Monday, February 2, 2015


As in every form of weaving, the making of the Naga Shawl has a close connection to the rituals and beliefs of the people. Nagaland is in North East of India and the Nagas are divided into sixteen tribes. The Nagas are Indo-Tibetian people who were probably migrants, into India. They were headhunters, and wore the heads of their enemies as trophies, and were rewarded for their acts of “valour” by gifts of adornments, like shawls, hornbill feathers, cowries and necklaces. There were special shawls called warrior shawls, where  motifs of spears were woven.
The Naga Shawls are bright red and black which are the main colours, and sometimes yellow and a bit of blue are also used. The red in the shawl signified the blood of the enemy. The blue was derived from leaves which were taken off plants grown in a bit of land cleared and kept for this purpose in the outskirts of the village. The Nagas believed that their enemies could be warded off with their own brand of magic spells.
Throughout India, weaving is considered the man’s occupation, as it is hard work, sitting at the loom for hours.  The women of the household did smaller jobs which would assist in the weaving of cloth. In Nagaland, however, weaving was very much a woman’s activity. Every Naga woman learnt to weave cloth for herself and her family. This was done on a simple backstrap loom, and the warp fixed to a wall in the house. The loom was strapped to the small of her back.
The designs were woven into the cloth in different colours through the warp or through the weft threads, using a stick of bamboo, or even porcupine quills. Because of the nature of the loom, the designs were always linear and geometric. Sometimes the shawl was woven in three different pieces, and joined together. Weaving as we all know is a laborious process, and each piece could take about ten hours for a practised weaver.
If you were a tribal wearing a shawl, the Nagas could gauge the status in society by just looking at it, because certain designs were reserved only for chieftains or for powerful clans within the tribe. There were other restrictions for the weaver women,  like a pregnant woman could not weave. When one was weaving a warrior shawl, the weaver could not eat or drink in anyone’s home.
Sometimes painting was done on the shawls, and the pigment taken from a tree, blended with rice beer!  This painting was done only by an old man who told stories of his life as he painted. Originally the shawls were in cotton, but wool did come in later. The special shawls were not worn everyday but for an occasion.
NOTE:   Cloth is woven when the warp is intertwined with the weft. Warp is made up of threads going across, horizontally. Weft threads are vertical, and both woven together makes the cloth.



Gujerat is a state which is known for its various crafts, textiles and embroideries. The rural women in Gujerat are excellent women expressing themselves with needle and thread right from the time they toddle.  As soon as they can hold a needle, they sit by their mother or grandmother and start stitching with coloured thread on square pieces of cloth. As they grew older they progressed with different kinds of stitches, and learnt to sew, and embroidering on ghaghras, pillow cases, bags, shawls, cholis and anything that required embellishments. Much of the embroidery has mirrors worked into it. This is what we call oral tradition, that is, a craft skill which is passed on from mother to daughter over many generations.
Everyday, after tending to their cattle and field work, plus house work, the women set aside an hour or two to their embroidery.  All the embroidered goods that she does, is given to the girl as trousseau during her wedding. Being handcrafted, every piece is a valuable possession.
As with every craft, royal patronage helped the craft to blossom. The Mughals were chief patrons, and during their rule, the quality of craft and textiles rose to a peak. Emperor Aurangazeb particularly commissioned embroidered textiles for wall hangings,  for his palace, for his nobility, and for the animals.  Even tents and palanquins were richly embroidered and used during travelling and camping. Marco Polo who travelled to India during the 13th century marvelled at these beautiful embroideries inlaid with gold and silver threads, proclaiming them to be the most beautiful in the world. Ahmedabad became one of the largest centres, for the embroideries of Gujerat and even today you can see the rural folk exhibiting their work on the streets.
After the Mughals, the East India Company owned by the British carried on a flourishing trade with Gujerat embroidered fabrics.
Every village in Gujerat has its own style of embroidery, and it is easy to find out which village the embroidery is done judging by the stitches.  Bhuj is a place where exquisite embroidery is done, and fine embroidery is done in Banni north of Bhuj near the Pakistan border. The needle craft is done on woollen shawls, and is one of the most popular items as the work is one of great beauty and skill.
The wealth of a particular tribe is judged by the number of items embroidered and the quality of the work. Quilts are part of every family, and however poor they be, living in huts, the quilts are their proud possessions which indicate their social status.
Beadwork is also a form of embroidery for wall hangings, and worked around solid utilitarian objects in the home. They could be two dimensional and was developed in the late 19th century.

Embroidery is done on shoes and handbags and find appreciation in the worldwide market. The cultural heritage of Gujerat lies in its textiles and handicrafts, and next time you see an exhibition of Gujerat craft advertised in the newspapers, be sure to attend!


