Saturday, 27 June 2009


The fingers move deftly, and the clicking goes on rhythmically, while the ball of wool gets smaller, and beautiful creations drop from the needles.

This is my mother, who has been knitting for more than 60 years now. She loves it, and not even the heat of summer can keep her from handling the wool. She only had to hear of another great-grandchild on the way, than she arranged for wool to be sent from Delhi by my sister, and she started on a layette. And here it is.

My mother says that her first piece was for herself. As a new bride from Trivandrum in New Delhi, she was confident that she could face her first winter by knitting something for herself - she had after all learnt to knit in school. She says, “Babuji got me some wool in a budgie yellow shade, a pair of knitting needles, and a pattern in a magazine, and told me to start off. And that was my first knitted product – a blouse.” Though taken aback at first, she took it as a challenge and it turned out very well. The next one was for my father and after that – for me.

I must have been very young when she knitted sweaters for me first, for I spent my infancy and childhood in Delhi. And we all know what the winters there are like. I still remember the patterns of some of them. (That is me in 1949/50) My mother knitted for all three of us and for my father and herself.
After a few years spent in the south (read about it here), where we did not need any woollens at all, we came back to Delhi and then all of us needed sweaters. By then there were five of us. Maiji taught me also to knit, and we built up the basics for each of us. I could only do some plain knitting, but my skills also improved, and I could later on follow patterns from books. But with college and studies I could not do much. The collection of knitwear grew, and there was enough to keep us all warm.

Over the years, my youngest sister was the lucky beneficiary of my mother’s art. My mother made several items for her, so much so that Gowri became known as the daughter of the knitting lady among her friends’ mothers.

Apart from being a nimble knitter, my mother has evolved from being a pattern follower to a pattern creator – designer, if you will. I have really lost track of the number of sweaters, cardigans, layettes, scarves, shawls, ponchos (most of which are her own patterns) caps and mufflers, and even dresses (that is my niece wearing one of the pieces) she has designed and knitted. Fair Isle and cable patterns became child’s play to her. When I wore the poncho she knitted for me on my visit to my sons, the poncho was the in thing then, and I had inadvertently become ‘in’ too!

And here is my niece wearing a fair isle sweater created by Ma

Her creativity extends to an original too – the doll made totally with wool.

The doll is knitted and her clothes too. Scraps of wool make up the stuffing so that the doll is washable. Without exaggerating, I can say that she must have knitted at least a hundred of these for her grandchildren and great granddaughters, and as gifts to give to other little girls. Here the doll is resting on shawls knitted by my mother.

Maiji’s latest is making garlands of wool - some of them adorn the pictures of the deities in our pooja room. And I am certain she is already dreaming up something else.

P. S. Upon reading this good blog friend Brenda Bryant wrote this - it says everything about Maiji's kniting so beautifully! Do look at it.

Sunday, 14 June 2009


It is a sweet, touching story in Thamizh, albeit sad.

There was once a parrot which sat on a tree and watched its blossoms turn into shining green fruits. The parrot waited and waited for them to ripen to take its first bite from the fruits. Alas, the fruits never turned yellow or red, but dried into brown crisp pods, finally bursting and revealing inside – white inedible cotton.

This tree in the story is called the ‘ilavan’ tree and the cotton is called ‘ilavan panju’ – what I am told is the silk cotton. The unfruitful wait of the parrot gave rise to the phrase in Thamizh ‘ilavu katha kili’ – the parrot that waited in vain.

The tree is found abundantly in our neighbourhood – my brother-in-law next door has one in his compound. I had to cross one of these on the pavement, (no doubt planted at the same time as the one-day blooming tree outside our house) when I walked to work, and I watched it grow from a sapling to a young tree, though I did not realise then that it was the cotton tree. As it grew I noticed that its trunk and branches were green, and at first I imagined that someone might have painted them in that vivid shade. Later I realised as it grew higher that it is the natural colour of the tree.

Somehow I never saw the flowers – maybe I did not look carefully enough at the right time. The green pods are rather longish like bananas and shiny.

They dry on the tree, and fall off often bursting only upon falling.

Now is the time/season they start falling. People like this lady collect the pods, and remove the cotton. I asked her what she would do with it, and she said she was planning to stuff a pillow.

Sweet silk-cotton dreams.

Thursday, 4 June 2009


I recently read that instead of moaning about the heat of summer, we should watch out for its delights and pleasures.
Though one may question this apparent oxymoron, when we look around there certainly are pleasing sights. The shade giving trees on the streets of Chennai are blooming, and are a visual treat.
The golden acacia has bloomed and now its brown pods stand silhouetted against the sky. And countless other trees, like the laburnum, with mauve and lavender flowers have bloomed and subsided. The Mayflower, or the flame of the forest, (gul mohur), true to its name sent out its first buds in May.

But mangoes are the taste of summer.

We have a few trees in our compound, all of which grew from the seeds thrown out after the children ate the juicy flesh. Each tree bears a different type of mango, and over the years we have learnt to distinguish their tastes and their varying uses. One of the trees, the oldest, has fruits which are not at all sour when green, and so can be eaten like a salad vegetable. We thought the fruit may not taste very sweet when ripe. But it turned out to be as sweet as it is pretty with its rosy tinge as it ripened.

The parrots love them, and get to them before we do. The appearance of this fruit is really a visual pleasure - a text book pictorial representation of a mango.

This is one of the oldest. Another old tree bears fruit that is dreadfully sour when green, and so is used for pickling, as it is not at all tasty when it ripens.

A latecomer tree was a surprise. Its green fruit is very sour, but turned out to be very delicious when ripened. Folks in the know say that the more sour it is when it is green, the sweeter it is when it is ripe. We plucked the mangoes and ripened them, and shared them with friends. They don’t look as big or attractive as the big ones in the market, but were definitely as tasty and sweet.

The mango season is almost over, but one tree is confused, pushing forth new blooms , even while there are biggish mangoes on its branches. This is the tree, whose branch collapsed and down it fell with a whole lot of unripe mangoes, unfortunately too young to be ripened. Surely it was not due to the weight of the young mangoes! We salvaged what we could and distributed them.

The ripening fruits on the trees are pounced on by the squirrels and birds alike, and knock them down. Some of them fall on our neighbour’s asbestos sheet covered shed, with big plonks. We have now got used to this thwack/squelch sound. Our neighpour’s tree, in return, sheds its fruit into our compound, but without any sound effects. Unfortunately the fruits crack when they fall, and cannot really be used.

The markets are flooded by ripe mangoes. I saw them being transported on our busy road on a bullock cart, and and a fish cart.

I loved the woman hitching a ride while her husband called out!