Sunday, April 23, 2017

Nakshi kantha


Nakshi kantha, a type of embroidered quilt, is a centuries-old Bengali art tradition in Bangladesh.[1][2][3] The basic material used is thread and old cloth.[4] Kanthas are made throughout Bangladesh, but the greater MymensinghRajshahiFaridpur and Jessore areas are most famous for this craft.[5]











The Embroidered Quilt 

The small village still gazes at the faraway village
Whispering in silence, tears in eyes. 
Dried fields lie in between
Cracked, baked in the hot sun.
Ruthless peasants cut the paddies that cloaked the earth
And take them to some far between land
That we do not know. 
(Poet Jasimuddin 1920 - 1976)
  Translated from Nakshi Kanthar Math    


I was an only child. No siblings, no playmates to fool around with.  My only companion was my blanket. My security blanket.  I called it, my nakshi kantha.  Elderly relatives used to tell stories that when I was a child I carried that quilt everywhere, sweeping the whole universe. It was catastrophic to part  with it.   My parents had hard time washing or cleaning it. I don’t remember that.  All I remember is,  what a sense of security it gave me — that little piece of rag. 

“Your mother made it even before you were born. With the thread of her colorful saris she embroidered the designs, these vines of hope designs.” Baroma pointed the vines, sliding  her fingers through the leaves of the pattern. 

I picked it up and brushed it against my cheek, “Soft! How come it is so soft?” I’d ask.

“The quilt is made with your father’s old cotton dhoti that are washed and washed, and became so soft.”  She replied.  

No wonder it was so special;  it had the smell of  Babu and the vines-of-hope designs of Ma’s hands.  My life started wrapped in that special blanket.

When I was little, I vividly remember playing with the designs on the quilt. My fingers would hop with the seams of the embroidery  designs where the blue stitches ran up to get lost in  the green field, passing the orange french knot flowers.  Run, run, run, way up to the indigo  tiny triangle appliqu├ęs. They were like the hillocks  of  the Sushong Hills which I could see from my window. Then  I’d find tiny maroon squares and rectangles just  like the red tile roof-tops of the huts beneath the hills. Hop  with the orange  lazy daisy chain stitches that spiraled in the center  like the sun, and then  escape behind  the green vines. Oh, how it  found its way to the tan border at the end. It was the  same  ginger hue of  the color of  the Brahmaputra River. Does the orange spiral want to take a dip in that ginger-tan  water? I wondered.

I felt like a free white breasted kite bird  flying in the wide open sky and then  dropping on the soft plushness of the nakshi kantha.


The blanket hugged me. 

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Journal





Today is my birthday.  I thought I should start my journal today, fresh again.  Like most New Year's  resolution this is another one I make each year.  With a new notebook.

The part I like is,  buying the new journal.  I have so many of them, some so  beautiful that I feel shy to blemish them.  I brush fingers on them, sniff to  smell the opened blank pages. Then I  leave them untouched, bare. I consider myself a minimalist, at least a wanna-be-minimalist, but in this journal  buying thing,  I am confused.  My need and want areas are blurry, and I never feel I have enough.

 I did find a new journal on my shelf.  A pretty one in matted black with a tiny photograph of a blooming gardenia.  As I untied the scarlet satin ribbon attached to it,  the diary opened and a card fell. A blank card.  It read -

"Be patient toward all that unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves." by Rainer Maria Rilke.

I must have bought it for someone and forgot .  Well, today it is mine.

I was thinking of my parents.  While they were alive each year a card came from my father with interesting messages and uplifting thoughts.  I wanted to believe that it was from Ma and Baba for my birthday today, and they were blessing me from heaven.  I felt tearful, thanking someone because they were my parents.

I thought of all the people around me today, all the love they have given me, unconditionally, unaware. Most of the time I take them for granted, but today it touched me in a different way.  I decided I should put this in writing today, this emotion, gratitude,  in my new journal.

I will capture all the fleeting moments of sweetness and spread it out here: the dazzle of the dew drop on the meticulous cobweb,  the humming bird's halted mid flight, all those  will be snapshots on  the page. And I'll  post the funny stories  that my little grand kids say.

It will not be a book for to do lists. It will  be a friend whom I can confide to, it'll be the mentor who'll transcend my spirit from the mundane.

I looked at the picture of the gardenia:

"And now in age I bud again
After so many deaths I live and write
I once more smell the dew and rain
And relish versing..... "  

Friday, April 14, 2017

The Protagonist

How I found my protagonist

My mother was stuck in bed for the last four years of her life as a stroke victim. Though her motor skill was gone her memory was intact, especially the long term one.  She loved telling stories of her childhood days in Mymensingh, before they became a refugee,  after the Partition.  And I loved to listen to those stories.

