A Stitch in Fabric of Time, Hemming Together Enigmatic Past and Future

Published: 09th April 2016 10:00 PM  |   Last Updated: 07th April 2016 03:58 AM   |  A+A-


It was a minor miracle that it survived. Or perhaps such small miracles were part of its nature. I discovered it a while ago, locked away in a tin trunk which I opened at random during a bout of spring cleaning.  My mother must have packed it away and forgotten about it when we shifted to Delhi from Calcutta over 20 years ago, and it had endured the intervening summers and monsoons, plus three shifts of residence in Delhi alone, and all without even the benefit of mothballs. It was, and indeed emphatically is, an old silk Persian carpet, six feet by eight.

When I found it in the trunk and unfolded it and spread it out, I remembered it at once and felt a pang that I’d forgotten about it all these years. It had been my indispensable childhood companion in the Chowringhee flat in Calcutta, a magical flying carpet which had transported me from the humdrum clamour of trams and rickshaws to mythical realms where, swashbuckling Sinbad, Aladdin, Ali Baba, I’d battled fearsome monsters and armies of brigands to win the gratitude of bejewelled monarchs and the importunate attentions of their beauteous daughters, whom perforce I’d had to rescue from unnameable fates worse than death.

Then, like a misplaced piece of a jigsaw no longer noticed because it was finished and done with, childhood’s carpet went astray in the transition to adolescence. The family moved from Chowringhee to Ray Street, from there to Theatre Road. Somewhere along the line, the carpet must have been stowed away and forgotten. I don’t know; I hadn’t had further use for it.

Then I found it again recently, still silky to the touch, a bit frayed at the edges but no real damage done. A true survivor. I thought of its years in the imprisoned dark of the trunk, its unseen colours vivid as the dreams of the sightless. 

We should hang it up as a tapestry, Bunny suggested. I agreed; the carpet had earned it. I don’t know much about carpets, but it seems to me that when one is being woven, something more than thread and strands of wool or silk get into it.

As the weaver’s fingers work, they pluck unknowingly out of the air and into the pattern taking shape of the dapple of sunlight on the loom, the coolness of shade, the sound of children’s voices, the rumour of wind through the leaves. My colleague, Rahul, who does know a lot about the subject, says that yes, carpets, handmade carpets anyway, tend to be like that, mostly.

Neeraj, who runs an art gallery and picture framing shop, introduced us to Rizwan, an expert at restoring old shawls and carpets. Rizwan drew in his breath softly when he saw it. It is very old; how did it come into your family? he asked. I confessed I had no idea. I’d never once thought about the carpet’s history; it had just been there.

I suppose my father’s father, who died before I was born, must have bought it, for the grand baithakkhana in the old family mansion in north Calcutta, from where my parents moved to Chowringhee after the pre-partition riots and shortly before my birth. My grandfather had been a merchant prince, who kept Australian horses and drank water out of silver goblets with nuggets of gold at the bottom; a Persian would have been his style.

My parents hadn’t been able to salvage much from my grandfather’s house; the carpet must have been among the few exceptions. I wondered at the scenes it might have witnessed: lavish receptions; festive family get-togethers where everyday’s pellmell children stared at each other like strangers in the straitjacket of ceremonial finery; midnight deals concluded among the conspiring shadows of oil lamps. The carpet was like a stitch in the fabric of time, hemming together unknown past with unknowable future, twin enigmas which lent the present a borrowed mystery.

Rizwan took the carpet away and brought it back, cleaned, hemmed and tasselled. It glowed, like a woman basking in the wordless gaze of a lover across the room. Neeraj framed it for us to hang on the wall. Immediately the dimensions of the room were transformed. The carpet was not a decorative accessory; it dominated the room.

It commands all the space around it, I said. And so it should; it’s got its own presence, being a genuine antique, agreed Bunny. Our first real antique, I said. Our second, corrected Bunny. It took a moment for the penny to drop. I don’t think I’ve ever been paid a nicer compliment.


Suraiya is a writer, columnist and author of several books


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