Sunday, April 8, 2018

The Dubai Literary Festival


Not being a mall hopper I am always on a quest for the unusual during my regular visits to Dubai to be with my family. The highlight this time was attending the 10th Emirates Airline Festival of Literature held this month at the Intercontinental Hotel Dubai Festival City. As Press you can take in any number of programmes, but otherwise you attend each session for a fee. What was immensely gratifying is the professional way it is conducted, the choice of speakers, and the rigid sense of punctuality from start to finish.
Dotted with interesting zones, the Festival space includes a Festival Bookshop, a book signing area, a Creekside café with lounging mats and soft pouffes, a Foundation Friends Lounge, a Family Oasis with activities for the children, Childrens reading zone,  Heritage Majlis where poetry, readings go on throughout the day. And the concept which really seemed wonderful was the emphasis on children’s literature, and encouraging children of all ages to explore books.
I looked forward to listening to Alexander McCall Smith, for I’ve loved reading his books beginning with The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, Smith’s fast paced writing, spiced with humour. Author of more than 100 books, McCall Smith was recently awarded the prestigious Medal of Honour for Achievement in Literature by the National Arts Club of America. He was not able to make it on the scheduled date, owing to airports closed in Europe due to heavy snow and blizzards. I did catch up on him at a later date, and it was one  hour of mischief, laughter and story telling all the way.
 I landed at Melissa Hemsley’s talk which did interest me being a foodie and a cookbook author myself. Hemsley is the author of Eat Happy 30 minute Feel Good Food, and charmingly put across her views on healthy home cooked meals which can be completed in 30 minutes.
The biggest bonus was attending a lecture by Shashi Tharoor, interviewed by William Dalrymple. Brilliant as usual, Shashi talked to a packed hall, where there was not a single seat empty, and many stood throughout the programme, riveted to the speaker as he led us on to the atrocities committed by the British Raj, and lambasted them for reducing the richest independent country of the world in the 17th Century having a GDP of 27% to third world poverty in 200 years. By the time the British left, India’s share of the world GDP had plummeted to just over 3%. Emperor Aurangazeb’s wealth alone was more than that of all the heads of state of the world put together. The damage done by colonialism is unquantifiable, and when you think of 3 million people who died unnecessarily during a tumultuous period, any sum of money paid as compensation would not justify this enormous loss of life and property.
The British had a revisionist populist history which was taught in schools and colleges alike, making out that they had done a big favour to India by ruling them. Britain owes reparation to our country, and though people say people who were offenders and those who were severely affected are no longer there,  it makes sense to at least render a public apology.
“India, a country sophisticated in textiles, in banking, in merchandise was submitted to 200 years of plunder and loot, to line the British coffers.”  My own feelings about the weaving industry reduced to tatters found an answering chord in Shashi Tharoor’s description of the East India Company destroying our handloom industry, one which wove muslin called woven winds, soft as clouds and passing through a small ring, sold as British calico… William Bentinck, governor of Madras and later governor-general, wrote that ‘the bones of the cotton weavers were bleaching the plains of India.’ Tariffs of 70 per cent and more were imposed on the textiles India produced, and cheap British cottons flooded the Indian market.
Indian soldiers were harnessed to fight for the British in World War 1 and Indian taxpayers had to contribute  8 billion pounds to pay for expenses. We were foolish enough to support wars against ourselves, while they pocketed all the profits.
 Tharoor’s personality, his diction, his articulate speech and his passion and anger against Indians having to wear British yokels earned him deafening applause and he must have had the longest queue of fans waiting for him to sign the books they bought, the latest being  Inglorious Empire.. What the British did to India .
On the second day of the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature, William Darymple author of Kohinoor, History of the World’s most Infamous Diamond with Anita Anand British TV journalist gave us what he called the true history of the famous gemstone.
Why would the magnificient gem among the world’s largest, weighing about 105.6 carats be anywhere but in India?  It sits on the purple crown of the Queen Mother, on the Maltese Cross and being displayed in the Tower of London. Read the book to find out the methods of trickery, bloodshed, or sheer generosity if you will deployed to change ownership.
Darymple and Anand uncovered layers of four centuries of histories to substantiate that India was the only known source of diamonds, before they were mined in Brazil in 1725. The Kohinoor which ironically meant the Mountain of Light was mired for centuries in murder, larceny, bloodshed and calamities and bode evil for its owners. In the 17th century, the Kohinoor Diamond occupied pride of place in the magnificent Peacock Throne, which was commissioned by Shah Jahan. In 1739 the Persian ruler conquered Delhi, with his frenzy of carnage and carried off the throne with all his jeweled booty to Persia.
In an unbelievable magical historical tour the diamond was grabbed by the East India Company to the Crown of Queen Mother  Elizabeth.