Living twelve thousand miles away with a window of two weeks vacation time with her, every other year or so did not give me much time, but it gave me a ton of guilt feeling. One day I admitted that to her and she replied, " Even when I am not there any more, memories will.  And the stories.  You may come and visit them as often as you wish, for as long as you want."

What a haunting statement!

After I returned to California to my normal life, and even after she  had passed away for several years, often a little girl visits me.  She catches me in my quiet hours, while I am driving, when I am washing dishes absent mindedly.

"Who are you?"  I ask.

"Khukumoni."

"Where are you from?

"From the past. " She replies.

A lanky little girl of seven or eight years of age, with a missing front tooth, fair as snow, delicate as a fairy calls me waving her tiny fingers.

" Come, I'll show."  She takes me by my hand through a lush garden of overgrown bushes where the smell of  kul overwhelms the air.  She picks one up and puts in my mouth.  The jelly like jujube melts under my tongue.

Blossoms of shiuli phool underneath our feet feel soft.  She picks up a handful and lets them rain.  She smashes them between her fingers.  The orange stems burst into carnelian hues. She smiles.
 " Magic!"


Shiuli Phool



I open my journal and write:


                                                                            ***
                                                               

                                      Mymensingh
    
                                             1940

It was a peaceful morning  otherwise, until the news paper came.
I was busy discovering all kinds of magic in our garden that early spring day.  Flower pots on the entry steps  were brimming with bursts of red hibiscus and the white star jasmine crept up the columns and entangled my swing on the porch.  New leaves, as large as elephant’s ears, with the darkest bottle green shade and  tiny dots shot up from the planter box.  I thought the garden fairy must have visited at night and painted those red and white dots on the leaves with sandal wood paste. 
Our ivory color brick house had curved doorways with dark green wooden shutters and through the arched stained glass windows yellow, orange and red lights flooded and  reflected on the floor.  I was playing hop-scotch with the patterns  on the floor and then chasing a tiny white butterfly entered the garden.  Babu, my father, was weeding kneeled down close to the ground with his back facing me. Sweat drops glistened on his almost bald head.  I tip-toed and quickly covered his eyes from behind with my little hands. His glasses flung.  He turned.
“You! Aren’t you cold, little one?” He wrapped me with his soft woolen shawl and picked me up.  I put my head on his shoulder.  Soap, soil, sweat made up my daddy-smell. No one in the whole world smelled the same. 
“What are you doing?”  I asked him.  He got me down. 
        “ Look, these are the  new growth of the seeds we  had planted the other day, but these are no good, just weeds.”  He tried to give me a lesson in gardening. But I turned away, I heard the garden latch clank. 
It was Jasimuddin, our gardener, helper, care taker,  a person whom I saw as my older brother and addressed as Jasim da (brother Jasim).  He was a tall, scrawny person with black beard, and always with a smile on his face.

Jasim da, in a grey, long kurta and his usual  black musselman tupi (cap) was coming with the morning paper in his hand like  he did every day.  I ran to him. “ Jasim da, where is the thing you promised to bring?” 
“Wait a bit more, little sister.” He smiled and handed the news paper to my father. 

I knew Babu would ask for his morning cup of tea now  and go inside.  This would be the end of the garden session for this morning.  But today it was different.  Babu took the morning paper and stretched it out.  And his brows got knitted.  His face looked disturbed.   “What?” he murmured to himself and sat down on the step. He did not get inside, nor did he ask for his tea. I understood something was wrong. 
“ What is it Babu?” I asked.  He glimpsed, not sure how to explain it to a seven year old child and  turned to Jasimuddin.
“ The Lahore Resolution is passed. Passed on March 24th.” 
“ What does that mean, sir?”  Jasim da gazed at his face.
“ It means that the Muslim majority areas are asking for a separate place.  Areas in  the west of India like Lahore, Karachi, and in the east, Bengal do not want to be part of Hindustan,  India,  even when  the British give us freedom.”
“Then what will happen sir?” Jasimuddin asked. 
“ I don’t know. I don’t know how it could be solved, Jasim”  Babu studied his face. 

Jasimuddim lowered his eyes looking at the ground,  his hands folded,  not sure how to respond. 
I went to him and whispered in his ears, “ Jasim da, aren’t you going to ask permission for the puppy now, please?”
“ It’s not a good day, little sister” he mumbled back with a sad face.             
***