Monday, May 26, 2014

Delightful Indianisms

We have our own brand of delightful Indianisms, cute to an outsider, often thought of as quaint, but to some of us without a sense of humour, downright repugnant. Starting with salutary greetings, the popular American “Hi!” is universally excepted, and easier to respond to with an equally spirited “Hi!”. “Hello!” produced with warmth and the right inflection is nice, but tamer.
At the Gym, it is mandatory for all the employees to say,  “Good Morning Ma’am!” even if morning is long past, and irrespective of the fact that many of us workout late afternoons. I have tried (in vain) several times to convince them that it is appropriate to say “Good Afternoon!”.  The management being great optimists instruct the staff to hold on to the morning even if it is over. I wonder how the late evening gymmers are greeted.
When someone I am introduced to says,  “How do you do?” I am usually stumped. I believe the correct thing to say is “How do you do?” as a response, but I am not convinced…hard core Indo-Brits could provide the answer. On one occasion I actually heard someone answer the “how do you do?” with…”just as you do!” It is accompanied by a handshake, which is supposed to be “warm”, but most of the Indian handshakes I have encountered are limp, where only fingers slide into your palm, and,  apart from a gentle pressure, withdrawn as if the handshaker has been accosted with a scorpion bite. This mainly from shy, gentle men ( and I don’t mean gentlemen) who are afraid of these emancipated women who dare to grasp a man’s hand.
Good friend Ram pointed out another form of greeting, “How are you?” And in case you think that the person honestly wants to know how you are, you are sadly mistaken. The “greeter” turns away before you can draw a breath and questions another person on how he or she is.  The logical answer would have, in the old days, been “I’m fine thank you,” Today you should say “I’m good.” And God help you if you ask someone, “And how have you been?” Please be prepared for a torrent of complaints ranging from arthritis to irritable bowel syndrome and hospital stays, not forgetting lack of domestic help and NRI children.” And do be gracious over it, having asked the inevitable question and remember to make appropriate noises of sympathy at the right time, whenever there is a pause, instead of switching off.
What I really love today is the hug, so freely given, especially now that I am past the age of being hugged by people with sinister objectives. But the mother of all embraces was the one I was locked in when I visited my small vegetable shop. Entering I admired a nice looking lady with an aquiline nose, on which sat a beautiful diamond besari  which I  admired. Determined to take a closer look at the design under the pretext of buying vegetables,  I stepped on a fat shiny aubergine and skated into her arms which were trying to stem my fall. We were both locked in embrace moving from side to side as we teetered to gain our balance, or rather mine. The besari lady obviously thought that this nice friendly lady decided to give her a hug first thing in the morning and must have thought I was a true disciple of the hugging swamiji. The vegetable man grinned and loudly proclaimed that we must have been good friends who were meeting after a long time, for never had he seen a  hug lasting so long nor a woman who, red faced marched out without buying vegetables after the prolonged hug.
We must remember to “lift the telephone” and “off the fan” and no amount of sniggers will change the hard core Indglish speakers. So and so is “going to come” and mercifully not coming to go. Apart from leaving some English purists speech less, we, could also come across some rare happenings, or situations created by well meaning Indians. Some months ago I read in one of  our national dailies that a swan had been arrested in Vijayawada for not following the pecking order. A woman complained that a swan (khajana bathu) pecked at her daughter who was playing outside her house and alleged that the swan was chasing people and causing nuisance. The police arrested the offending creature and brought it to the station and booked a petty case, saying that an inquiry would  conducted into the incident. When the Forest Department authorities pulled them up,  and animal activists protested, Police released the bird which was tied up in the Police station without food or water.
And another caring bit of advice that kindly people give is “Take Care.” In the midst of swirling health problems in my family and associated critical situations, I receive hundreds of emails, phone calls besides cards and visits and at the end there are always these two comforting words…Take Care. Being Caregiver myself how do I take care? Wish someone else would do that for me. But I know that the advice is doled out by people who love and care for us. How have I been able to write this piece in midst of all this? Because writing affords me solace and I can handle any situation after I share my thoughts and more so if I bring a smile into someone’s life.

