An Unassuming Woman. Quiet, graceful, gentle. Those were my impressions of Lalitha Ramanarasaiah, when I first met her. It was a casual visit to her daughter Vasudha’s place that culminated in a wonderful revelation. Towards the end of our afternoon together, she mentioned her new hobby – Quilling.  “Would you like to see my work?”, she asked. I was not going to deny the woman who had just fed me a scrumptious home cooked meal, and gladly agreed. Her room was overflowing with her creations!

There were cards, gift bags, works on canvas, jewelry, and 3D work – her latest attempt! I was quite simply overwhelmed. Crediting her children for their support and encouragement, she proceeded to tell me how she had embarked down this road, while visiting her older daughter in Australia. They bought a basic starter kit, and eventually got around to watching YouTube videos before they tried it out. And Lalitha was hooked.

Eight years later, she has a Quilling blog – 70 and Quilling – which her daughter helps her maintain. She now draws inspiration from many sources for her quilling designs, and has showcased her work both here in the S.F Bay Area and in Chennai. Given her other passions – music, gardening, cooking – she seems to do all of them well; I was only more curious to learn about her creative spirit.

For the novice among us, Quilling or Paper Quilling, is an art form where strips of paper are rolled, shaped, and glued together to form wonderful designs. You start by rolling a strip of paper into a coil around a tool, and then pinching to manipulate the coil into different shapes. This is the basic technique. Looping, curling, twisting the paper, quilling artists can take their work into complex swirls of artistic sophistication.

Quilling has an interesting but contentious history, going back to China and Egypt of yore. Claims have been made by various countries of being the birth place of this art form. Documented evidence has shown that genteel English women in the 1700s and 1800s engaged in this activity as it was considered a proper hobby at the time. It was never a pastime for working-class women, flourishing only among the upper classes who had time to spare. The settlers took quilling to America and it experienced a revival there. In recent times it has made a comeback with clubs and guilds devoted to its advancement. And now, there are women like Lalitha who have put their unique cultural stamp on it as well!

From her children’s point of view, Lalitha is many things. The daughter of an Indian Air Force officer, the wife of a Naval Officer, Mother and grandmother. The central aspect of it all – is her creativity. Carnatic music, Embroidery, Knitting, Sewing – these were skills she honed as a young girl, wife and mother. She managed to pursue her hobbies through varying circumstances and continued to cultivate them. Her practical bent of mind allows her to embrace social, and cultural changes – and move with the times.

Her husband’s sudden demise came when she was just 54 years of age. Through sheer courage and determination, Lalitha managed to come to terms with it and strive forward. Creativity was her coping mechanism. She willingly embraced new challenges and ideas, learning along the way, and inculcating new skills. Her forward facing, positive outlook on life is an inspiration to those around her. Another roadblock followed with her own ill health, in the form of a bypass surgery. Being the practical sort, she soon bounced back – adding regular exercise into her routine, aiding her emotional well being at the same time.

Her children live on three different continents. Lalitha has embraced technology wholeheartedly in order to keep up with her extended family, while she divides her time with her children. This ability to adjust and learn continuously is the most important aspect of her persona, endearing her to her grandchildren. She is a firm believer in the fact that “Age is not a deterrent to learning“. Scrabble, word games, puzzles and sudoku – are her favorite ‘go to’ activities – to stay sharp and maintain focus. She is especially thankful for the DIY tutorials on the internet!

To her children and grandchildren – she is the ultimate role model. They have never heard her say that she is bored. Her creative passions are a bridge that she shares with her them.

Ask a creative sort why they need to create, and the answer will be simple.  They create because it makes them happy. The feeling of accomplishment that comes from sharing their creativity is the ultimate bonus. Lalitha is happy to teach her skills to any that want to learn. She thrives on the exchange of ideas and mutual creative passion.

But “create” – she must!  “There is an ocean of learning out there”, she says with a smile!

Passionate, Nurturing and Creative –  Lalitha Ramanarasaiah.

This is a tribute in words during Women’s History Month for a woman I admire.