And now there are six claimants to the infamous diamond, India of course, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Iran, Afganistan and Taliban.  According to Darymple, India has the strongest claim, but whether the claim will be considered is another question. There is a U.N rule regarding loot that has to be returned, but operational only from the 20th Century! So the chances of India ever getting this National Treasure back is anyones guess…


Sunday, March 18, 2018

A FRAGRANCE OF FRESHLY BAKED BREAD


Going through Metro Plus of a few days ago, and reading a feature on Albert Bakery in Bangalore, brought back a string of nostalgic memories.

We lived in Mosque Road, Fraser Town when we could walk miles without the scare of being run over by speeding vehicles or tripping on broken pavements. I was born, brought up, educated in this once lovely city, a real pensioners paradise, got married at home,  and had my children there...before the shift to other cities, and finally nesting in Madras, for 45 years. So where are my roots? Chennai yes, as my connections are there. Bengaluru for old times sake, a paradise which has been converted to a burgeoning city bursting at the seams, no longer commutable with ease.

Albert Bakery was just down our road, a laid back modest looking old place, small, but churning out pastries, rolls, cakes with unfailing regularity, based on the demand and quick turnover. On drizzly days when the city turned its airconditioning on, my father would go over to Albert Bakery, and order flaky melt in the mouth "puffs" laden with mince meat, and vegetarian puffs for my mother. The connect between the cool weather and the puffs transported us to highs as we sunk our teeth into each puff, careful not to gorge ourselves incurring our doctor father's displeasure!

When our visitors came, they were given a package of butter biscuits,  something not available in Chennai or other cities and one of Albert Bakery's signature product.Cake making was common in our home in Bangalore, and my mother had those ovens which you placed over kerosene stoves, till Albert Bakery stepped in. "Send your batter and we will bake it for you, Ma'am", he said.

After licking the cake batter bowl clean, we girls used to march off to Albert Bakery in the morning, w after Mummy poured it into cake tins, and by tea time the baked cake was sent to us!

The Muslim gentleman who owned AB was my father's patient as were so many others in the locality. He is no more, and his sons are carrying on the business. They as young kids might have known my father Dr Chander, and I would be delighted to meet up with them on my next trip to Bengaluru.
www.thehindu.com/todays paper/tp-features/tp-metroplus/baking-its-way-into-hearts/article23266073.ece

