Nakshi kantha, a type of embroidered quilt, is a centuries-old Bengali art tradition in Bangladesh. The basic material used is thread and old cloth. Kanthas are made throughout Bangladesh, but the greater Mymensingh, Rajshahi, Faridpur and Jessore areas are most famous for this craft.
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 appliqués. 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.