Round about | Our connect with Charkha? | punjab$regional-takes | Hindustan Times
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Round about | Our connect with Charkha?

The spinning wheel, or the charkha as we call it here, was essentially an appliance used by women to spin yarn the world over and so also in India where it was first invented. Early drawings from the east and the west show women at work, the foreign images show them seated on chairs or stools and the wheel is vertical and the Indian invention was horizontal with the woman seated on the floor one knee raised.

punjab Updated: Jan 22, 2017 14:52 IST
Nirupama Dutt
Women at work: A painting by Sobha Singh.
Women at work: A painting by Sobha Singh.

The spinning wheel, or the charkha as we call it here, was essentially an appliance used by women to spin yarn the world over and so also in India where it was first invented. Early drawings from the east and the west show women at work, the foreign images show them seated on chairs or stools and the wheel is vertical and the Indian invention was horizontal with the woman seated on the floor one knee raised. The first spinning wheel songs were composed by anonymous women lyricists. An old Irish melody describes the scene thus: ‘Close by the window young Eileen is spinning/ Bent o’er the fire her blind grandmother sitting/Crooning and moaning and drowsily knitting/Merrily cheerily noiselessly whirring.’

Closer home and my first memory of a charkha was at a ladies’ sangeet at a family wedding in Chandigarh, when women of the family beat the dholki and an aunt sang with full vigour: ‘Charkha chanan da’ (Spinning wheel of sandalwood) and all joined the chorus of ‘shava’. As a pre-school child, I wondered what it was all about for this was a city free of charkhas and it was many decades before its replicas started selling in emporia or bigger ones in the havelis that were to come on the GT Road that used kitsch and glaring colours to remember a lost culture.

It was songs and poetry that took one back to the women’s world of spinning and Trinjan. Parkash Kaur’s rendering of the sandalwood wheel remained a favourite for its emotional connection even with the nails that held the pieces of wood together. The song said that the charkha was gifted by her mother in her trousseau and that whenever she looked at the nails she was reminded of her mother. Of course it was the necessity of the rhyme to say; ‘Ma meri ne charkha ditta, Vich charkha de mekhan, Ma raani di yaad aave, Main jad charkha wal vekhan’. So poignant it was in its simplicity. Then the haunting old boli celebrated it thus that the mendicant came down from the mountains hearing the buzz of the spinning: ‘Jogi uttar paharhon aayea/ Charkhe di goonj sun ke’.

Became a symbol of indigenous during Freedom struggle

The spinning wheel as a metaphor stood for the circle of life and death, for the rotation of the earth, and the creation of something new. It became a symbol for the indigenous in the National Freedom struggle and the Mahatma added to it a new dimension as was the need of the times when artisans were left starving with Indian cotton going to the British mills.

And now some enterprising Khadi Udyog tries to replace Gandhi pose with that of a fellow Gujarati Modi. Well one has nothing against men who have added to the charkha lore with Punjabi poet Mohan Singh’s beautiful poem ‘Ambi da Boota’, the woman spins beneath the mango tree or Gulzar applying the metaphor in the ‘Maachis’ song: ‘Chapa chapa charkha chale’.

But one question that comes to the mind on the rhythm of a cookie-stealing poem that my granddaughter recites is ‘Who stole the charkha from the village belle?’ Romanticise it as much as you may but time and tide took it away and turned it into a replica to be remembered. Nevertheless, its memory in songs and poems is so tender, so endearing that one has to say that no more funny political games, controversies and no more gimmicks please. Let it occupy the sacred space in all the hearts.

(nirupama.dutt@hindustantimes.com)