The sewing machine and the scissors


Humor – The sewing machine and the scissors – My Childhood nostalgia series – Chapter: 2

The good-old Usha Sewing Machine!

This happened some 54 years ago.

The arrival of the sewing machine into the village household was an event of excitement, curiosity and novelty all stitched together. Our father, an embodiment of thrift bordering on stinginess, opening out his purse and spending a hefty two hundred and fifty rupees to buy a ‘Usha’ sewing machine was a matter of huge surprise to me those days.

But I could understand subsequently as I grew up that it was a master stroke of common-sense mingled with sound economic sense. With his eldest daughter aged 20 sitting unmarried at home (which was normally a matter of extreme concern those days when the marriageable age of a girl hovered around 18) and the next daughter standing in the queue at 17, what else could have been a better decision to keep their minds engaged in a creative and remunerative activity, safely distracted from nuptial dreams?

Barely 2 months before the arrival of the sewing machine, my eldest sister, who had a very demonstrable creative skills running in her blood, had been to Neyveli for a month’s stay with our uncle’s family. There she had utilized her time to learn tailoring – stitching of blouses for women and frocks for girls from a friendly neighbor.

The machine arrived in a van along with a mechanic. A group of kids, mostly my friends, swarmed around inside the ‘Mutram” of our house, where the mechanic was methodically assembling the machine- joining the two legs to the upper table, fitting the pedal and the wheel, fitting the machine at the top and connecting the leather belt.

The good-old Usha Sewing Machine!

Over the next 1 hour, he gave instructions to my sisters about the setting procedures, how to fix the bobbin, how to wind the thread into the spool of the bobbin, how to adjust the pitch, how to do simple machine embroidery, where to lubricate and other dos and don’ts. I was naturally inquisitive enough to crane my neck in to gather the bits and pieces of the technically curious stuff.

After drinking a cup of coffee offered by mother and accepting a miserly one-rupee tip from my father with a tell-tale expression of dissatisfaction, the mechanic departed with his van.

After an elaborate pooja and distribution of sugar-candy to the curious onlookers, the day passed off peacefully. The machine was placed at the front room near the window facing the Thinnai at the roadside. After the elders retired to bed, my elder brother and myself, in the disguise of doing our homework, sneaked into the front room. The needle had already been removed from the machine and it was “safe” for us to try operating the machine. We took turns to do the pedaling and enjoyed hearing the ‘tickly-tickly’ sound of the machine. We held our competition to see who pedaled faster.

While, for my age, I was magnanimously permitted by my brother to play with thread pitch setting mechanism, lifting up and lowering the cloth-gripping-saddle, inserting the thread procedurally through the various eyes and hooks etc, he took the liberty of playing with the next higher skill-set of disengaging the belt, tilting the machine backwards and putting and removing the bobbin at the bottom side of the machine. The future mechanical Engineer (myself) was permitted to be only a curious onlooker on these skilled jobs which was rather frustrating for the budding engineer.

Though we did not feel fully contented playing with our new “toy”, we retired to bed with a lot of reluctance.

Next morning. My brother, my third elder sister and father (a teacher) left for school at 9:00 AM. My elementary school was on a holiday spree. There was a reason for it. A new annexure to our humble school building was under construction and it was nearing completion. The inauguration was scheduled some time in the following week and a local VIP had already been invited to do the inauguration. As the last minute construction work was hectic, the school was declared holiday for a couple of days.

At 10:40 AM, after “Rahu Kalam” was over, my sister, after doing a few prayers, sat at the machine to start stitching the first blouse. By pulling a bench close by, all of us – my mother, my second sister and myself sat around with curious anticipation.

My sister systematically went through the procedures – fixing the needle, ceremoniously inserting the thread over the nooses and hooks before culminating it in the eye of the needle, fixing the bobbin etc. Then she inserted the new cloth under the needle, engaged the saddle and started pedaling. The needle was moving up and down alright, BUT THE CLOTH WAS NOT FEEDING FORWARD!