That is the way I heed everyone’s advice…”Take Care”

A Precious Legacy

 The Textile Industry is second only to Agriculture in India, a recent survey confirming the presence of about 24 lakh handlooms and 43 lakh handloom weavers which include  those connected with ancillary jobs like spinning, warping, dyeing as well as hand block printers. It would not be an exaggeration to state that   that textiles contributed to changing the course of Indian history. When our exquisite textiles, lined the coffers of Britain, and our weavers exploited, it was Gandhiji who led a movement to “cremate” foreign fabric and encouraged Indians to wear home spun cloth which was the forerunner of khadi, so popular today in sophisticated wear. This created a big dent in the economy for the British, and one thing led to another, ultimately to the end of the British Raj in India.
The handloom industry suffered a beating post Independence with the weavers in bad shape. It was Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay who revived our precious heritage, seeking Government support, establishing the Handicrafts and Handloom Board, unearthing our lost textile treasures, travelling to remote corners of the country to resuscitate languishing craft and handlooms, re instating the past glory.
The Atharva Veda  describes day and night as two sisters weaving, the warp symbolising darkness and the woof the light of the day. Sunlight and shadow come together on the loom, and mention of the sisters indicates that originally weaving was possibly the preserve of woman, before it converted to a male dominated guild. According to legends,Vishnu himself collected the rays of the sun to create a magnificent garment for himself. It is said that Vishvakarma was the first weaver of the Gods who made cloth out of lotus fibre.
The Aryan scriptures compiled around 1300-600 B.C. was thought to contain the earliest references to weaving in India till the Indus Valley civilisation was unearthed at Mohenjodaro, on the banks of the River Indus dating  back to the third millennium B.C.The Indus valley inhabitants knew the art of growing cotton, and understood that this innocuous looking fluff could be magically transformed into cloth that would cover their bodies. What a significant discovery it was, when through excavations at Harappan sites, a scrap of coarse madder dyed cloth was stumbled upon! The fragments of cloth were found wrapped round a silver pot, preserved by the metallic salts that impregnated the pot.
 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. In this quest, discovery of dyestuff was an accidental finding. By-products of medicinal remedies from plants and minerals resulted in the delicate-toned Indian palette of colour which was vital for producing dyed indigenous cloth, sensational in their muted colour codes. These natural dyes obtained from barks of trees, leaves and nature, were the only colours known before the brilliant burst of chemical colours which tinted the world of textiles.

The Master Weavers of India had their own poetic imagination melded with traditional expertise, guided by social custom. Weavers from the different regions of India expressed themselves variously specialising in their own art forms. They conformed to needs of various regions, and not to vogue dictated fashion as is the present trend today. The shaping of Indian textiles was governed by the climate, the contours of the countryside, the geographical conditions, the minerals and salts present in the waters running through the land, cultivation of crops, presence of deserts and lush forest areas. The blossoming of  this art was dictated by royal patronage, religious practices and migratory artisans.
Spirituality and poetic metaphors are woven together in the textiles of India. The delicate fabrics of India, moved men to poetry. In the words of the poet Amir Khushru who describes the muslins of Daulatabad, “the skin of the moon removed by the executioner star could not be so fine. It is so transparent and light that it looks as if there is no dress at all, but that the wearer has merely smeared the body with pure water.” He mentions that hundred yards of the fabric could pass through the eye of the needle, so fine is its texture. Eastern India produced textiles of great delicacy. Khushru again talks of the Bihari muslin being “a pleasant gift of springtide, resting as lightly on the body as moonlight on the tulip or a dewdrop on the morning rose.”
The fragile cotton-muslin drew world wide attention. Buddhist literature speaks of the magnificient cotton spinners and weavers of Kashi, where the fabric is so tightly woven that oil cannot penetrate it. Spinning was assigned to the women, and the cotton cloths, washed, calendered, starched and perfumed. So sacred were these cloths, that they were used to wrap the body of the emperors when they died, and it is said that it was used to wrap the body of  Buddha when he attained eternal rest.. The Roman Emperors paid fabulous prices for these Indian cotton treasures, known as ‘woven winds’. Centuries later in the Moghul period, these cottons or Mulmul Khus were given poetic names like Abrawan  (running water) or Shabnam (morning dew)
Textiles provided the canvas for painters, embroiders and weavers to express themselves  like the sujni embroiders in Bihar or the resuscitated Chamba Rumaals of Himachal where the women poured out stories with needle and thread.
Colours and modes of wearing cloth defined regions at one time but not any more. Such is our legacy. A legacy which cannot be brushed off in the quest for modernity and western wear, but it is something to be revered and preserved for all time.