Phrases have this delightful way of acquiring new implications with changing times. In a life spanning nine decades, there would be changing times aplenty. I was a witness to some of these changes in the life of my favorite aunt, the one to whom I bear an uncanny resemblance, so states the collective family wisdom!
My father, Baba, was the youngest son in a long line of siblings. Four aunts and three uncles had a larger-than-life presence in my childhood. Add to this, their better halves and life partners and I had a range of strong characters to watch and learn from.. Silent efficient men, elegant English language lovers, gifted story tellers , tremendous gourmet food producers, witty and smart women of the world and most of all, this most adored aunt of mine, Pishi… You can see her leaning towards me in this picture with her youngest sister. I like to think that I am her favorite niece.
She was slim, straight backed and stuffed with courage and good cheer. A heart which just kept growing to embrace and envelop all awkward kids, new brides and forked-tongue relatives, she had a husband and house with the same quality. Their Delhi home, with two cosy rooms, a large courtyard, a fragrant kitchen and a book-stuffed verandah/study/reclusive corner was the destination for all road trips undertaken by our family. It was the destination home for all those siblings, relatives of those siblings, friends and family. The door was always open, we were always welcome and no one knew when my cousins were studying for exams, working on a project, or doing all those things for which a curfew is imposed in present day homes. There would be delicious food, laughter and lots of chatter.
After the feeding and the clearing, kids would play and men would go away. My mother and Pishi would settle down in the sunlit courtyard and begin knitting. They would share patterns, progress notes and plans for that one dictum of their knitting lives ” a new sweater, every year, for every family member ( with their sweaters coming last)”.
Those were days of material scarcity but love aplenty. New sweaters just HAD to be made, but wool purchases were low down on the shopping lists.. We children spent many glorious hours picking apart seams of old sweaters, unraveling old favorites into hanks, washing and drying them to remove the kinks, and making balls after fixing the hanks on a chair back, or even better, the arms of a favorite Didi. Balls were made with poems being chanted, songs being belted out and general merriment. Pishi and Ma would pull out their Women’s Weekly magazines, pore over the patterns and decide which colors and yarn would be mixed to make the new sweaters.
The re-knitting would ensure that the wool didn’t get stretched and weak in one area of friction…it ensured that sweaters grew in size to keep up with the growing brood and it ensured happy smiles on three little faces ( us), two young adult faces ( my cousins) and a whole lot of male faces. Every year, without fail, with household chores, guests, upheavals, occasions, celebrations…these two women would knit a new sweater for each of us…Every year!
Years went by and we all grew up to become adults. Pishi’s daughter and son became people to be adored, respected and admired. They had inherited every positive gene from Pishi, as well as every caring gene from their father. Pishi saw marriages, grandchildren, prosperity, adversity, triumphs, losses and much more, and through all that she continued to knit lovely, large sweaters for her expanding family. Her daughter picked up the knitting needles too and continued the tradition in her own large family of 3 adult men, 3 rapidly growing boys, 2 perky girls and 3 smart women! Complicated cables, intoxicating intarsia, fabulous Fair Isle, simple stocking stitch–it was all there.
My cousin, a tall smart handsome man, wears only hand-knit sweaters produced by the women in his life and he sure looks good in them. Pishi would glow with pride when the compliments would pour in and continue with her knitting, chatting and being herself. She was partial to strong decisions and courage. She admired and encouraged independent thinking, chasing dreams and being true to one’s ideals. She was there with me, at every juncture of my crazy life and was always the first to applaud– whether it was my decision to get a divorce, send the girls to a residential school, return from Oman, move to Ranikhet, give up medicine, take on knitting. Whatever I did was worthy of a cheer, a loving hug and some spirited encouragement from Pishi.
Now, when I continue that tradition of making a new sweater every year, I do not need to unravel old masterpieces. I spend hours surfing my favorite websites, trawling through my collection of knitting books, dreaming the right color and then ordering the best possible yarn I can find. I spend a month or two with my project, and then, as soon as its complete, it is time to show it to Pishi.
In her eighties, with arthritis and other ailments, she had to give up knitting. Her admiration and interest in knitted projects remained the same. Her eyes would shine with pride and affection, she would give me a big hug, bless me for knitting away like my mother, touch and fondle the sweater and keep the compliments going! Even if it was summer, I would haul my knitting down to Delhi just to show Pishi , see her face light up and get her love and blessings.
She did not see the sweater I had knit this winter. I could feel and imagine her delight and her joy as I knit through the large charts of cables and twists and ribbing. It would be termed a masterpiece only after Pishi would proclaim her verdict. And her blessings would fire me up for another masterpiece project for 2015.
Pishi will now proclaim her verdict from the Heavens above. Her blessings will continue to fire me up and encourage me to knit masterpieces, continue to inspire me to dream big, continue to be strong and straight-backed….a little bit like her!