Sunday, October 22, 2017

KANCHEEPURAM

Ramaswamy enjoyed his bath, it was the only time he could call his own, when no one would disturb him or his thoughts. As he poured the sombu of cold water over his head, he dreamt design and colour. He came out smiling with a wet towel round his torso and went straight to the deities on the wall, and  lit the camphor his wife kept ready for him in the dhoopakalsa. The ringing of the puja bell told everyone in the household that Ramu was almost ready for his work. Ponni handed him a plate of two dry dosais and yesterday’s chutney. He wolfed it down with indecent haste with a hot cup of coffee. Ponni was a good wife.
He touched the loom and pressed his hands to his forehead. The loom. So sacred to him. Ramaswamy lived in Kancheepuram, the sacred temple city which gave him life and now probably his death. The city of weavers like him who worked so hard that their joints pained with the continuous work. They believed they were descendents of the Sage Markandeya weaver of the Gods. They were told that the first fabric woven was by him out of lotus fibre.
People who visited Kancheepuram were struck at the coloured warp threads stretched across the roads, tied to forked bamboo poles. Early morning weavers could be seen carrying the warp on giant spools and setting them up.
Every home in Kancheepuram the silk city had a loom. The loom was the centre of their daily life, it was like a wooden giant occupying the biggest room in the house. All life flowed round the loom. Adjacent was a backyard leading to the kitchen where he could see Ponni start her daily chores of cooking and cleaning. Children played in the yard, vessels were washed, and Ponni would sit there and spin the yarn and load it on bobbins and sang softly to herself. The loom gave them life, and the children sensing it would toddle across to their father. One of Ramu’s children would sleep under the loom as it was so cool.
Ramu eased himself into his hard stone seat and dangled his aching legs into the pit provided below. Above the jala with its tentacles of threads supervised his every move like a friendly giant spider. When he reached out and touched the heddles, it was taal to every beat. When he stroked the warp threads stretched across the loom, it was like playing a stringed instrument, a raga, it stirred his very soul.
His little son would watch him intently and when he was old enough he would come home from school and help to pass the shuttle, his slim nimble fingers would guide it through the threads. Ramu managed to weave korvai sarees, and hugged the payment of 5,000 rupees for a set of three sarees as just payment. There was money to be made in silk sarees, but cotton saree wages were very low, and weavers like him refused to weave them.
And then, in a well meaning move the Child Labour Act came into existence in the mid 80s. No child under twelve could work, even in their parents’ homes, and the repercussions would be serious.  Muthu, Ramu’s son was on an occasion twining the yarn in a spirit of playfulness. The Inspectors, tipped off, marched in and clamped a fine of 500 rupees for breaking the law, and no amount of pleading would make them relent. The oral tradition of weaving handlooms was slowly but surely being broken. Something which was as natural as breathing was taken away from them and that led to the death of the korvai sarees. If a family could not manage it, they could not afford to pay extra for outside labour.
Long hours at the pit loom led to arthritis, straining led to eye problems. Ramu sighed. His children would be educated and they would no longer be slaves to a vocation which killed them sapping them of all energy.
NGOs sympathised, they brought in innovation and high wages for a project, and an exhibition. After that a vaccum. No market visibility.The government offered them support, continuous work if they joined co-operatives. Ramu refused, he had his own reasons.
The wheel of destiny had to come full circle. Suddenly handlooms were celebrated, the weavers venerated, old designs were rehashed by die hard traditionalists, every effort was a giant drop in the ocean. But the damage was done. The young were no longer interested, they drifted off to the corporate world which had the stamp of respectability where they were offered better wages and sustainable livelihoods…
As he wove, Ponni brought him hot pakodas. He refused to touch them as it would dirty the yarn. She fed him one. “What are you weaving?” she asked. “A sari for my queen for Deepavalli,” he said. He placed the mirror under the warp and a beautiful small intricately woven border of deep pink and gold showed itself. “At least this year I can afford it!” he said.

“Yes we will see better times,” said Ponni, chuckling with the typical optimism that she was blessed with, knowing that they would always be mired in the groove of a traditional vocation as they knew no other skill. And once Muthu started earning, they could retire and live in comfort……

