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July 2014, vol 10, no 2

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Angelee Deodhar


Sunflowers wilt, water is scarce, only the portulaca flourishes. I come inside, open my treasure trunk and remember my mother’s hands swift with needle and threads of yellow, hot pink, orange, red and soft green as she embroiders phulkaris for us, my sister and me. I trace the flowers and birds of the bawan bagh, fifty two different patterns, and the chope my grandmother started making for my wedding trousseau when I was born. The cloth below the embroidery is a dull rust, which allows the silk flowers to glow. In this secret garden I hear the laughter and the distant songs of the women who sat together to stitch these pieces of cloth . . . and their gorgeous colors as they wore them on special occasions . . . grandmother, being a widow, only wore a thirma, simple geometrical designs on a white background . . .

and I am back in the residential convent at age six, where we are taught to embroider by the black and white clad brides of Christ, who intone, 'long thread lazy thread' while they rap our knuckles red with a wooden ruler . . . 'thy will be done on earth' . . . the rust cloth under my hands crumples . . . I am the six year old heathen and must be punished into believing that the being hanging on a cross is our father . . . but my father never hurt me . . . I love to seek my mother’s face in the gentle blue robed lady who stands in a moss lined grotto with flowers at her feet . . .

braiding stars
into the bride’s long hair –
the scent of jasmine

Note: Phulkari means ‘flower craft’. Phulkari, the rural embroidery tradition of Punjab, is like an embroidered shawl but very vibrant and attractive. Bagh is ‘garden’ in Punjabi; bawan means 52. This means that 52 different patterns were made to complete this phulkari. Chope phulkari is made by the bride’s maternal grandmother who starts making a chope at the time of her granddaughter’s birth. The distinguishing feature of thirma is its white khaddar that is a symbol of purity. Because of its white color, it was often worn by elderly women and widows.