I can still recall my handicraft teacher at my school Carmel Convent in New Delhi. Small and sprite, with a permanent curl slipping from her plait, she was shorter and walked faster than all of us.
Handicrafts period was serious business in most schools of the 1970s-80s. It was an IMPORTANT subject and you had to pass it for your quarterly, half-yearly and final exams to get ranked. Sorry miss I cannot recall your name, let me just call you Hema, as it is short and sweet like you were.
Hema miss was multi-talented. Our first handicraft class began when I was in Class Four. It was knitting and the project was a muffler and cap. I remember Mummy buying a huge mound of yellow wool and shaking it out over our dining chair. I then was taught how to roll it into balls. Bright colours were in fashion then, though I cringed at the sight. Hema miss then taught us how to cast on the stitches and rapidly knit up a border. The pattern, an eyelet one, followed in the next month. We had to knit up ten lines every week (handicraft class was only on Wednesdays) and show it otherwise the sweet miss, would turn into a literal fireball. Some even tried knitting up before her period and if caught got soundly scolded. She would also throw chalk at whispering students and remark that she would gift a photo to each of us, so that we would look at it and be inspired to finish up our work.
Finally the muffler and cap was completed, with tassels, a pompon and other trimmings that were all handmade. The next six months of summer term were devoted to other hand crafts like a beautiful tote bag embroidered on matte cloth with seven different stitches. In these times such work would have been lauded by parents and probably the student would have been nominated for Limca records. However we all managed to do equally good work and our parents were quite casual about our achievements. The next six years in Carmel Convent were filled with at least two hand craft projects every year. We knitted and crocheted sweaters, caps, mittens, gloves in winter and stitched salwar suits, chudidars, blouses besides embroidering stool cloths, tea cosies, tray cloth and serviettes. She even gave us unusual projects like doing cross stitch on fine iron mesh. The finished pieces were framed by a carpenter specially hired by the school. I remember regretting that mine was the only unfinished piece. Another one was making flowers out of putty and sticking it on wall tiles (one for each girl, quite difficult to procure in those days). Later a pit was dug up in the play ground and all the tiles were baked. Then we had to paint it with oil colours bought by my father from Karol Bagh (no wonder parents hated the craft projects) and it was baked to get a fine glaze. I remember how my tile was admired by our relatives and friends.
Each project was diligently supervised by Hema miss, and some of us began to hate her. We could not escape work, as the finished products were displayed in an annual exhibition in the school, where parents were escorted through their children’s art work. I remember that many parents got bored viewing the repetitive display but dutifully came to school, rather than face the ire of the nuns.
After I shifted to another school in Tamil Nadu due to family changes, it was strange that crafts were not part of the curriculum. Though I was relieved and practically sailed through lessons and hostel, I regaled my friends with Hema miss adventures. I vowed never to touch any craft project, but Allah had other plans.
Soon after my marriage into my cousin’s joint family after school, mum and dad left behind huge bolts of wool and crochet threads with bags of knitting needles. Mummy was an avid knitter and made all our sweaters, shrugs and ponchos. Naturally I began to knit aimlessly at first then with a determination equal to Hema miss. I made sweaters for our servants (they didn’t mind multi-coloured hues and indeed vied with each other for the finished goods), caps for the watchmen, factory workers, my Quran ustaad lady and others.
Later I found free time enough to do tons of crochet doilies for our house, friends and relatives. Babies ensured layettes of shawls and booties.
Now in my fifties, with my home an empty nest, I find myself turning to embroidering stool cloths. It is so enervating besides allowing my creativity to flow.
Sorry Hema miss for not completing your lovely projects, but thank you so much for filling my life with beauty and beautiful creativity.