Sunday, December 30, 2012

And A Veil to Tether

One of my colleagues says that veils fascinate her and I confess I have had veils on my mind since the past few weeks, all they reveal and represent, the hues they lend the world. Indeed, the blank canvas of the sky laughs with colors of life when seen through a veil, whether it be a flowing scarf, a dancing kite, or a twinkling paper lantern. To paraphrase a thousand Hindi songs, the unruffled dupatta changes climes and brings on Spring.

Like any South Eastern native, I can tell you what the scarves I wear represent: they supposedly represent female modesty, but if the same scarf were tied on a man's forehead, it would proclaim his pride in the tradition that birthed him. Freedom sings in the flight a girl's scarf sketches as she swings from a grandfather of a tree. The audience of a Hindi film knows the scarf well. With bated breath, we watch as the villain considers the innocent girl's scarf through a veil of cigarette smoke, and gasp as he snatches the dupatta off the terrified girl; the camera focuses on the swinging, broken lamp smashed in the ensuing struggle and we all know that she is lost.

Most salwar suits come with a matching scarf or dupatta. The material for a dupatta must be special: it cannot be as heavy as the fabrics that actually cover and protect. In fact, it must be woven of texture light enough for the air to lift, which would require something heavier, like lace or a twice rolled hem to hold it against the wind and then it acquires a fall of graceful ripples. At the same time, the dupatta must match the heavier cloth it is constructed to compliment, with an edging, with contrasting hues, or most frequently, with the same print as the salwar suit. The function of the dupatta, it seems, is to serve as the dream of the salwar suit.

I have worn through a lot of salwar suits, whose stitching has given out, whose exhausted weave has unravelled, but whose matching dupattas retain their original form. I collect them, lightly worn fabrics of numinous use, whose sole purpose seems to be to recall the varied textures our world is made of. When I tried to quilt them, I could not imagine the finished quilt, and they resisted my needle and the stodgy quilting threads, preferring to ripping to submission. Occasionally, I give them to my daughter and she uses them to make a statement of her jeans-and-t-shirt.

As I get older, I find that I need the wrapping of my scarves to protect me, to keep me warm and alive. I have begun to prefer the sky veiled in clouds, and today, on a cool day immediately following the Winter solstice, I look forward to the kite flying in January, which will welcome the sun back. Nothing says Spring like unfurled colors of insubstantial material.

I am working and my lap is not free for the cat. He paws at the laptop and looks inquiringly at me. Of course, I obey and spread my scarf. He accepts this extension of me and it is enough to envelop him, tie him to me beyond language and species. I look at the content, sleeping cat and wish for my dupatta to extend beyond my organic self and chronological life, to envelop and warm my child so that her universe may unfurl around her in weaves of many colors and textures, enriching her life, tethering her to me as she soars and flies off, like an un-achored kite, across unimaginable skies.

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