August 2016 marks a watershed in my life. My primordial bond was snapped that month. For as long as I live, I know, I’ll divide my life into two phases – with and without Ma, before and after August 2016.
This cloth mat is more than 50 years old. It has been a part of our home forever. Ma would use it sparsely; I don't. After I accidentally found it among a pile of old clothes five years back, I used it first to cover the top of the fridge and now, a side-table. A small tear has appeared (near the frilled border on one side) after repeated washes in the machine. That needs fixing soon; and though I am not the sort of person who promptly sits down with needle-and-thread to mend clothes, I will probably at least get it done by someone else this time. It's too precious!
My sejo mashi (third maternal aunt) did this. She was gifted when it came to needle work and could manage much more fancy stuff than the traditional 'kantha' stitch that my dida excelled at (and produced copious amounts of, all her life). When she declared her intention not to study any further after high school, Ma (the eldest sister and one of the chief bread winners of the household) got her admitted in a professional course. This was sometime in the mid-60s (if I recall it right). She produced a lot of work then; this relatively simple, though colorful, cross-stitched mat (may be, it was meant as a pillow cover?) being one of them.
Mashi had married very early, much before Ma; and at one point, for many years, the sisters didn't meet at all. Ma would however cherish every bit of mashi's needle work that she possessed. (There were some by my mejo mashi - second maternal aunt - too).
They have all died. Only the fourth and youngest remains, teary-eyed at every memory that visits her of her elder sisters.
Ma had an exceptionally close bond with her eldest brother (my boro mama, also no more) and was extremely fond of her two younger brothers (who are old men now) as well.
I have seen her give 'bhai-phonta' to them; even happen to have a few photos of the ritual from one particular year (probably 1983). But there was/there is no equivalent day in the year that celebrates the love between sisters; with a declaration in verse, no less, of the protective bond between them. Hence, given the generation they belonged to, there are hardly any photos of them together.
Only this mat bears testimony to their love.
Here's raising a toast to the love and solidarity between siblings (which evolves with time and is not always easy to sustain) -- in whatever combination of genders life/our parents gifts them to us!