She stopped; removed the cloth; did an idle-run. No! Something wrong! The serrated teeth (which are meant to feed the cloth forward) are supposed to have a working cycle of “move forward-sink-retract-move up-and-move forward again” were not moving forward at all. They were simply lifting up and down – no reciprocation. Panic!

My sister was sweating profusely; The previous day, just before the mechanic left, he did demonstrate the simple stitching procedure as the last exercise and the machine was then working perfectly alright. How could it go wrong overnight? My mother’s tension was obvious. She felt something was seriously wrong with the machine. Perhaps her husband, true to his nature, had opted for the cheapest possible machine and the company gleefully dumped on us a sub-standard one! Perhaps it was the ill luck of my sister (who could not get married off so far) was catching up with the machine too. The last statement created a deluge of tears from my sister’s eyes.

What my mother used to do at such emergency situations followed. She took a one rupee coin, shoveled it into my sister’s hand and asked her to put it into the small Hundi at the Pooja Room earmarked for the contributions to Thirupathi Balaji and pray for a solution. She rushed to do it in all earnestness.

In the mean while, my second sister was doing her survey of the machine; her face brightened up. “Look! The pitch setting has been altered to zero by somebody!” She adjusted it to 2.5 and pedaled the machine. The feeding teeth started reciprocating! By the time my eldest sister returned from the Pooja room, Lord Balaji had already solved the problem!

Naturally there was an inquiry commission, a probe by a sitting Official (I mean, by my mother) and no wonder my tell-tale facial expressions revealed my criminal involvement. Judgment was instantaneous and the deliverance of a few spanks was the well deserved punishment.

Now that the sewing machine was declared out of bounds for me, my curiosity needed fuelling. My attention was drawn towards the new sparkling stainless steel scissors purchased along with the sewing machine, meant for cutting of cloths. It was quite large and uniquely designed to insert 4 fingers on one side the thumb on the other side.

I had plenty of good picture post cards (“Pongal Vazhthu” greeting cards) from which I always wanted to scoop out some profiles and paste them on my school notebooks.

When my sisters were having their after-noon siesta, I tip-toed to the Sewing machine, opened the drawer noiselessly and took out the scissors. It was rather too heavy and inconveniently designed for my use (I am a left hander and the design was such that the gripping with 4-fingers in one handle the thumb on the other was shaped to fit comfortably for a right hander). As I started cutting the profile out of my picture postcard, the handles were hurting my tender fingers. As I was adjusting the grips precariously, there was a thundering shout behind my back : “What the hell are you doing with the new scissors?”. It was my eldest sister.

I was taken aback by her sudden intrusion and I jumped up. The scissors dropped off my hand and hit the floor with a clank. Instantaneously, the smaller noose meant for inserting the thumb in the scissors broke to a C shape! The breakage, to my ill luck was at the wrong side; You can’t operate the scissors at all now. There won’t be a grip for the thumb.

I received from my mother what a habitual offender would get at the police station. When father returned in the evening the matter was duly reported. After showering me with his share of diatribe, he asked me to bring his toolbox and the broken scissors.

My father was quite adept in mending broken items. He would somehow manage to mend many broken stuff by skillfully utilizing his assorted stock of nuts, bolts, wires, washers, hooks, nails, cycle parts, water-pump parts and what not.

As I stood watching him, he used copper wires and rusted steel wires and by skillfully twisting bending and winding them with the help of his cutting plier, he closed up the broken area in the scissors. After testing it by cutting a piece of cloth, he showed it proudly to his wife and my sisters. The shining new scissors now looked like an once-beautiful girl wound with huge plasters on her leg after a fracture! It has to be stated here that my father, despite his skills in making broken things work again, was rather too dumb in the matter of aesthetics. I still vividly remember the look of exasperation on my sister’s face when my father showed her the scissors!

If you expect the story to end here, I am sorry. The above is only Part:1 of the story.

