Thursday, April 14, 2011

Unusual applications by ordinary folks

This has been a week for reminiscing. A younger blogger friend recently posted a picture of some old 5 paise , 10 paise coins in his post on "change". The sight of those slightly blackened, light, coins, unknown to today's children, took me back many years. And a day later, I had the opportunity to meet and have lunch with someone I went to college with, 42 years ago.....

School mostly finished by 15-16 years of age then, and we were residents at the hostel of one of Pune's best known and highly regarded (even today) colleges. Society, per se, even in educated circles, was still conservative, and the standard dress for us girls was a decently long skirt with gathers, with a nondescript blouse (with sleeves). In case we thought our parents were conservative, we had an entire batch of girls in our class who wore sarees, and mostly walked around with both shoulders covered.

Which is not to say that the defiant modern ones did not exist. They did, with the full knowledge of their parents , too. Rucksacks and things were unknown, and the done thing was to walk to class clutching your notebooks, pens, and mostly in groups. And we would secretly observe a smart one who drove her family's car to college, parked it under the shade of a tree opposite our hostel, and wore a variety of clothes, including sleeveless blouses, which to us, was a mind blowing kind of thing.

We were however, much more liberated in mind, and there was an easy camaraderie between us and the fellows in our class. Many of us were in sports , we did laboratory sessions together, went for class picnics and so on. Then there were things like Science Clubs and Hobby centres on campus. And we would join those , not because it looked good on our CV (we didn't know what a CV was then) , because we thought it would be fun.

Why did I remember this ?

Sometime during my college life, we went through a revolutionary change in dress. Those of us who were being prodded, to kind of shift, towards permanent saree wearing, suddenly discovered what we called the Punjabi Dress. (For my non-Indian friends : Basically a knee (or below the knee) length tunic, with a pair of skin hugging trousers (chudidars) or loose tapering trousers( salwars) , with a matching long scarf that was thrown across the top half of your torso).

Most progressive parents didn't object. It covered more than the saree, and furthermore, was one of our national dresses. And so a friend and I attending a 1968 summer school in physics at IIT Delhi, went berserk, buying the wonderfully cheap handloom and other cotton block printed kurtas and salwars/chudidars at Janpath and Khadi Bhandaar. These often had a short button strip down the front, and you bought some nice jingly cuff link style things to weave into those strips.

I remember returning to the new year in college, and noticing that one of the kurtas had extra large button holes, and the existing collection of jingly cuff link stuff was not working.

This is where the Science club came in useful. Most people there would be infatuated with electronics, and soldering irons, and amplifiers and stuff. Me, I was infatuated with more mechanical things like drills.

And so one evening found me with four 10 paise coins, which I placed on the drilling platform. Activated the electricity, attached the size of the drill bit, which I wanted, and you had a handle that you brought down to make the drill bit cut a hole. Very soon , like in 5 minutes, I had four 10 paise coins, with four small holes at the centre of each coin. Various people there, thought that I was mad, unpatriotic, or just playing around with the drill. But I went home, and sewed these on as buttons on one side of the button strip. The size was perfect for the extra large button holes, and I enjoyed wearing that kurta and having people remark on the unusual buttons many years after that.

Which was a nice introduction to unusual uses of routine things. Like staplers, for example.

Early seventies saw me working in Mumbai, and I was back to sarees, and enjoying them. You now had an immense variety in the fabrics and designs, and sarees was the approved wear in offices, unless you wore formal western clothes. But the trouble was that the Mumbai suburban trains and the public buses, which were my usual mode of transport, often involved lots of pushing, shoving, stamping on feet, others stamping on your feet, and in general dealing with a war situation, and it so happened, that one ended up having lots of saree "falls" becoming unattached in theses skirmishes. (The Fall is a length of matching saree fabric, about 5" wide, sown into the bottom inside edge of a saree; helps the saree to "fall" well when draped).

These had to be stitched back, many ladies carried needle and thread systems in their purses, but never had the time to stitch the stuff when in the office.

I discovered by accident, that the length of the office stapler was equal to the width of the saree fall, and several occasions after emerging from desperate skirmishes in the train/bus, saw me bending down to simply staple the fall all around back in place. This worked so well, particularly in darker printed sarees, that I forgot to do the needle and thread stuff later. And so I always , for many years, simply carried a stapler in my purse.

The irreverence continues.

I now have a huge family collection of various knee caps, ankle caps, wrist wraps, shoulder slings, forearm splints, palm wraps, dorsal belts, rib belts , thanks to family members doing sports, and my several occasional falls , fractures and stuff. The ongoing war of My Bones/Ligaments/Muscles vs Me has had me wearing a back belt . (No, its not a misprint. I did not mean Black Belt).

But the mechanics of running a house, does not allow you to lie back in a recumbent pose, and get other people to do stuff, despite, illegible scrawls in your file that say "Ad. Rest".

The back belt is a monstrous thing. It has you sitting in weird postures , say, on a chair, while you eat etc. One has discovered, that when going out is inevitable, and you do not want to wear this thing , the rib belt is often useful, and actually fits like a younger version of the thing. And so, one comfortably wears a rib belt around the midriff, the support is excellent unless you are planning to walk miles, or dance or something. It does not show up from various apertures in your outfits, and is easy to tug , when you are feeling uncomfortably scratchy.

At all other times, the back belt is fine.

But I must point out something.

This system does not work for those whose vital statistics elicit oohs, aahs and whistles.

If you are the 36-24-36 type , the system of interchanging multitasking belts is unworkable .

For that it helps to be cylindrical.....:-)


  1. LOL!! Loved your innovations down the years. In fact, it reminded me sepia photographs of my Maa (now in her sixties) as a school-girl, wearing the aforesaid skirt-blouse combo, her hair tied up in two plaits, posing with her books and pens before going to school.

  2. What a fun post for the day! I love it! The change in womens clothing here in the states since I was in college is amazing -- can't believe I wore some of the things that I did!! Hope you have a lovely evening and a wonderful weekend!


  3. Wow Surangaji what an awesome idea with the sure it would have looked wonderful..any pics of the kurta ;)

  4. What a lovely post :) My mom was one of 'your kind' too, making skirts out of lungis, doing one or the other thing with her stuff. Unfortunately, I haven't inherited the creative gene. I loved your coin idea. I am going to try doing something with that idea myself.

    Pics please?

  5. any clues and hints for MEn please .. and I definitely dont get the oohs and aahs :)
    and the coin idea was beautiful

    Made me remember that when i was in first year I had got a Jean sttiched with Horse girdles as buckeles .. he he he dont know why i did it but it looked cool

    and then one friend of mine had a scooter he removed the kick and got a big ROD soldered to it and instead if kick start he used his ARM to pull or push the rod to start the scooter like they do in auto rickshawas he he he:)

    wow 42 years ago you were in college I am not that old yet ... :)


  6. Necessity is the mother of invention and you were proof of that when you used the stapler to secure your garment.

  7. You have company. I too have stapled my sari falls which I found easier than sewing the thing.i must add however that it was not an original idea. a dear colleague and friend, now 71 years of age suggested it when the falls came off in college and promptly handed me a stapler! So I think innovative people like you and her should exchange notes.

  8. lol! loved your creativity with the coins used or buttons!

  9. How wonderfully innovative!!!
    Lovely post, as always:)