Needle, Needlework and the beauty of life lessons in Simla of the Sixties

Needle, Needlework and the beauty of life lessons in Simla of the Sixties

Needle and needlework were as integral to our life as was the Sun we warmed ourselves under and the air that we breathed in, in the lanes of lower Bazaar of Simla in the Sixties!

It was such a simple and basic activity that it was taken for granted for each and everyone to learn using a needle be it for hemming a shirt, cross-stitch design on the jute material using thick woolen threads in myriad colors or to stitch intricate gota designs on colorful dupattas!!!

There was hardly a girl in our neighborhood that had not held a needle in her nimble fingers during the growing up years of Simla of the Sixties. And more specifically if you were born in a Sood family or raised like me, in a predominantly, Sood neighborhood! A blessing it was for me for sure!

When I was born in the small house in the lanes of Lower Bazaar, there, sure, must have been a lookout for someone who would make me lick the first tiny drop of honey smeared on a gold piece….as was the custom adopted since long, called “Gudsat”, if I remember correctly! Amma must have thought of the right person to do this job on her second born child. So it was Kaku’s (Surender Karol) Pabboh who, as I am told, did this favour to me. And much later when I would learn from her holding a needle in my nimble hands attempting needlework and making gota-patti flowers, sitting besides her on the tin roof, she would exclaim, “She sure has taken after me!!!!!”

The entire bevy of women would sit in the Sun on the roof of Khanna family’s house but we never thought of the roof being a part of someone else’s house it was always a common place for each and every person who had anything to do in the Sun. Some women would bring out the knitting needles, some would bring out the casement cloth on which they would embroider designs in cross-stitch counting the threads in the cloth, and few others like Kaku’s Pabbho would stitch gota designs on small pieces of  silk, taffeta or satin pieces making kajlauthis, small pouches etc. These lovely and lively activities would be done in frenzied manner when there was a marriage in the neighbourhood. Even otherwise everyone would have a small gota patti running through entire plain dupatta….so one would wear her dupatta plain….a kinari, simple gota or Kiran would be stitched around the dupatta!

We would watch mesmerized the miracle the humble needle could do…piercing through the fabric, stitching the gota onto it and lo a beauty to behold was ready!

I would be collecting all the discarded pieces of gota and stitching them on the clothes for my rag doll. Looking back I am amazed at the judicious use of every little fabric, thread and gota by these women who were by the modern day standards just “housewives” lazing in the Sun for whole of the day…. doing nothing!

It was not that these women were the only one doing it, the Kashmiri darner sitting near the Shiv Mandir did the ruffugiri on small holes or tears on expensive clothes whereas the plain clothes were darned by the women themselves. I remember Amma darning her own shawl by pulling out a thread from the shawl and using it for darning so that it would gel with the shawl and would be as good as the natural weave…!

But what I liked the most was a needlework wallah who would sit near the tunnel at the road going towards Ram Bazaar. He had a very different needle. It was like a small narrow syringe and he would put thread inside it and would peck on the cloth making beautiful patters leaving loose loops on the cloth to be cut finely later one. The end result was velvet like designs a little elevated, soft and thick like a soft chenille cloth. How I would stand near him doing all the magic. He would put a little wax from a candle or soap on the thread to make it stiff so that it would pass the length of the needle. The thread had to be inserted very delicately and then would peck-peck-peck and that’s all!

Once our school, the Lady Irwin school, organized a session on Saturday where this virtuoso displayed his art….how we all clamored to buy a needle believing that we would be able to make a Taj Mahal, a lion or a flower on a cloth,  to be framed and displayed on the wall along  with pictures of all gods and goddesses. But I could never make it…..but sadly the needle would not work in my hands…we believed that he had a different needle which he used for himself and  different  needles that he sold us!! As we could never learn the intrinsic needlework that his deft fingers would produce!  But his mastery in needlework bewitched us all!

But one common “thread” among all these was the needle and the thread…both complementing each other. Each  useless without the other and a deft hand to guide and handle both! Perhaps I learnt the wisdom of Amma’s saying, “Never hand over a ‘Nangi sui’”….and Dhaaga following the needle would do the job! Team work at its best! Threads of life weaving a colourful and sustainable life!

And in my turn, I introduced my daughters to work with needles. So when my younger daughter offered to stitch gota on my dupatta…sitting cozily in quilt and I shared the old wisdom of needle, threads and the beauty both filled our life with….I had performed a task of transferring traditions! And sharing all these stories  with her when she sits with a needle and thread in her hands and I get all the Sunshine that I enjoyed during my childhood on the rooftops of lanes of Lower Bazaar in Simla of the Sixties!

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