Saturday, March 11, 2017

WEAVING RELIGION INTO TEXTILES


I write this on a day celebrated by the whole of India as handloom day,  though for me, every day is handloom day. Textiles constitute the second largest industry in India, second only to agriculture, providing employment to over a million people India can boast of the beginnings of hand woven cloth, going by the discovery of a piece of madder dyed  cloth, in a silver pot in the ruins of Harappa dating back to the 3rd millennium BC. The silver, acting like a mordant kept the red dye alive for centuries. Ancient Sind deserts unearthed terracotta spindle whorls and a bronze needle. It established the fact that not only did the early inhabitants of the Indus Valley know how to spin and weave but the coarse scrap of madder indicated that they knew how to dye the cloth that they wove.
Religion and textiles have been interminably melded and apart from social significance religious overtones have existed  from time immemorial. Temple towns like Kancheepuram became the base for the weaving communities. Lord Shiva was an ascetic who favoured cotton, so cotton looms sprung up near Shiva temples. Lord Vishnu wore silk, so you could account for the cluster of silk looms around Vishnu temples.
Sage Markandeya, was believed,to be the weaver of the gods who fashioned the first fabric from the lotus fibre emanating from Vishnu’s navel. Weavers of Kancheepuram, claim descent from the sage. The aura of religion enveloped the weaver communities, who deemed it an honour to weave ritual cloth for the gods. Indeed it was the most skilled weaver who was designated this job, and only the finest of cloth devoid of any flaws considered  good enough to be offered to the temple deity. This became a test and a challenge of finely honed skills and artistic ability exercised with  the utmost devotion.. Ritual cloths have different expressions in various parts of India.

The South has been a stronghold of these kind of painted cloths famous of which are Srikalahasthi, Madurai, Pallakollu, and Tanjore. The stories were hand painted with the brilliance of  indigo and madder, some of them combined with the technique of hand block printing. Mythological stories were handpainted on cloth, and it is a skill which is present even today, though the religious significance has faded with the advent of time.

Devotees offer saris to the temples, which are later preserved in special boxes to be taken out on festive occasions to be worn by the idols. Certain temples return the saris to the devotees, who preserve them in their homes, in a wicker basket, and limes, agarbatti and camphor are placed on them. On special occasions the basket is taken  out by the oldest member of the family and the entire family worships the deity which has been offered the sari. The saris were sometimes auctioned and sold as temple saris.
In Srivilliputhur,  such ornamental sarees measuring 10 yards, are offered to Goddess Andal, and later the cut pieces from these  sent to various Vaishnav temples.
The offering of saris to the deity is common among Hindus, and one such votive offering to the Mother Goddess is the Amman Selai, to seek benediction and mercy from her. This is to mainly avert natural calamities, preventing pox, loss of life and cattle. These special saris are usually ordered and procured from craftspersons specialising in ritual saris. The Amman Selai is produced in Pasumpon Mathuramalingam district, Tirunelveli district and some parts of Tamil Nadu.
Originally the drawings of God Karupannaswami and Goddess Kali  were drawn directly by the artist, but today, the old designs are traced and reproduced. Wax is applied over the figures in the pallu and in places where colour is not to be suffused and the whole sari dipped in red dye which is made from rose red powder and raktha chivappu dissolved in hot water.
The antiquity of pata-chitra goes back to the 8th century. This style of painting is a combination of folk and classical painting drawing heavily on  Krishna Leela and Jaganath themes. This style of icon-painting of Puri occupies pride of place among various forms of pictorial arts in Orissa through wall paintings, manuscript paintings and palm-leaf etchings.
The candarvo is a Gujerati tradition which establishes the sacred space around the shrine over which it may be suspended, or by which the shrine is enclosed.
Similarly in Gujerat the pachedi follows the same tradition of hand-painting and block printing using black and madder colours.  The pachedi and candarvo were surrounded by the same sanctity that enveloped the deities.
An abiding faith in religion and mythology gave strength and  continuity to a strong oral tradition, and time honoured techniques.
Always, religion was the pivot around which this art blossomed. This slowly yielded to royal patronage, and when this too deteriorated, the artisans looked to new markets, designers, and the government  for continued support for a sustainable livelihood.








