A tale of bygone warmth
This is a collaborative piece.
Text: Ria Das Mukherjee
Art: Yasha Patki
The crisp winds of November used to act as an impetus for my mother who would frantically re-schedule her entire routine, just to spend time with her avocations (unconsumed by her responsibilities) of cooking patishaptas and knitting. Of the two, she had always felt an eccentric kinship with the later— a cherished artistry passed onto her by my grandmother. It is through these activities that she could find a way back to being her former self, erstwhile suppressed under the veneer of pragmatism.
Every year, when the city was reeling from the dolour of post-Pujo blues, my brother and I would wake up to the image of Ma struggling to haul an archaic trunk from underneath our bed. The synchronised screeches made by the, hitherto, hibernating chest served as an alarm clock for us siblings refusing to accept the end of our vacation. Afterwards, it was customary for Ma to hum an out of tune Rabindrasangeet as she wiped the trunk clean. The dissonance in her voice were surpassed by the fervour brewing inside me on watching the lid of the enchanted box open and reveal the colourful balls of woollen yarn in plenty. A set of five straight single-pointed knitting needles lay next to them, wrapped in a maroon handkerchief tailored by Ma during her teenage years. As my brother and I pranced around, playing with some of the loose threads like a couple of kittens, Ma would scream at us to get ready for school so that she could spend a placid afternoon musing on her designs.
The memory of it still weaves a pattern in my mind, on cold winter mornings, while my fingers play with some loose threads.
The pullovers I wore to the neighbourhood playgrounds as a kid were coarse and heavy, continually prodding my soft skin with their untrimmed edges. Ma used to knit bundles of raw wool sent by an aunt from Uttaranchal into multi layered sweaters or ponchos that apparently shielded me from the contagious cold wafting through the city. She would ignore my constant complaints of irritation by explaining how easy it was to fall ill in such weather. I believe she uttered the phrase ‘winter is coming’ more than the entire Stark clan. After a while, I did get accustomed to those woollens. Despite their prickling interference, they indeed prevented me from slipping down a number of rides in the park and from getting cuts and bruises. In a way, they sincerely assumed the role of an invisible guardian.
I would frequently take a break from my studies in order to spy on Ma entwining the needles and thread, in a calm concentration, to churn out oversized cardigans that I donned to tuitions. I would seek to discern the reason behind the nostalgic smile plastered across her face but in vain. Hence, I let it be. Sometimes, the beauty of a thing lies in its mystery. The sleepovers hosted by my brother and me were incomplete without building a fort out of the homespun shawls, much to Ma’s discontent. Yet, I do not recall her scolding us. At school, my homemade hand me downs were quite popular. Everybody, including my teachers, had praised the tailored ornamentation put in those garments in the form of gold and yellow intertwined braids. Thereupon, I started developing a broad sense of appreciation towards Ma’s dexterity, offering to assist her in all future creations.
As the pressure to excel in high school intensified, I found solace in being Ma’s aide. Before long, we had constructed a fantasy where our weekends would be devoted to contriving new patterns and assimilating required materials. It was a mode of escape, for both of us, from the invasive claustrophobia engulfing our present. Imported Merino wool, refined Cashmere from Kashmir and Cashmilon from Ludhiana had replaced the crude ones earlier used by Ma. The irregular shaped houses and clouds had given way to Aztec motifs, which were in vogue at that time. Red scarves and mufflers during Christmas were imperative, even some of my friends wanted those as gifts.
Ma tried her best to instil her passion in me, by letting me be the elf to her grand dressmaker. She often permitted me to stitch the sleeves or sew the buttons. The experiences were fulfilling. I also noticed the tales of Ma’s childhood seeping into her craft as she manipulated the yarn into a coveted jacket. I realised that, for her, it was never just a hobby but a portal through which she could visit the simpler times and reconnect with the life consigned to oblivion. The materials reminded her of the countless excursions she undertook with my late grandfather. The needles and the twisted strands took her back to the cosy afternoons, spent with my grandmother, seasoned with flavourful gossip. Somehow, those stories even made me feel included. As if, I had always been an integral part of them, witnessing their occurrence from behind a shade.
The woollens accompanied me to college on friendless days. They stood out amidst the fashionable flannels sported by my classmates. The oddity was not weird though, at least not for me. They were an emblem of the uncomplicated years.
I never learnt to knit properly. After a while, Ma stopped too. Currently, she focuses all her attention on worrying about my future. A strange, unbidden silence prevails over my winters now as I try to spin stories out of the tattered comfort of my past.
Ria Das Mukherjee is a post graduate of mass communication and an introverted bibliophile who hoards books and dreams. She, earnestly wishes to be a writer and also to visit Narnia, someday.
Yasha Patki is an illustrator. She likes to know people, inside out. "Coldplay runs in my blood and I can be a little too moody a little too often", she says. She shares some of her work on Instagram.