Monday, June 17, 2013

Ushi's Shawls

One day, Ushi showed me her shawls.

Ushi lives in Delhi, in a quiet neighborhood where subzi-wallahs (vegetable vendors) and crows fill the streets with their cries and a troupe of red-faced monkeys clamber over her roof each morning.

One day, we started talking about shawls.  We were sitting in the small dining room that is in the center of the beautiful guest house Ushi runs with her husband Avnish.  I had bought a few pieces that day in Delhi, and was showing them to her.  I was particularly pleased with one piece, a pale aquamarine silk chiffon embroidered with twisting vines, leaves and flowers in shades of turquoise, aqua, and white. The fabric was from an old sari, probably from the 1950s.

Avnish ambled into the room and examined the piece.  "This is nice handwork."  Indian men know about fabric.  They know about shawls.  They wear shawls.  (Amitabh Bachchan, the most famous actor in Bollywood, wears them with panache.)  He ambled out of the room

Amitabh Bachchan wearing a Shawl
Ushi thought it was a good piece too.  "These old pieces, the embroidery is beautiful."  She flipped it over, looking at the back that was exactly the same as the front of the piece.

She told me a story.  Her mother-in-law, originally from part of India that is now in Pakistan, had a beautiful collection of shawls.  She wore them often, and stored them carefully.  Some dated back for several generations.  When her mother-in-law died, to everyone's surprise she left the shawls to Ushi, rather than her daughters, because she understood that Ushi had respect and love for the fine work.

"I think you have respect and love for the handwork, too."

Ushi offered to show me her shawls.  She disappeared into the unseen part of the guesthouse where her family lives, and came out a few minutes later bearing several shawls, carefully wrapped, smelling faintly of mothballs.

The stitches were so tiny that I could barely see them individually.  So carefully were they done, that it was impossible to tell the front of the garment from the back.  They were in subtle colors, combinations I had never seen before.

(I had, however, seen shawls like this once before, in the possession of a shawl-wallah from Kashmir.  He also thought that I had a feel for shawls, so he pulled out suitcases from the back of the store, simply to show me his finest work.  One cost more, even in Delhi, than the average Indian makes in a year. I took a picture of it, grey and cream check, hand-loomed from the finest wool from the throat of the Kashmir goat, with embroidered vines and tiny orange and blue flowers.  My picture didn't do it justice, at all.)
Hand embroidered hand-loomed shawl, Kashmir
Ushi's shawls were as fine as that magic shawl I had seen at the shawl-wallah's store, with a difference.  She wore them, wore them for warmth, wore them for love, wore them for their connection to her beloved mother-in-law, wore them for the joy they brought her, wore them because they were part of her culture, her heritage.  Ushi's shawls bestowed upon her a dignity, a warmness of spirit, that no other garment provides.

Ushi is a Reiki Master.  I watched her heal a friend once who had massively swollen ankles that had been slowly worsening ever since she landed in India.  It was probably the long flight, heat, salt, and spices, plus the fact that she was a smoker.  Ushi laid her hands several inches over her ankles, never touching her.  My friend could feel warmth radiating from her.  Ushi gave her a mantra to repeat.  The next morning, the swelling was completely gone.  Ushi said to her, "I woke up several times during the night and thought of you and sent you healing light." Which made us smile, because each of those kind and warm thoughts corresponded to my friend running to the communal bathroom during the night as the excess fluid left her.

Ushi's shawls, like Ushi's hands, are warm and healing.  I think all shawls carry a bit of that magic.

Ushi and me

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