BED MAKING

As a child I loved going through English magazines bought by my mother, and, fed on the glory of the British Raj and their impeccable, sophisticated ways I admired English ladies. I wasn’t inducted into the raptures of desi décor and craft as I am now. I soaked in  Georgette Hayer and Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind, and dreamt of wearing crinoline dresses and being swept off my feet by a Clark Gable look alike!! As a young teenager, buying curtains and georgette sarees and chiffons were certainly out of my reach, but the next best thing was the dressing of beds and windows. My mother who was a good seamstress, made frilly curtains and valances out of printed voile sarees and lace window blinds, and it pleased me that she shared my passion.
Many married years later and when maturity sunk in, I learnt to appreciate Indian textiles and the wealth of culture we inherited.  I couldn’t even bear to store a host of imported ceramic curios in glass cupboards crafted for this purpose. But our bed mania persisted, and the beds had to be perfectly made without a single crease, and my paranoia infected the whole household. That spelt doom for our domestics who could not understand why folds in the under sheet mattered so much, and why beds should be made at night and remade the next morning. They talked with pride how they worked in homes where there was only a single sheet, and pillows outside and  bed linen changed once a week, and that they never ever had this backbreaking chore.
We made (and unmade) our beds ourselves, till I decided to pass on this skill to our maids. Maybe it was an unwise decision, but having got into that mode, I am not getting out of it, and each of us has our own vision as to how a bed has to be made. Fortunately, of late, husband Kittu has made a foray into domestic activities. Retired men please note, it might or might not be a good thing. Depends on the tolerance of your spouse.
Well, my husband tucks in both the inner sheet and the outer right in at the footboard. This is to facilitate easy unbedmaking at night and remaking the next morning till sheets are changed. The inner sheet is spread out, tucked securely at the sides, mattress lifted up for this purpose, no shortcuts please and   woe to the woman who tries to push it in, with the tips of her fingers. Never mind if it is a heavy Kurl On mattress, you don’t have to do weights at the Gym. If you’re the kind who doesn’t gym, all the more reason, to believe that bedmaking is sure to improve your biceps and triceps, and if you draw your tummy in during the process you will help the core muscles. . If you are a young woman between 35 and 40 and weigh let us say 65 kg with a height of 5’ 5” you will burn about 60 calories an hour, making the bed, if it is any comfort.
To continue, after the sheets are stretched taut (according to my husband he was taught at the hostel that if properly made, a coin would bounce off the sheet) they are are folded backwards, pillows placed on the fold after being plumped out and the folded end of the sheet placed over the pillows. Then the small cushions are arranged in an artistic manner.
What purpose do these cushions serve?” I am asked. More work, more tailoring, and if ready made covers are bought the fit is reminiscent of an old lady wearing a loose fitting gown, or if it is too tight, you invariably tear the cushion in attempting to stuff it in…
Mum has her own ideas on bed making while the morning session remains the same, the night session varies. The top sheet is entirely removed and folded in a particular way at the foot of the bed, in an absolutely straight fashion.
And to crown it all our maid is blessed with parallax error in her vision. I took out my beautiful indigo ajrakh counterpane with its exquisite borders. All it required was adjusting the borders to the edge of the bed. No way, the borders were placed in near diagonal fashion, with one side of the sheet hanging lower than the other. According to my maid the borders were perfectly aligned and it was we who had warped vision thanks to the onset of old age.
Either way it is a losing battle. Either we pray for a suffusion of enormous patience to take up the challenges of training,  or we give up with good grace and learn to discipline ourselves to do the beds ourselves as we did once upon a time