Next Saturday. 3:30 PM. In the fifth standard, we boys were engaged in writing some ‘fill-in the blanks’ exercise in Tamil. The next day, the Sunday was the inauguration of the new building. There was a mini-conference of all the teachers taking place in my class; they were going thro’ the ‘to-do’ lists for the next day’s program and tying up any loose ends.

“HM Sir, Have you arranged for tying the ribbon across the entrance so that the MLA cuts it off and formerly enters the building?” asked Seenu Sir.

“Oh! I forgot. I shall send Ekambaram to the market to get the ribbon. The type of ribbons the girls use to tie their hairs should be fine I suppose. What to do for the scissors?”

“We shall buy one, Sir”

“How much a good one will cost?” None of them knew. The overtly curious in me did the usual mistake of opening the mouth at the wrong time.

“Sir I know. We recently bought one at our house along with the sewing machine. My father was telling it cost twenty rupees”.

“T w e n t y R u p e e s ? ?”

It was too huge an amount those days. More over, such stuff was not available at local markets. Even to buy any cheaper one that may not do a good job, one had to go to Kumbakonam or Mayavaram to buy it those days. Rangu Sir vetoed any idea of buying new scissors for the purpose.

After a round of consultations, Rangu Sir called me near him and said “Go and tell your father that I have made a request for lending it for tomorrow’s function. I will make sure to return it safely”.

I never expected this bombshell. My mother will not agree for it, I was sure. More over, how would it look to present the broken scissors to the VIP?

“Sorry Sir! There is a problem; its handle is broken…”

Rangu Sir threw a look of disbelief at me. “Don’t lie, you Rascal. You don’t want to give it, do you? Your father is a friend of mine; He will not refuse.”

“No Sir, God promise! It is broken; it was mended by my father; it does not look nice enough now; If you want, I will bring it and show it to you”

“Bring it to my house this night.” I agreed. His house was located in ouragraharam, 10 houses away across my street.

I dutifully reported the matter to my parents and received oral reprimands for my foolishness to have talked about the existence of the scissors in the house.

“How can we offer this ‘ugly stuff’ to the VIP?” my sister expressed her concern.

“Don’t worry; I will tie some cloths around the wires and make it presentable”. My father set to work immediately with bits of remnant blouse pieces that my sister had. After he finished the work, it was really difficult to say whether the scissors looked worse before winding the clothes of after!

I took the scissors to Rangu Sir’s house. His face shrank when he saw the condition of the scissors. After a moment of thinking, he said “Well, bring it with you tomorrow morning; let it be a stand-by, just in case we could not manage with any other alternative”.

Sunday Morning. All the school boys had gathered in the school premises sharp at 9 AM. Local people were gathering slowly near the specially erected Pandal. Aloudspeaker was blaring out recent film songs. The VIP was expected to arrive in the next half-an-hour.

There was a hectic discussion among the teachers with me standing amidst them with the scissors. Seenu Sir would not touch it with a ten feet pole. Where is the question of offering it to the VIP? “I would rather ask the VIP to use a shaving blade to cut off the ribbon!” was his retort. But Rangu Sir was more pragmatic. “Where is the alternative? After all, it is just a one-second affair; The VIP may not even notice” he said.

“There is one alternative; but I am not sure, whether you will agree…” said Bhai Sir. “Shoot it out” said Ranghu Sir. “The only good-working pair of scissors is available in the village with one person – Natesan…” said Bhai Sir.

“Natesan, who?”

Bhai Sir’s voice sank to inaudible levels. “Natesan, the barber”.

“No! no, no…” it was a chorus from both Seenu Sir and Ranghu Sir this time. That settled the matter.

The VIP came; our scissors were offered to him in a platter; He took it, eyed on it and went ahead to cut the ribbon. I was standing close by so as to collect it back immediately in safe condition as per strict instructions from my parents.

I still vividly remember the expression on the face of the VIP when he eyed on the scissors. The facial contortions were so strikingly similar to what I had seen on my sister’s face a couple of days ago when my father offered it to her after the repairs!


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