Jul 14, 2017

The Old Ways

Mysore, India 1997.

The month leading up to a 3-month stint in India was always fraught with a nearly insurmountable heap of tasks. And yet, without fail, I’d get a DIY bee in my adventuress bonnet to hand-dye a tunic or pull out the sewing machine and whip up the perfect dress like this blue and gold wrap dress from a pattern for a traditional Tibetan costume. The project included shopping for the perfect silk brocade as well as trimming it in meters of pink velvet ribbon. My boyfriend would look on in disbelief as I spun a new bobbin and ripped seams with my teeth. It made no sense to him but perfect sense to me.

And so here I am in the dress in my temporary home of 3-months just across the street from the Three Sisters Grocery stall. I am out back in the yard where the outhouse was, the clothes washing stone and the tap for dish washing and bucket filling. I am holding a milk can with fresh cow’s milk.

At that time, the old ways, the sustainable practices, were still adhered to. Bring your steel milk can and storage canisters to the shops and have them filled. Salt and spices were measured and sold in rolled cones of the morning’s newspaper. Butter as white as a cow’s belly was scooped into a cup made of leaves pinned together with tiny tooth picks. As for cleaning and scrubbing dirty steel dishes? I was shown how to pluck the tuft of brown fibrous hair off a dried coconut shell. And then scrub with all my might. And clothes? I beat them on the washing stone though never hard enough to get them free from stains but always with enough force to break every last button.

As for this silk home-sewn beauty? I lovingly soaked her and hung her to dry in a cool shaded corner of the yard.

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