Tuesday, November 26, 2013


All women irrespective of age and color might identify with how the immediate family and society in general tries to tame and socialise them as little girls. In my case it just happened overnight,  one fine day, it was not okay to climb trees and play rough and tumble with the boys. Out came sewing kits, and knitting needles. `Learn some thing worthwhile' I was told. The worthwhile usually meant, `just conform.! Remember the Aloo Gobi mum from Bend it like Beckham ?!

Unfortunately for my mother,  every reminder of my peculiarity as a girl child never failed to incite bitter rebellion. Until she at the behest of a other concerned, well meaning ladies of the house, tried to sweeten it for me. Thats when I first  saw the Butterick home sewing catalog she has stashed away among her treasured things!

 Never mind if it was a hand me down from an expat sister or aunt,  and was out of fashion by good 15 years. For somebody growing up in cities with no book stores, the catalog and its quaint illustrations were as good as a big fat juicy illustrated volume of Grimms tales ! ( I know its hard to see the connection now, even I can't decades later!)

Only for that glossy goodness,  did I comply and hang around sewing sessions at home. Which usually meant  hours spent pouring over the funky if somewhat unrealistically proportioned retro hand drawn beauties. On long summer afternoons, as my mother and aunts sat chatting and sewing by the balmy air of a noisy air cooler, the smell of khus permeating the verandah and shrill cries of the brain fever bird as though protesting against the raging mercury outside, I would try my hand at copying the utterly `cool' illustrations.

The Catalog

That Catalog  is completely frayed and battered down to its spine now.  Yet, one look at it and I never fail to go back in time to the company of my mother and the women of my large extended family cutting and sewing ill fitting garments. They would share their hopes, frustrations and dreams over  copious amounts of chilled nimbu paani passing the catalog around. I can, still see each woman's finger print on the book all these years later!

With the 1968 Butterick catalog and the women in particular as a starting point, I started to browse  old book stores in Mumbai for literature pertaining to women around the same time. Could there be a story in what we are told and will tell our daughters? What should a good' accomplished girl be like?  what was my mother told by her mother? Can this be a thread that would help connect me to the times my mother herself was a girl like I was back then, will going back in time help in connect in newer ways now?

It came to me in a bunch of books published between the 1950s and 60s. Books about ideal marriages, about female sexuality and books about women's portrayal  in advertising...I read while I  made the box. Values and ideas so out of step with today, they almost read like trashy fiction ! A curve of sociological evolution each one of us have encountered upward and downward swings of in or own ways, and yet the path ahead looms long and bleaker still!

All this material  layered on to a newly fabricated box went into `1968'. Calligraphy and hand drawn detail adds yet another layer to the final product. The pop colours and bright 60s themed illustrations make it look playful, only a closer looks gives away its  not so flippant story. The box to me is not about design or balance,  not even about perfection. It might mean different things to different people. If it invites feelings and responses of any kind at all, how ever different from mine, do care to share. That is exactly what the box is to me: a conversation, a frustration, a protest, a coming together of all that is progressive as well as regressive in traditions that makes as well as breaks!

Retro details : Frobidden fruit : 60s eye makeup and swimsuits !

Because `good' girls always cook, clean and keep impeccable homes.

Floating, free falling, hand drawn apron ladies + calligraphy


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