Or should we go back to the chattai- and thin sheet routine at least in summer?BED MAKING
Sabita Radhakrishna
As a child I loved going through English magazines bought by my mother, and, fed on the glory of the British Raj and their impeccable, sophisticated ways I admired English ladies. I wasn’t inducted into the raptures of desi décor and craft as I am now. I soaked in  Georgette Hayer and Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind, and dreamt of wearing crinoline dresses and being swept off my feet by a Clark Gable look alike!! As a young teenager, buying curtains and georgette sarees and chiffons were certainly out of my reach, but the next best thing was the dressing of beds and windows. My mother who was a good seamstress, made frilly curtains and valances out of printed voile sarees and lace window blinds, and it pleased me that she shared my passion.
Many married years later and when maturity sunk in, I learnt to appreciate Indian textiles and the wealth of culture we inherited.  I couldn’t even bear to store a host of imported ceramic curios in glass cupboards crafted for this purpose. But our bed mania persisted, and the beds had to be perfectly made without a single crease, and my paranoia infected the whole household. That spelt doom for our domestics who could not understand why folds in the under sheet mattered so much, and why beds should be made at night and remade the next morning. They talked with pride how they worked in homes where there was only a single sheet, and pillows outside and  bed linen changed once a week, and that they never ever had this backbreaking chore.
We made (and unmade) our beds ourselves, till I decided to pass on this skill to our maids. Maybe it was an unwise decision, but having got into that mode, I am not getting out of it, and each of us has our own vision as to how a bed has to be made. Fortunately, of late, husband Kittu has made a foray into domestic activities. Retired men please note, it might or might not be a good thing. Depends on the tolerance of your spouse.
Well, my husband tucks in both the inner sheet and the outer right in at the footboard. This is to facilitate easy unbedmaking at night and remaking the next morning till sheets are changed. The inner sheet is spread out, tucked securely at the sides, mattress lifted up for this purpose, no shortcuts please and   woe to the woman who tries to push it in, with the tips of her fingers. Never mind if it is a heavy Kurl On mattress, you don’t have to do weights at the Gym. If you’re the kind who doesn’t gym, all the more reason, to believe that bedmaking is sure to improve your biceps and triceps, and if you draw your tummy in during the process you will help the core muscles. . If you are a young woman between 35 and 40 and weigh let us say 65 kg with a height of 5’ 5” you will burn about 60 calories an hour, making the bed, if it is any comfort.
To continue, after the sheets are stretched taut (according to my husband he was taught at the hostel that if properly made, a coin would bounce off the sheet) they are are folded backwards, pillows placed on the fold after being plumped out and the folded end of the sheet placed over the pillows. Then the small cushions are arranged in an artistic manner.
What purpose do these cushions serve?” I am asked. More work, more tailoring, and if ready made covers are bought the fit is reminiscent of an old lady wearing a loose fitting gown, or if it is too tight, you invariably tear the cushion in attempting to stuff it in…
Mum has her own ideas on bed making while the morning session remains the same, the night session varies. The top sheet is entirely removed and folded in a particular way at the foot of the bed, in an absolutely straight fashion.
And to crown it all our maid is blessed with parallax error in her vision. I took out my beautiful indigo ajrakh counterpane with its exquisite borders. All it required was adjusting the borders to the edge of the bed. No way, the borders were placed in near diagonal fashion, with one side of the sheet hanging lower than the other. According to my maid the borders were perfectly aligned and it was we who had warped vision thanks to the onset of old age.
Either way it is a losing battle. Either we pray for a suffusion of enormous patience to take up the challenges of training,  or we give up with good grace and learn to discipline ourselves to do the beds ourselves as we did once upon a time
Or should we go back to the chattai- and thin sheet routine at least in summer?
AFTER DUSK
Sabita Radhakrishna
