This article is part of our ‘Lockdown Diary’, where we invite women to share their experiences at home during the COVID-19 lockdown.
By Usha Iyer
I worked in the field of advertising followed by teaching design for the past two decades. As an artist, my hands and mind are constantly working and, very often, the most important meetings are when some interesting drawings take shape on my notepad – while listening to every word too!
During the last few months of being at home during the lockdown, I got the time to take out all my artwork and sketches made on any paper I got my hands on. Most are of women – not anyone I know – and without story or context.
I threw open these sketches to friends and family by choice of numbers, and asked them to pick a sketch and write a story based on it. That’s how my #30SketchesToStories series began. What started as 30 has ended at 45, while many wait to be translated and many of my friends haven’t had the time but intend to still send in their entries.
Many are first-time writers, some just had fun and some just got back to writing. I wasn’t curating or selecting, so all stories were on my Instagram handle with the corresponding sketch. For one sketch we got six entries. We put up all.
We revived my blog, so those who are not on Instagram (like my mom, who reads every story) could read and share further. Also, some found it difficult to write just 350 words and ended up needing lots of space. And many are not on Instagram. So they all went on the blog too.
One writer wrote in Tamil and, with a friend, translated it also. A lovely story, though long, it was posted in both languages.
My sister writes often. For her story, I sketched after the story was in. The same for my mother, who wrote about a small incident of her life.
Here are three stories from the series.
Story 1: Look Up Girl! It Isn’t Your Fault!By Usha Iyer
My teacher asked me to take a few copy books to her friend, another teacher, who was teaching in a junior class in the next building. A break like this in the middle of a class was always welcome. Also it gave one the air of having become a little special to the teacher, because she chose you!
The other building was also another school.
So I walked up, delivered the copies and skipped back. Suddenly, from nowhere, there were three boys in front of me and before I could say a word, I was pushed into the closed doors of a window. Old buildings had windows with sills to sit on. While one or two laughed raucously, the third felt me up and I could feel a hand on my chest. I don’t know what exactly happened even! Groping, I suppose that is what it is called, now that everything has a name.
I couldn’t get a sound out of me. This episode didn’t last over a few seconds. But it has lasted in my mind forever. That laugh still rings. This was in 1977.
The abuse never stopped. It never does in Delhi. Age no bar!
One learns to give it back, though. With a compass poking out of the college bag, with the deathly stare, with changing routes, with just asking, “Kya ho raha hai?”
Look up, girl! It isn’t your fault.
Story 2: LoveBy Prema Giri
I looked down at the new pair of jhumkas my husband had gifted me today. The gajra of my favourite jasmine flowers was already adorning my hair.
As I wore the jhumkas I could hear my mother-in-law in the courtyard loudly lamenting her fate at getting a barren daughter-in-law . And her anger at her son’s refusal to marry again.
As my eyes filled with tears of joy, my husband only had a faint smile of peace and understanding on his face. We had long decided to be each other’s child and this was our secret.
Story 3: Flowers for a WidowBy Sandhya Srinivasan
From the time she was a child, Shalini had loved the ritual of making jasmine garlands. The flower seller would come and measure out the jasmine buds and then in the evening, her mother and aunt would settle down to make the garlands. Three long ones for the gods’ pictures, and four smaller ones – for the two of them, Shalini and her sister. How swiftly their fingers would move to wind the string around the flower buds.
They would bloom by the next morning and the whole house would be fragrant with the almost intoxicating smell of jasmine. Her mother would plait her daughters’ hair, then raise one thick strand and insert the garland through the gap.
Most days, she would make two plaits for Shalini, and the garland would be strung from one plait to the other. Shalini preferred the days when her mother ran out of time and just made one plait, because then one end of the garland would flap around her shoulder, and she could smell it if she just turned her head a bit.
After she got married, Shalini continued to love wearing flowers in her hair, and her husband Pratap loved watching her braid her hair and clip on the flowers before leaving for work. Her mother-in-law, following the custom of widows not adorning themselves, had stopped wearing the garlands herself many years ago, but always kept a string of jasmines away for Shalini while decorating the gods in their pooja room.
Today, they had just completed the 13th day rituals after Pratap suddenly passed away of a heart attack, and Shalini came into her room to change into her new sari. She found this ritual of wearing new clothes while still so completely heart-broken very strange, but the priest had insisted on this process as it declared an end to the funeral rituals.
Her mother-in-law had left her new clothes on the bed and gently patted Shalini on her head before leaving the room. Shalini now sat on the bed, completely stunned – along with the sari and blouse, her mother-in-law had also left a packet of bindis and a jasmine garland.
Usha Iyer is a happy mom and artist, design practitioner and faculty whose interests include cooking, sewing, photography, gardening and music. She is keenly pursuing a diploma in Art Therapy while working from home in Delhi. She’ll be 58 in October. You can find her on Instagram and Facebook.