Thursday, April 6, 2000

Knitty-gritty

I learnt to knit when I was only six. But unlike taiji, who shares the same distinction, I was not married off shortly thereafter.
My introduction to this fine if sturdy art happened during a brief and utterly desolate period of my life in the boarding at Nazareth Convent. Yes, that same Nazareth Convent immortalised in the Booker Prize-winning God of Small Things. Everyone else in Class Three was learning to knit during their spare time and so did I.
Knitting, I’ve heard recently, can serve as excellent therapy. Some teach it to convicts and other antisocial elements in the hope of calming them down. My mother was a committed knitter. Not so much to keep her on the straight and narrow as occupation for the long winter evenings. This was decades before television came to our remote corner of the planet.
So knitting became part of my adolescent angst and I viewed with disdain people who said, “Oh isn’t that sweet, she’s just like her mother” when our every social call was interspersed with the speedy clickety-clack of both pairs of our knitting needles, and I longed to stab them between stitches. If my mother was a better, and more experienced, knitter than I, it was surely just coincidence.
But it was true coincidence that, twenty years later, the older women in my husband’s family turned out to be great knitters. This gave us at least one major binding force, and the wool market in Delhi, with acres of brilliant bales and loops of wool, was practically on the doorstep of the family home.
Over the years, I also learnt the metaphors and clich├ęs of knitting.
Knitting, for all my youth and energy, was something only tired old women did. If at all a young woman knitted, it could only mean that ‘good news’ was on the way. I was acutely aware that knitting needles could be used for purposes of excavation when ‘good news’ was actually not good news but very, very bad news indeed; as for example in the case of Noelle in Sidney Sheldon’s The Other Side of Midnight.
Knitting was also the embodiment of patience and I owe it my aptitude for perseverance and tedious hard work.
106, Wodehouse Road, Colaba
Now knitting is a dying art, a pastime of the previous millennium. Both my daughters were duly indoctrinated; so was my son, on grounds of gender equality. But none cared to bear the mantle of the family tradition. To them, cable only means cable television, and filet has to do with meat rather than needlework. They know nothing of jacquard and aran or other bywords of my world. Yarn shops have closed down the world over, replaced by burger joints and gymnasiums.
But knitting was always a part of my life, even during the several years when I lived in Bombay where, someone once told me, there are only three seasons: hot, very hot, and unbearably hot. It was a way to pass time between suburban railway stations. Climbing off a Local onto the clamouring platform, holding the knitting needles aloft, was always a good way to get those nimble-fingered bottom-pinching rascals skipping neatly out of the way.
first appeared as a Times of India Middle on 6 Apr 2000