Rag dolls in georgette sarees and pink Terylene gowns….. in Simla of the Sixties
There was a small toy shop in the Lower Bazaar where stairs leading from the Khadi Bhandaar on the Mall would meet, .. The shop, adjascent to Kapur Son’s, had many toys but what I was interested in this shop, were dolls. The plastic ones which would move both their arms at 360* angles as both were connected through a slim elastic giving them easy mobility. But both the legs were joined together making the doll stiff and ramrod straight. And these dolls were very small in size, hard to touch and stiff. I wanted a little bigger, a little supplier, and a little softer doll to play with.
The alternative to have a soft doll was to make one….using rags stuffed in white new cloth pieces. And during long winter holidays….we would indulge in rag-doll-making process. What a joy it would be for us. To cut a square piece, stuff it with cotton pulled out from a hole in some old quilt, to knot it tightly making it a rounded shape to pass for the face and head of the doll.
Another bigger rectangular piece would be stiched like a pillow, stuffed with cotton or rags, to be used as the torso of the doll.
Two long and two small elongated pieces stuffed with cotton would substitute for legs and arms of the doll. All these would be stitched together. We would use needle and thread for all this work as there were no staplers or gluesticks heard of during our childhood. The structure, thus made, would give semblance of a human body, though very crude and rough one!
Next step would be to add black hair to the head of the doll. I remember cutting Amma’s black paranda to have long black strands to be stiched very finely to the head of the doll.
With black thread eyes would be embroidered on the face, a little nose with just one long stitch, and lips with red coloured thread.
Lo and behold….the rag doll would be ready. Her home would be a shoebox where she would lie on a beautiful bed, made up of matchboxes lining a corner…
The most challenging task would be to have a wardrobe for the doll. Old Georgette dupattas…scoured from any household in the entire neighbourhood would make up for a saree for our doll. Sequins, gota pieces, pearls, even thin iron wires would be used in the most imaginative ways to make jewelery for the doll. How ingenuous we were….thinking of so many creative uses of such simple and small waste material…that we may find anywhere and everywhere!
How I would go till Laddakhi mohalla to the house of one Masi who stitched clothes on order and to search for little bits of Terylene pieces, in shades of shocking pink and flourescent green, to stich a frock for my doll. But sadly as the rag-filled legs of my doll would be limp and lifeless…frocks would not suit her. So we would have her draped in Georgette sarees and long pink gowns of Terylene. The georgette saree would cling to her shapeless torso so the voluminous Terylene gowns became her fashion statement….hiding her limp legs!
We never knew and neither did any woman in the entire neighbourhood ever thought of that how we, the girls and boys as well, who were making dolls to play with were learning highly important life lessons. We were learning to nurture another human being through caring for lifeless rag dolls. We were learning lessons in fashion designing by learning what fabric or style would suit a particular shape or figure.
We were learning that everything right from a leftover piece of cloth, gota, sequin or pearl could be do judiciously used in adorning a person….if you can think creatively and innovatively.
And the best lesson that we learnt was that one had to be supple, soft and malleable to be welcome and not ramrod stiff all the time. No plastic except plasticity in the brain cells!!…. Life requires adjustments!