By: SAROJ THAKUR
“This is the last Pashmina shawl that I am giving to you” said my Ma, lovingly handing me a shawl whose thread she herself had spun. It was a beauty. I was suddenly choked with emotions to realise the kind of hard work that must have gone into spinning the Pashmina wool and whole of the process dedicated to it. My Ma continued, “My eyesight is failing me these days and then when your Papa was there, it was a different story but now…” Yes. I could understand how much she misses my Papa when it comes to sharing such small things as making balls of Pashmina threads and all.
I remember watching them sitting near the fire during the cold weather of Shimla and doing mundane jobs related to preparation of Pashmina wool. Pashmina shawl made from the hair of the Pashmina Goat carry a long story of love and care that goes into their making. In summer, the wild Himalayan goat sheds its fleece on the high mountains. This fleece that is the Pashmina wool is covered under rough hair and this is how the raw Pashmina came to our home. It would carry the smell of the mountains and the goats as well. Sniffing our nose, we would smell trouble ahead as the arduous task of “Project Pashmina Shawl” would embark.
Even we were not spared. My Ma would give us a small portion of Pashmina wool and we were supposed to finish separating the fine Pashmina wool from the rough hair that it was covered under. It was a tedious job and we would decry our mother for being so harsh upon us. But looking back, I find that this small exercise made us learn a great lesson that what we come across in life has very little substance, covered under the seemingly fogged exterior. And to separate the chaff from the grain is a sign of a cultured mind. Thanks Ma for having grilled in this great truth through such small everyday lessons.
My Papa would get Pashmina wool from the higher reaches of Kinnaur where he used to go for inspection work and during holidays, both my Ma and Papa would be sitting together, working over the various stages of the making of a shawl. A rare togetherness indeed.
These fine strands of Pashmina would be combed on a specially designed comb having iron bristles to straighten up all the rough edges and to give it a smooth texture. Reflecting upon it, I understand that the smooth life is a result of having undergone the process of torture under the rough wheels of life and not a bed of roses that it is commonly taken as. What an analogy!
Now onwards, it would be my mother’s job to spin the wool and make small cones on the Spinning wheel. I remember moving the wheel of the “Charkha” and often breaking the thread that made both the wheels coordinate and would be punished for it. Once the cones would be ready, my father would make a ball of the same and now it would be ready to be given to a handloom artisan to weave a shawl; out of it. My mother would, painstakingly, select a design to be crafted on both the ends of the shawl.
And after some days, a shawl would be delivered at our home. What a pleasure it was to touch the shawl. So exquisite, soft and warm!
Taking the shawl in my hands, I could feel the same feeling that overwhelmed me as a small girl and looking deep in my mother’s eye, I could see the same love that she had for me long back.
When I wrap the shawl around me to ward off the cold, it is not just cold that it saves me from, but the protective arms of my mother seem to protect me from all dangers that lurch in the unknown!