‘Desi-Global or Global Desi?
Lata was my good friend when I was in undergraduate college. She did not get her masters seat. But our friendship continued though we were not meeting regularly because of my college schedules. We hail from a moderate town of Telangana. That was such a coincidence that we got engaged in a difference of one week and got married in a difference of 3 months. She went to Sydney and I went to North India. That was in late 80’.
We met after one year of our marriage. I planned my travel to my parents’ house in such a way that I could meet her when she arrived. We went and sat in our favorite place behind her house middle of fields and near bank of a lake. We went on sharing our experiences of our married life. Both of us went to new and distant places. Both of us experienced similar feelings with slight differences. Both of us had a problem of locating ourselves in a place of strangers with new language and customs. She explained one of the incidents with a heavy heart. Her husband once invited home couple of his friends’ families. She prepared good south Indian dinner and she thought of decorating her house with corner table cloths. Lata was good at stitching embroidery designs with thread and needle. She used to mix and match the color threads for the embroidery designs in a very creative and attractive way.
Telangana is popular for Lambada tribal community who must have migrated ages back from Kutch of Gujarat. These people were working as helping hands in household, rickshaw pullers, labour etc. Women of this community were very good at specific basket type of embroidery and mirror work. They were readily teaching those techniques whoever is interested in learning from the houses where they were working. Lata was very attractively used to mix many of such embroidery techniques. But such style of embroidery was considered as a middle class taste and was not a choice of class apart at that time. That evening of special dinner for special friends of her husband, one of them is an Indian couple who understands the table cloth embroidery she had spread. They mentioned about the same as a matter of fact. Poor Lata was taken aback. Her husband made a taunting comment after the guests left, that she should not have taken out those table cloths thinking of showing her smartness. Lata sounded little upset when she narrated the incident.
Years passed. Again we could meet only after 20 years. We wanted to meet at our same favorite spot behind her house but we could make it only for half an hour at a coffee shop. She has come only for a week and I was there for couple of days. Both of us had many other commitments. After asking about the whereabouts of family and children I realized we did not have much to talk. We lost our same old zeal to share with each other because of the gap of so many years. I casually inquired to pass the time about her embroidery skills and inquired whether she is continuing. I also recollected the incident Lata narrated about the dinner at her place and her embroidery on corner table cloth. She looked at me and laughed ‘oh, you remember the incident.’ Two of her teeth were broken and there were many dental gaps in between. I was dazed observing her awkward smile. This was not the smile earlier I remember about Lata.
She could never leave her passion for embroidery. She continued to do but closed every piece inside the cabinets. She tried to move out slowly to fetch the necessary groceries to begin with later to pass her leisure hours looking at different people, attitudes, and to pass the time meaningfully attending certain discussions and workshops. She started understanding the needs of the day and arranged for her husband and children. Her eldest daughter completed her fashion design course and opened a boutique. She experimented with Indian ethnic designs and that is the fashion of the day. One day she suddenly realized the new mix of mother’s embroidery styles. Lata’ closed cabinets were opened and that hit the market. Most of her daughter’ special customers prefer Lata’ designs. Her daughter kept her very busy. She wants her mother to be at the outlet with heavy ethnic attire in good business seasons, because that adds authenticity mark for her business. Her daughter also feels she should not speak in English with Indian accent, instead she should answer only in Telugu that would add to the authenticity and would become little entertainment for the guests. Lata once again awkwardly smiled and said, that day I was feeling inferior of my rural background and today my family is happy about my ‘Desi’ categorization. I am knowingly behaving ignorant of yesterday and today.
Balamani 19th August 2017