The roots to my craft.
My great grandparents, along with Nams and her younger brother migrated from Burma (now Myanmar) to India during the second world war, leaving everything behind - their home, assets, riches and a luxurious lifestyle - and started from scratch in Chennai, a city in South India. To raise seven kids, my great grandmother would take up freelance projects of embroidery, stitching, crochet, beadwork from people in the neighborhood so she could earn some side income.
The year was 1959 when Nams - my grandmother, along with her siblings embroidered this masterpiece on a jute fabric. The yarns were all gleaned from previous projects of knitting sweaters and socks and hats for the winter. Those days, bags of rice were made of jute, and one such bag was used as the base fabric, after the edges were ripped off. This artwork was designed, drawn out on the fabric, and hand embroidered by the seven siblings, like a little community. To take breaks in between household chores, they would work on it as a fun-leisure activity taking turns to stitch. It took several months to finish the piece, and like many of their fun experiments and artworks, it would be folded neatly and stacked up in some trunk or loft in the house.
Years later, it was discovered by one of my aunts, who had it mended, restored and framed. Now it hangs up on the wall of her house in all glory, commemorating the craftsmanship and bond that Nams and her siblings had, reminding us of the days they lived through, their triumphs and tragedies, their resourcefulness when they had nothing, creating and crafting through major historic events, through wars, and plagues and gaining Independence, through the partition of the country, and even now, when the world is recovering from Covid.
I have seen Nams as a textile designer and artist all through my life. At the age of 88, she insists and makes a rangoli every day outside the main door of our house. Now that my mother has taught her to use YouTube, Nams looks up videos for new ideas for rangoli, embroidery, knitting and crochet. Even now, she would get fidgety and anxious if she can't figure out some stitch or design she did years ago. She'd lose sleep looking for bundles of yarn or embroidery hoop packed up in some box ages ago. She is still curious and determined to learn though she can't quite see clearly, and can barely walk, despite her age and ailments, she wouldn't sit idle for very long, and keep finding something to work on.
I've probably inherited a tiny amount of the patience and perseverance she has as an artist, but I too, like her, cannot sleep till I've figured out how something is done! Everything I know is from watching her create, sitting with her and learning from her for about twenty years, seeing how my mother and Nams would make all our home furnishing and décor items by means of Scamper (though they don't know what it stands for, but have practiced for many years), painting and embroidering, knitting sweaters and ponchos for me and other kids in the family, designing and color matching - they knew almost everything that I practically studied in design school, whether they knew the names for it or not!
I am forever grateful and proud to have inherited craft from Nams, to have learned from her experiences, her struggles and her work.