The phone rings with urgency.  I pick up the receiver, it is someone, wanting a phone number. I am the renowned storer of phone numbers, addresses and email IDs and  not just for the family.
“Have you heard of Just Dial? Ask them?”
“I prefer to ask you.  Its QuickRrrrrrrr”
“Thanks”  I go through the pages of my “hard copy” of the telephone directory, dependable at all times.”Here it is.  Note it down. Ready?”
“Wait, let me get a pen and note paper.”  I wait. 
“Oh God, I can’t find the pen.  Hey,  Alamelu, why did you take my pen?”
Voice in the background…”Why should I take your pen, Amma? Ask your children.”
“Dash it, nothing stays in place in this house.  Ah, I found another one. Give me the number please.” I rattle off the number a trifle bugged at being kept waiting.
“Sorry, this pen doesn’t write, just a minute.” My patience is wearing thin.
“Ah, I found a pencil, shoot.” I do feel like shooting her. I shoot, not once but twice or thrice thanks to some disturbance on the phone. Her voice sounds feeble. “Thanks”.
The phone rings again. In all probability, the scrap of paper on which she jotted the number must have been blown off by the breeze, and she is calling again. Yes, it is her number, I can see the callers ID.
Terribly disgruntled, I pick up the phone  and say”Hello” in the sternest tone possible.
“Sorry, I forgot to tell you, we have a meeting on Thursday, at 4 pm in the office.”
This is one of the disadvantages of being “efficient”, “patient???”  and wearing the mask of being available any time, anywhere, any place without exhibiting the slightest irritation.
“Okay, okay…” I bang the phone down.
Where was I? Making the list of dos for the day. Time management,and organising, you know. I believe in jotting it all down in a diary. Not for me the sticky notes and the computer menu pages.   Hell, where’s that pen? I search my desk all over, look into the drawers. Not a single pen. I rush to the dining room. The sideboard in our dining room  has a drawer for pens,  a pad for writing the lists for the market etc. My dear mother makes sure there are pens in the drawer. I pull it open. Not a single pen. I make a beeline for the bedroom. I keep a pad and pen next to my bed, to scrawl ideas, for stories, columns, letters lest the ideas vanish as fast as they come.  No pen. I dare not peep into my husband’s desk. I usually dump all the pens which don’t write on his desk, and the unwritten law is that he makes them writeable and transfers them  back to my desk.
My late grandfather had a terrific idea. He used to use thin twine to tie the pens to a corner of his desk, also the stapler, for we grandchildren would not think twice borrowing his pens, staplers, gem clips, punching machine and cellotape and scissors and not returning them. Each of these precious possessions would be carefully fixed to remain in place, and while we were at liberty to use them, we had to move to his desk to get our job done. He did this for our telephone table, so we could take messages with the pen tethered for safety. We found this extremely useful, till one day we found the string snapped and the pen removed, and after a slight tap on his forehead, Thatha washed his hands off the security issue, and said we could use ingenious methods to keep the pen in place as he had no use for the phone anyway…
When we were schooling we had a lesson in our English textbook. It was titled Mr. Nobody. He came into our own lives rather forcefully. When the school bag was missing,  it was Mr. Nobody who misplaced it. Where had the socks disappeared? One was in the shoe, but the other? Of course Mr. Nobody was the one who hid the wretched thing. So also pens, pencils, erasers, handkerchiefs, notebooks, timetables were all seized by Mr. Nobody.
Then we hit upon a brilliant idea. There was a chest of drawers in my mother’s room, and one drawer was kept for us. I christened it the “kacham bucham” drawer.  If we couldn’t find something, we would blame it on Mr Nobody, and then get reprimanded by our parents who told us to search in the KB drawer. Funny how the name stuck right through our growing years.  If you searched hard enough wading through shoe laces, pencils, pens, scraps of papers, in all probability you would find what you were looking for.
I firmly resolved not to provide a KB drawer for my children and decided everything would go into the right slot. Except pens which had a miraculous way of just walking away from one room to the other till they disappeared altogether. My prized possessions given by dear ones, who understand my penchant for collecting pens ( I am a writer, remember?) like the Sheaffers, the Cross and the Parker are all under lock and key. Each has a story. The gold Cross pen was presented to me by my Hindi school teacher, who decided to give it to me when we met a couple of years ago.  “To my prize student,” he wrote on the box. He recently passed away, but the pen is a precious acquisition.
Deciding last week to clear out my handbag, I found an assortment of pens, more than half a dozen of every size and colour and some which I forgot I possessed. A few looked like aliens, and luckily they were the write and throw ones. I blushed as I arranged them on the tray.  A voice at the back chanted,  “So now we know who is the pen thief!”