Dignity of Labour through Needlework…

Dignity of labour through love for needlework

I always thought that all the women of my neighbourhood resort to all those feminine pastimes like knitting, needlework ect. as they just loved it and had much spare time at their disposal to devote to this hobby!! How wrong I was, I learnt this fact  through a very simple personal  interaction…rather one way interaction with an old woman. She would come to stay with a family in the neighborhood for summers, a guest! She found in me a young excited child to speak to…I was not at all interested in her ramblings but I, sure, was interested in her deft handiwork. She was the best in applique work. I would watch, keenly, how she would fold cloth, first in  four layers,  and at times in  eight folds, and very meticulously, holding scissors in one hand, would cut all layers moving the cloth in circular motion with the other hand. No drawing or tracing of the design, simple movement of scissors through the layered cloth, in circular motions. The pattern, it seemed,  would all be in her mind. I would sit near her watching  her unfold the layers, thus cut,  very delicately, her old fingers lovingly putting the pieces in a pattern only she could see therein, though for a novice like me, it was a mangled piece of cloth, having no shape or design. She would arrange this so-called-design, “Katawen” on a light coloured plain cloth, mostly off white in colour. The lovingly, with a threaded needle,  she would, using long stitches attach the cutout patterned cloth on it. The whole now would look like a crisscross of long stitches joining together two cloths, one over the other giving, almost, an ugly look. Where was the design, I would wonder. Was spending all this time sitting there was worth? But the magic would start now. She would start folding inward the design at the edges and with very fine stiches would sew along the cutoff pattern. ” You have to use small ‘tuppu’ almost at right angles to the cloth” she would tell me. And after a while the beautiful design would gradually make itself visible, shyly at first and then the whole pattern would come out bold and beautiful. This post is not as much as about the pattern making as it is for the wisdom of the old lady. She had found in me a close confidante, so would mutter at times to me, “Why to be a burden if I can still do something productive?” She was, in her own small way, making herself contribute to the family she was staying with as a guest. It satisfied her self-esteem that she was not a burden and an unpleasant addition to  the family. She would add these magical colourful  “Katawen” to anything she thought required s facelift, even a small “khandolu” of a baby.  Her needs were simple and so were the materials that she required for her artistic magiciary…to give life to small pieces of cloths, we often throw away. In a small basket she had some leftover pieces of cloths, red being supreme among them, a big piece of cloth to be used as a background surface, some  threads, a needle and a scissors. That’s all she needed. No big deal, it was basic and simple, no tantrums about sophisticated gadgets. The society those days believed in making something useful out of even the waste cuttings.  And long staying guests would mingle with the family by making themselves as useful as they could. Some years ago when I visited the family in my neighbourhood, I clicked the pictures of those “Katawen” work which adorned their Baithak as Diwan-posh, a coverlet for the Diwan, and I thought of the Tauni Pabboh, and immense number of Tuppus gone in the making of this work-of-art possible! I wish and pray  that they must have got it framed in glass, to save from the ravages of time, as relic of a bygone era of women who held their “self” esteem though no one in the neighbourhood had heard about the words like women empowerment, self-esteem, self-worth or motivating young through personal examples.
When my daughter, to destress herself from corporate pressure, indulges in applique work, I send a silent prayer to the simple, yet proud women of my Simla neighborhood for initiating me to the concept of dignity of labour! I pay my homage to all those brave women by trying to replicate all that I watched as a small girl, in a very crude way, and have passed on the art to my daughters as well, alongwith this story!

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