. . by the sea shore.’ That old tongue twister used to make me wonder who collected the shells she sold. Today at the beaches one does find people selling seashells – made into dolls, fixed decoratively on mirrors, or just plain chains, and tourists buying them.
When we were children, one of the thrills of going to the beach was walking barefoot in the sand, allowing our feet to sink into the warmish, wet sand as deeply as possible and curling our toes. And then walk closer to the waves, skirts lifted right up to the knees and pants rolled up, and let the waves come and wash our feet, while we would retreat squealing with delight, asking for more.
And then there was the pleasure of looking for shells and collecting them, having an impromptu competition amongst ourselves to see who had the most, the prettiest, and so on, as only children’s minds can think up. We never thought about what we would do with all the shells we picked up and carried home, sandy and grainy, but take them home we had to. And empty them into old chocolate tins reserved for the purpose.
We did not care after that. But my mother is very resourceful and artistic. She used the shells in a very creative way to show each one off individually. She took small circular boards (like the base of cakes) and heaped loads of wet cement on it forming a tiny hillock, about a foot high. She pressed the cement hard to make it stay firm, and while the cement was half-wet, she pressed the shells into the little mound, with the prettiest one on top. Some were shells her grandmother had collected from Rameswaram.
One of them is the conch on top of this mound. I have one she made all those years ago, and to my knowledge she made at least three more.
There are uses for shells too. Small shells, called conches (shanka) have been used to feed milk to children. Milk is poured into the body of the shell, and the narrow lip is placed in the mouth of the child and the milk drips in small quantities. Bigger shells which are called conches, are used to blow into on auspicious occasions like weddings and poojas. Our legends speak of the gods and their conches. Lord Krishna blew on his shell Panchajanya during the great Mahabharata war.(Picture courtesy Internet)Most conches spiral to the left, like the ones here. The few that spiral open to the right are called valampuri conches and are used for religious rituals. My father-in-law had acquired one, and used it for pooja. (See below)
A picture that haunts my mind is the illustration of Rosamunde Pilcher’s ‘The Shell Seekers’. It was in a magazine along with an extract of the novel, but it was so many years ago, and I am not sure which one. Two little girls on the beach, one stooping to pick up a shell, and the other watching. I was pleased to see a similar picture on the net enititled ‘The Shell Seekers’ – maybe it is the same?
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