By Lakshmi Bharadwaj:
The cardboard box had arrived late that evening and I wasn’t particularly charmed. They had practiced hoarding these boxes like it was all a matter of safety, by some insane standards of measure. When another was dragged in, I was presumptuous enough to think they’d take it back to the storeroom to craft something of their proud garbage. But they left it abandoned at my feet, partially opened.
I wish, time allowing, I could explore the intricate mysteries of unopened boxes. You are quite a happy humbug sitting there idling your time–place a cardboard box beneath your feet and it changes the whole equation. Oh, the insurmountable curiosities that eat you, at the sight of these things!! Elusive opportunities slinking away and smiling, a weird temptation that refuses to abandon tugging–it is a compelling sort of gravity. I had to concede, and this would turn out all different.
I gaped at the little box that I had stumbled upon. The shadows were shiftless, somewhat solid. From within, the unknown fed anticipation and thousands of speculative wanderers traveled my electric roads, flashing their thoughts and disappearing again. Which might it contain? Books? A gift? An exotic foreign souvenir? A lamp? Kitchen equipment? Clothes? Woodwork?
It was a submersion into a well-known curiosity that hung tenaciously from the child-like mind, anticipating. I was eager. The hands knew no manners as they pried at the contents, and everything was scattered on the floor: a disappointing arrangement. But then, the blandest of prizes struggled to make itself conspicuous from among the rubble. I had chanced upon a prize, hiding in the spoils.
“Look, a sweater.” I held it close, and carried it away–a simple, oversized sweater, and a story, knitted with love.
Later that day, the reflection wasn’t anything that made me catch my breath in surprise. I could safely say that the sweater accentuated my hideousness by a very good measure, over-sized as it was. On its strands, a coffee-brown competed with navy blues and magentas, giving off a dull, obvious effect. But I liked it. I liked it for the warmth, for the simplicity, for containing me. I liked it for the imperfections, for knowing that I could be spilling my tea on it next morning and not fuss. There was an awful familiarity that was threaded into its fabric that traversed through it, and snugly surrounded all of me. I felt loved in that sweater. I felt happy, I felt me. It was just perfect for my winter days. Maybe not beauty-pageant worthy, definitely, but this piece of coarse wool would belong in my closet: my only sweater for now.
“It’s hideous. It’s used. Throw it away.”
It was brutally honest opinion, and I couldn’t argue the judgment of connoisseurs. But knowledgeable as I was, the sweater…came to stay. Varied excuses were pronounced, laziness showcased, the complaints whined and cloths arranged. There were a splendid variety of reasons to throw the sweater away, but no reason was simply good enough. Call it my attachment, but the sweater came to remain a permanent part of my closet. It was like retaining a lovely secret, because I knew I could never outgrow it.
The commonplace holds in it more pleasant, nostalgic joy that I seldom find in everything else, it is something of a particular rarity, something that we can overlook. And the sweater had come like some naive misfit in my heap of cloths: beautifully unique, absolutely special.
I wore it all through the winter of 2009, even to college. That, of course, could be termed as a loss of sanity: I risked not appearing human. But more worn the sweater, the less hideous it appeared. It became my personal invisibility cloak, the dull coffee-brown allowing for the effortless merge into the common masses, rendering me unnoticeable. I loved it for its apparent humbleness, for being so unmindful of fashion, design or priority. The coarseness had a brave, determined originality to it, and the sweater told me it’s story: when I was slouching on the couch, when I was hugging my knees in it, as I admired the snow when I was holidaying in Tahoe, on new year’s eve as I screamed my throat off to a song, as I flipped through my physics book spilling food all over it, as I walked home in the freezing cold, grateful for the crude wool that surrounded me.
It didn’t seem like much, but it actually was–my favorite sweater. And it was part of some spectacular memories. It travelled with me through so many experiences, always exuding an air of ancient, persevering love. I often wondered who knitted it.
A classmate seemed to notice after millions of years, “Seems like your grandmother knitted, no?”
It was an obvious generalization, and it would have been easy to lie as a justification. Yes, the only reason why I wear something so hideous is because my grandmother knitted it and it’s of a sentimental value. Or else, which fool would wear something so appalling? Instead, I told her I was absolutely clueless. She must have gone home thinking I was thrifty enough to pull off stuffy unknown sweaters from Goodwill store, but I didn’t really care. It just made me love the sweater that much more.
A few days ago, a guest was expected. The proud and proper dresses were all lined up and waiting. I picked the hideous sweater instead and smiled. I somehow seemed to look winsome. The guest had apparently been father’s good friend, and dropped by to say hello.
His exchange of pleasantries was the strangest of conversations.
“Hey, where’d you buy that sweater, if I may ask?”
It was an interesting question, and I had but an honest answer. “It came with a box of cloths that my parents bought home in a carton box once. I didn’t really bother to trace its origins.”
“That’s the sweater my mom knitted for me, couple of years ago, you know.” The amusement hit me like a bullet.
“Umm-hmm. Jeez, I didn’t know what happened to it! I searched all over the place for the sweater and gave up after a while. It’s very special to me. My mom was suffering with a case of dementia during those days, and was wildly hallucinating. Being left home alone was her nightmare…she found herself helpless, agitated and unable to distinguish the real from the unreal. During those times of horror and despair, knitting was something of a respite to her. It eased her nerves, and she did it beautifully. Even though everything appeared so confusing to her, there was a dedicated expertise to what she wove, it was so wonderful. It’s maybe because she knitted with love, you know? Every cross-hatch on that sweater was healing to her. I know that she cannot knit another sweater like that anymore… now she’s nearly blind in one eye. ”
When they said that history contributes to value, I guess they meant this. Somewhere, in the back of my heart, there was a gentle tug. It was like I had known the sweater’s incredible story somewhere, like I had realized its value: whispered in secrecy. And today, I found a reason–a reason for having retained the sweater as a favorite. I could now turn back to the classmate and complete the answer: “Do you know how special this is? It was part of a healing process for an old lady with dementia…but more than all of that, it was knitted with love.”
I had the answers. I had the justification. But I wouldn’t have the sweater anymore.
I watched the sweater leave me, as suddenly as it had entered my life. The guest didn’t ask for it, but I thought it was only too proper to have it wrapped up and returned. As I touched the coarse, shabby fabric for one last time, I was grateful for having experienced that love for at least that much longer. For all it’s worth, I knew today that the best sweaters weren’t the cashmere that you buy at extravagant shops like Macy’s. They are those which keep you warm not only because they are expensive. There is a magic ingredient to such things… and it’s called love.
The author is a contributor of Youth Ki Awaaz and blogs atÂ http://lakshmibharadwaj.blogspot.com/.