04 December 2019

Lost and found between weaver and weave

The first time I heard the word ‘weaver’ was when my father sang the English folk song ‘Foggy, foggy, dew.’  ‘When I was a bachelor, I liv'd all alone, I worked at the weaver’s trade; and the only, only thing that I ever did wrong, was to woo a fair young maid,’ he sang and sometimes whistled the tune. 

I think it was the melody that captured me rather than the lyrics, which of course I was too young to understand. I didn’t know what ‘woo’ was. I didn’t know what was wrong, therefore, about ‘wooing’. The song spoke of this weaver’s regrets, ‘the only, only, thing that I did that was wrong, was to keep her from the foggy, foggy, dew.’

I knew ‘dew’ but not ‘fog’. And again I didn’t know it was wrong to keep anyone from this ‘foggy, foggy, dew.’  From out of the blue, at least to my young mind, the weaver ends up with a son, who too becomes a weaver. I was confused about the following claim, ‘and every single time that I look into his eyes, reminds me of a fair young maid,’ a line that clearly referred to the girl.  Yes, the melody is what got me. 

Later I would learn about the weaver bird and be amazed at the tiny creature’s architectural skills. I have watched weavers at work on furniture. The deftness of fingers effecting repairs on wicker chairs fascinated me.  I’ve watched my grandmother weave mats and baskets and she inspired me to weave coconut fronds to make roofs and walls of play houses, utterly crude but nevertheless the product of utmost enthusiasm. The cane furniture in shops on either side of the Colombo-Kandy Road passing the appropriately named ‘Weweldeniya’ never failed to capture attention.  

Weaving. An art. And yet not an art that is only about a long strand of something woven in and out of other strands of that same something. Tapestries are what the world is made of, I’ve sometimes felt.  A life is a tapestry. History too. Institutions are ‘woven’ even as they are built. They have patterns. Patterned deliberately or patterned in the play of time and people. Patterned also by the unknown, the intangible and unexpected. 

Some tapestries are exquisitely woven and others are crude, but unrefined or graceful, they are about strands and entwining. 

Lives are enmeshed with other lives, some on account of choice and others due to chance encounter. Colors are sometimes deliberately picked, but not all hues are selected. Colorless is also part of the narrative. Silence is present too, sometimes as a thesis about fragility, helplessness or even resolve. 

Our eyes graze the manifestations of a weaving we may not understand or recognize. We stop and look or not having seen anything worth pause, move on.  Things and people leave their traces, nevertheless. We are made, for example, of all the words we’ve heard, all the teachers who with love and necessary sternness moulded our minds, the books we’ve read, the burn-marks etched on heart by unrequited love and the tears of tenderness that spring to eyes and from there to eyelash and down a cheek. 

We don’t call these tapestries. We don’t recognize weave. Works of art, they are not; at least not in our book. Books! They are all about weaving. All about breathlessness and breath as partners of a crime we didn’t set out to commit or even know we are guilty of as we color the words we read with perceptions true to reality or wrought from the limitless fantasies we are all capable of dreaming.  

Somewhere in all this, the weaver is rendered anonymous. Nameless, formless, in singularity or as a community of craftspersons, those who put things together in the limitlessness of permutation, are marginalized, forgotten or even denounced as non-contributors. 

A line of ants from food-source to anthill, a line on sand left behind by wave, footprints surrendered to the dust of habit and prioritizing, eyes that remind us of other eyes, dew that in in another century was ink for very different poetry addressed to people whose names and faces we’ve forgotten: all threads. Rush and reed in forms differently named. They make waves. They weave or rather get woven.

Not all biographers get written but then again there are biographies that are laid out on the pages of life and are written in the ink of living.

We don’t really work at the weaver’s trade or rather we would never say we do. But that’s what we do. We are the weaver and the woven, and in that union of chance and choice, we become what we do and what we do in return re-names us. The happy colors blend with the grey, but they are all colors nevertheless. It doesn’t always come out neat and beautiful, but come out it does. Fades too, as all things are subject to the eternal principles of birth, decay and death. Time covers it all with memory-erase and misreading. But what of that? We live, we weave. We rejoice. We keep each other from the foggy, foggy, dew and looking into each other’s eyes, remember a time of love and tears. Now and then.

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