To coin a clichéd phrase you never know what’s round the corner. It’s a blessing we don’t.  However, we need to prepare for the inevitable, when death knocks at the door, plucking a partner who has been there all your life, someone who has taken care of all the practical aspects of everyday life, like banking, finance, etc. which people like me find utterly boring and daunting.
As a rule with most women of my generation, we keep off these “trivialities” as we label them despite entreaties from our men who want us to learn how to live. One friend reminded me of an article in an old Readers Digest which was titled How to Help Your Wife be a Good Widow…it sounded so frivolous at the time, but not funny any more in the present context where you are left alone to cope with a situation beyond your control, bereft of children who will hold your hand, handle everything and leave you to grieve in peace. The present gen expects you to be independent, strong, invincible and get through all the formalities without a whimper.
Out of experience, I would advise all couples to discuss what each would do if  one dies. We did.  Each of us should write a Living Will. Take a bound diary, one which will not get misplaced easily and note down what is where.
Declutter first, getting rid of all unnecessary garbage in your files, which have gathered over the years. Don’t throw away what you don’t understand…your spouse might have kept it for a particular reason. In your Living Will book, write down the list of  important files you have…topping the list should be Medical and Insurance.  Always let someone know where you keep these files and keep them handy to be grabbed at a moment’s notice. Write down where you keep your fixed deposits, cheque books and pass books, where the key to your bank locker is kept. Note down the number on each deposit and when it matures, and how much interest you will get and when.
Make a note of where you keep your property papers and your will. These papers are best placed in the locker in your home where your heirs will have easy access and it will be the obvious place to find them. A woman should keep a stock of your jewellery, where they lie, and to whom they will ultimately be bequeathed. Encourage the children to take away what is theirs instead of having you as custodian which adds to the responsibility of living.
And you cannot ignore the lesser important details, yet vital for daily life like payments made to your staff, salaries, advances, bills that have been paid on a regular basis, like milk, telephone, gas, electricity, so on and so forth. Cumbersome, yes but it gives you peace to know your affairs are in order, and the ones who take over will not curse you for living a life of disorder though blissfully you will be unaware of it.
I am still in the process of getting my own life in order, and since my husband was one of those meticulous types, I don’t have to seek frantically, to find. And yet it has to conform to my system of working and one which I find convenient.
Mobilising your finances, not spreading them too wide, over many banks and not speculating after a certain age is sensible. Accounts should be easily accessed and you should be in a position to handle them..
We are fast reaching a paper less society and the sooner we train ourselves to online banking, fund transfers etc, the better otherwise we will be left behind in the race. The world is moving at a very fast rate, technologically as well, and if you can’t keep pace, get help, for your own survival..
The list of responsibilities a survivor has is overwhelming. Apart from the grief which is a dead weight in your heart there are so many formalities to look into. Don’t push yourself so much at the same time don’t procrastinate, keep your mind active. Try to slowly get back into the mainstream of life however hard it may seem but only when you are ready. Cry when you feel like it, don’t ever stifle your sobs as it is nothing to be ashamed of.  A sudden gust of familiar fragrance, the glimpse of a dear friend, that music which you both loved, the clothes, a scarf….is enough to set up emotions which are difficult to restrain.
Slowly the gruesome scars, are less gory in the process of healing, the sludge inside you turns to something more pleasant though the pain will remain for the rest of your life. Friends urge me to get out of the house,  taking a break, like a movie with friends, driving down the beach, visiting someone. Without the guilt that creeps in.
Believe me, I’m trying hard.
And now I will get back to filling the first page in my Living Will Book…



