquid rice flour. I put special kolams at home for every festival!

In the city of Chennai in India, there is a kolam competition every year, in the month of marghazhi in the Tamil calendar, which falls between 15 Dec and 15 January. People participate enthusiastically; and the whole street reverberates with creativity and excitement!

Sharing two pictures of this year’s competition that were shared by my cousin and my friend.

Wedding Kolams are elaborate, and usually every home has an aunt or grandma, who excels at wedding kolams. Such kolams can be nearly 3 feet in diametre. It is back breaking work for the woman who usually draws the kolam.

Courtesy – http://www.shutterstock.com

When my mind wanders far away, and my hands start doodling, it is mostly kolam patterns that I end up drawing. Last night, I did precisely that!

My kolam doodles from last night…the inspiration for this post!

Kolams are much like our lives. There are dots and lines. Dots are like the important milestones or stages in our lives. The lines represent our journey. Sometimes life is smooth, sometimes life gets knotted and complicated, sometimes all the dots connect beautifully, and then life is perfect!

Weaving a tale – A short story


The rain beat down mercilessly; it had been pouring the whole week. Flashes of lightning captured snapshots of a group of people standing in the pouring rain, with the Banyan tree under which they stood offering only some semblance of cover.

But even louder than the noise of the falling rain was the loud pounding in Devan’s head, as he was berated and belittled by his community.

Devan stood with a bent head, as he heard things that seared through his heart.

Devan, and all the people who stood there that night, belonged to one of the oldest weaving communities in the country. Their history dated back to hundreds of years; they had been weavers for kings, queens, princes and princesses, and now in 1975, they wove for society’s elite. Their weaving techniques were a closely guarded secret, passed on from generation to generation.  They married only within the community, to protect their craft.

Devan’s daughter, Chella, had done the unthinkable. She had chosen her husband from outside the community; an act that the community considered treacherous; and one that could threaten the very fabric of their existence.

Chella had been forced to leave the village, and had been banned from ever entering it.

Devan’s wife had died when Chella was 9 years old. From then on, Devan had been both mother and father to the girl.

The people threatened to ostracize Devan if he attempted to revive ties with his daughter.

A broken father stood, facing his fellow-men, as his heart broke into a hundred pieces, as he thought about his daughter. He had not been given any time to talk to Chella, or tell her anything. The news had spread like wild fire in the small village and even the pouring rain couldn’t put out the fire.

It was a long night.

The sun rose the next day, and slowly life limped back to normal. Devan missed his daughter and ached to talk to her. The village has only one phone and that was in the Headman’s house. He resigned himself to his fate.

In their community, there was a practice that each time a girl got married, her father would weave the bridal saree, with motifs of all the things that the girl liked.

As Devan went about his chores, an idea took shape in his head. After his usual quota of weaving everyday, he started weaving a bridal saree for his daughter – every warp, every weft, woven with love and the agony of separation.

In a few weeks his gift was ready. On his next day off, he met a very old friend of his from a neighbouring village and sought his help in passing on the gift to his daughter. The friend swore his secrecy and took the saree with him.

Devan hoped and prayed that his daughter would be happy to receive the gift.

The friend made it to the small town and located Chella’s house. New bride though she was, the girl looked unhappy and sad. She perked up when she saw her Dad’s friend.

She cried for her father and his plight. She was happy that he was not mad at her and thrilled with the saree.

After her Dad’s friend left, she opened the saree and cried, as she saw each motif that her father had woven into it – from sunflowers to butterflies, lollipops and colourful ribbons, bits of her life leaped out at her. As she studied it, her trained weaver’s eye saw that there was a written message woven into the saree.

It read, “Chella, my dear. I love you and bless you with every happiness in your life. Have a good life. I bear no anger towards you. Believe in your dreams. You have made the right choice. I love you. Blessings – Papa.”

The burden of having chosen an untrodden path slowly fell away from Chella’s shoulders.

She smiled – a wide, beautiful and confident smile.