Curtain Story

S Balakrishnan
I never thought that changing the window curtain could be such a complicated issue. We have a big window (7ft x 8 ft) in our hall which is called Bay window or French window in architectural jargon. I prefer calling it simply as the big window. I keep it open because Gandhiji has said, “I do not want my house to be walled in on all sides and my windows to be stuffed. I want the culture of all lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any.” It is not possible to speak the truth all the time, especially to the wife. So let me follow Gandhiji at least in this deed. But my wife insists on closing it with the mosquito net by 5 pm itself. I feel stuffy but I obey her command because the mosquitoes love her (more than me) for her B+ blood group and flock her. Well, coming to the point, the damaged wooden frame of the big window was recently changed to upvc frame; this rendered the old curtain unfit for the modern outlook of the upvc window. We had heated debates (the Parliament debates would be no match for ours) on a new curtain and then decided to postpone it for a while as the summer heat had not peaked yet.
In the meanwhile, I was secretly sourcing for the curtain cloth of my choice. What I had in mind was a combination of colourful shawls from North-Eastern States; they are very attractive in bright colours with unique patterns. Such a combination would also justify Gandhiji’s idea of ‘culture of all lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible’. But my wife could block Gandhiji’s idea being implemented because of the cost factor. The shawls could be costly indeed.
Without revealing my shawl idea, I took her to a sprawling integrated township in Perambur where a swadeshi fair was on. The huge site was where the famous Buckingham & Carnatic Mills (B&C Mills) was once producing cotton cloth material. Started functioning in 1878, the textile mill functioned almost for a century when it was closed down finally in 1996 due to losses & labour unrest. The B&C Mills was where the country’s first labour union was formed in 1918. In a way I was curious to see the site of the famous B&C Mills. But the fair had more desi eateries than handloom products. Oh, yes, we did enjoy a stick ice each, the cheapest food item there that was costlier than the auto fare.
My next hunting ground was on the other side of the city in Thiruvanmiyur – a handloom & handicrafts show at the Kalakshetra Foundation which is in the news for alleged harassment of women students by a male dance teacher. I decided to go alone for this Mission Impossible as my wife was ogling at saris at the desi fair.  So I told her a harmless lie that I was going to a temple there and that I had vowed to come there only by bus. “Then I am not coming”, she bluntly said and that was what I wanted. Because I feared we would end up buying saris instead of curtain. And I was justified – there were more of saris than of shawls of the type I wanted. So the Mission was aborted.
I waited patiently like a tiger waiting to hunt. I hoped the National Handloom Week (April 7-14) will give me the right choice.  ‘Let us go shopping for some cotton bed spreads’, I invited my wife. “Shopping? WOW!” She readily hopped on the bike. And this time it was the swanky Metro that took us to Egmore. While I was searching for unique curtain material, my wife was wondering at the variety of cotton & silk saris from all over India. Then I spotted what I wanted; it was not actually curtain material but a ‘razai’ (quilt). It was love at first site; it was thick, colourful, had the right height & breadth to cover my favourite big window. It is from Bikaner in Rajasthan and has hand-made stitches across its length. Surprisingly, my wife approved my choice and, after some bargaining, the price also. What is shopping without the pleasure of bargaining! But the cost of the rod, slight alteration and installation expenditure almost equalled the cloth’s price! Well, never mind; it is a one-time investment that has given a unique touch – a combination of both tradition & glamour - to the hall. ‘It will be neighbour’s envy and owner’s pride!’ we comforted ourselves. Later, however, I noticed the traditional shawls of Tamil Nadu’s Toda tribe, but a single piece of 1 ½ ft x 4 ft size itself cost a mighty Rs 2,600; besides, it was a white cloth as per the Toda custom.
Tail piece: An interesting encounter happened during its installation. It was with the person sent from the furnishing company. From his looks and his accent of Tamil, I guessed he could be from Bihar. Yes, my guess was indeed correct - he hails from Bihar. It is no surprise because Tamil Nadu these days has more people from other States than native Tamils. The other day when I was crossing Egmore railway station I watched a train unloading a full load of people from States like Bihar, Jharkhand, Odisha, Bengal and NE. For a moment I wondered if I were at Howrah Station! Tamil Nadu is known as “vanthaarai vaazha vaikum maanilam”, meaning “the State which allows migrants to thrive here”. But at this rate I wonder what will happen in the future.  
Back to the encounter- As he carried on his work, I chatted with him and gathered vital information. He is Santosh Kumar and he is from the land of Nitish Kumar!  He has been living in Tamil Nadu for the past 13 years, coming here on the invite of a relative who had arrived earlier. Aged 30, Santosh Kumar is an eligible bachelor; his parents live in a village in Nalanda District. Their farm land was being tended to by his father but now that he is a paralytic patient, the land is tilled by others.
Santosh visits his parents once in 4-5 months for 15 days. He said his last visit was during Holi. When I asked him if he would go for chhath puja, he was surprised that I know about this most popular puja of Bihar. He said with much expectation that he was looking forward to visit during Chhath puja that comes 3-4 days after Diwali. I could not contain asking him, ‘Why come all the way to Chennai when Kolkata is so nearby?’ His was an analytical reply – Except the old jute industry there is not much industrial development in Kolkata. Bihar has changed a lot after Nitish Kumar took over as CM, right ? I probed him as I have seen photos of developed Patna. Of course, rowdyism (dadagiri) has come down to some extent but development pace is not as one sees in Chennai, he replied. Santosh Kumar is happy with the present employer (furnishing company) who pays him decently and grants him liberal leave to visit his native.
 He is able to save/send around 8,000 rupees every month to his parents. The most important thing is his sense of beauty when he appreciated the artistic ‘razai’ chosen by us for curtain material. In fact, ladies at his home engage themselves in stitching such razais, he said. I thought if I need one next time I could contact him and get one cheaply! I was really astonished when he called an old wall clock as an ‘antique piece’ in English ! I was astonished that he knew the value of antique pieces ! He declined our offer of coffee as he had just had a cup of tea on the way.
A pleasant person, I hope Santosh Kumar picks up the intrigues of furnishing business and sets up his own in the land of Nitish Kumar ! With this let me ‘close the curtain’.
The writer can be reached at krishnan-bala2004@ / 9840917608 Whatsapp