A silken tale

It was a story that happened to Leima Devi every day of her life. The same slow start, the build-up, the conflagration and the anticlimax. The same dreams broken by the same reality. It wasn’t going to change today.

She had her morning tea, and went to check her worms. There were three pupae today. “Good, about a thousand metres of thread”, she thought. She put water to boil. It would be a long day, and she could not afford to waste any of it. Once her husband Ibomcha was up, there would only be trouble.

The water came to boil. She plucked the pupae from under the leaves, and popped them in. A few minutes reduced the silkworms to so much silk. A thousand pupae had to die to please one rich woman. She had tried ahimsa silk, but the hole the moth makes while escaping spoils the silk. Weavers in Benares and Mysore do not appreciate this.

She pulled out her spinning wheel, and began drawing the thread. It came out smoothly, a single, shimmering strand as the cocoon spun in her hands. It was rough and linty; needing a thousand treatments to become the global demonstrator of its owner’s high station.

She was no good at weaving. She could never distinguish weft from warp, and the patterns were not the same as they had been in the drawing. Culturing silkworms and spinning threads was her lot. A week’s labour got her some spools of thread. Then came the weekend trek to Ima Market in Imphal, the haggling with the middlemen there, and the three or four hundred rupees that she finally got out of her endeavour. Of this she had to buy rice and clothes and other things to bring up her school-going children. Luckily they did well there, and would go on to better things in life. There was no future in Khurkhul spinning silk.

Ibomcha woke up. The most useless fellow she had ever known. He had been a hardworking young man when she married him, tilling his tiny paddy plot, until the Tangkhul insurgency. Then his fields were ruined, he took to heroin, and remained a druggie ever since. He’d come badgering for money to buy his high. If she didn’t yield, there would be violence. Everyday she resolved to meet him by a volley of abuse, and every day he shut her up with a stroke of his arm. She tried today too. After a few hard knocks, she gave up. From the folds of her dress, she threw twenty rupees at him. He pushed it into his trousers, and slouched off.

By nightfall, she had two spools ready. The third she would finish tomorrow. Her children were home, had eaten their rice, and went to sleep. Ibomcha would be lying drunk somewhere; he would come home to sleep when his senses returned. Two spools, she counted – one for the rice-seller, the other for the drug-pusher. This was her life. It happened everyday.


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