Sunday, March 27, 2016

LESS IS MORE

Sometime in life you have to downsize.  If you have been a “collector” all your life it is indeed painful.  Every object bespeaks memories, at least for me. I have never been able to splurge on artefacts, as  I do believe that whatever you possess need not necessarily be expensive. A piece of craft exquisitively fashioned, moderately priced can bring the same amount of appreciation as any of the Lladro porcelain curios.
 I would rather spend on the home than adornments for myself. Spend on  curtains, cushions, table linen etc, the whole family enjoys it, as well as visitors to your home. When you buy expensive saris and jewellery, it is for yourself..If you surround yourself with objects that are beautiful to look at, it gives you unmitigated pleasure…right from the plates you use, the cutlery, the simple things like the salt and pepper cellar, your table napkins, durries, the list is endless.  When these items are priced less,  they are easier to throw away when they have outlived their looks and usefulness.
A good time to downsize, is when the children get married and leave home. It doesn’t mean you leave the home bare and devoid of any décor.  Just begin by bequeathing stuff you don’t use. The pain is less when you have children who would love to have things that you have enjoyed. They have sentimental value, and it gives you pleasure to see them installed in your childrens’ homes. Alas they don’t make the children like that any more.
Today’s gen have defined tastes their own, diametrically opposite to yours. There’s no marrying the old and the new, as we have done. For them, an ornately carved chair, or a divan with exquisitely engraved tiles don’t hold them in thrall.  If they are “antique” pieces passed on from your parents, they would, in a moment of weakness probably condescend to accept a couple of pieces not before breaking their heads as to where these would find a place in their modern homes. Their contemporary tastes would allow huge leather upholstered sofas, pristine white curios,  modern paintings which you don’t understand even if you pretend to…finally you reluctantly agree that your pieces of furniture and bric-a-brac would look incongruous in their homes. Sigh!
One strategy worked for me when we left our bunglalow to have it “reduced” to apartments. We labelled a large cardboard carton, “Throw”.  The second one was labelled “Consider”, and the third, “ Keep”.  The third carton got filled in no time, the second took next place and the first hardly rose to half.  Once I emptied the “Throw” carton, it gave me such a sense of liberation, that I delved into the “Consider” carton, and removed many items I had absolutely no use for. An old vermicelli press, antiquated coffee filters from various countries, umpteen gadgets, old pressure cooker parts, had no room in my smaller apartment.
The buzz word is “merciless” don’t give the discards a second dekho, otherwise you get swamped in nostalgia and regret. I can never throw away an old piece of textile, however tattered.  I have never spent money on rare saris, they happened to be very affordable when I bought them, and to me they are priceless, because I reinvent the designs, pass them on to my weavers and acquaint them with the colours they would otherwise never be familiar with. And as for wearable saris I face an impasse!
My children will not wear my  saris, not that they dislike them, but because their “occasions” do not warrant being wrapped in traditional wear. Wearing salwar kameez, palazzo pants,  or any kind of western wear, is admittedly so convenient, though I have been crying myself hoarse urging the younger ones to wear saris. Anyway I have made a firm resolve that any of my traditional saris that the girls in the family do not want, will go to a textile museum.
And the photographs, hundreds of them lie sepia coloured with age. Digitalise them  even if you can’t do it yourself, put them on DVDs and just dump the rest. It is heartbreaking to fling memories away, but you have to get on with it.
My husband decided to dump a large cardboard carton in the guest room much against my will. Anything unused would find its way into the carton. In no time it was full…would you believe it a junk man was called in and he gave us a thousand bucks for what I thought was rubbish! And this was three years ago. The money came in handy towards charities I support.
Every time you clean a cupboard, you discover junk to discard.  I have been inspired by my friend Sita a practical woman if there was ever one.  She lived alone, and when she reached the stage when she wanted to be cared for, and not bother about the household and cooking and servants, she set about executing her meticulous plan. Apart from the bare necessities, she threw away just about every item that she was not going to use hereafter. The “items” found their way into friends’ homes, the ones who loved to hoard these useful items for a later date. Ice cream churners, juicers, Rukmini cookers, whatever, and Sita achieved her goal of clearing her home. Moving became much easier.
And today we have Quik-r to dispose of stuff, but not before you photograph them, upload the pics on to their site and state the price you want for them. I decided to travel  the new route and placed my well maintained though old microwave oven up for sale. No success as I had probably quoted too high a price. It was so simple just giving it away to my kitchen help who is so interested in cooking and related gadgets. The joy on her face was enough compensation!
My modest library boasts of books on craft, textiles, food, travel, plays, computers etc etc. I generously offered my cookbooks to a young lady in the family who let out a polite no no. “When I can just type in what I need into the net, and get the most fabulous recipes what do I need cookbooks for?”  I asked myself why we cookbook authors bother to write. I am the biggest perpetrator of the collector- of- books crime.
My husband’s collection is relatively modest by comparison. He has an amazing collection of nuts, bolts, spanners, screw drivers, little nails, big nails, hammers of varying sizes and garden equipment, some of which will find their way into the bedroom…A handyman, who fixes so many things in the home, he will rarely go to  a hardware shop to buy the odd assortment of things.

I do hope this article tickles your conscience for throwing away rubbish, for that is what they become when they no longer have the same value that they did years ago. So get someone to empty your loft one by one, and enjoy the feeling of liberation when you reduce your wants as for most of us, less is more…