Tag Archives: The Changing Woman

Glue. Paper. Scissors!

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.


A Life Crafted with Grit and Grace


One of my earliest memories of my mother, outside of the home, is on a badminton court. My father’s job as a doctor with the Indian Railways allowed us the use of the Officer’s Club. It was the norm for us to troop down to the club every evening, where we spent several hours actively engaged in the various sport facilities it offered. At the time, we did not realize how unusual it was for a woman of my mother’s generation in India, to be considered a sportswoman of some merit. Of course, I realize that there have been many celebrated Indian sportswomen through the ages. But it was certainly not a traditionally accepted role in a small town.  Draped in her sari, hitched up and tucked at the waist, bare feet, racquet in hand, long braid flashing behind her – she proceeded to vanquish a young man in a singles match while my sister and I watched from the sidelines. I will never forget applauding with everyone else, and the pride I felt when she collected her trophy.  We pored over scrapbooks she had filled with newspaper clippings of her victories going back through her high school and college years. And slowly, the idea that there was more to the woman we called ‘Amma’ – more than just someone who cooked our meals, and cared for our every need – took hold.

My mother Gita was born on March 26,1948. Maybe it was her birth amidst the exuberance of post-independence India that imbued her with the gumption to buck the established notions about the ‘proper qualities’ in a conservative, middle class girl. It blessed her with a stubborn streak. She was determined to pursue her innate talents as a skilled sportswoman, much to her dear father’s disapproval. We were often regaled with a story narrated by her aunts of the time when she was eight years old. In an effort to get her to practice music, they locked her in a room with her violin – which was of course, considered a proper skill for a girl to master – and she proceeded to break the bow to make her feelings clear.  Needless to say, this incident ended any chance of a bright musical career! Her older sister was born to fill that role. My mother was simply exercising her right to choose something else.

Although she has since hung up her racquet, the sportswoman in her has helped chart her course through the most trying time in her life – her separation from our father. Divorce among her peers is a rarity, and yet, she has managed to retain her essence through all of the heartache. She has, with grace, held on to another aspect of her identity – her creativity. Just as the tanpura or tamburi was synonymous with her older sister, the sewing machine is my mother’s personal crest – her very own coat of arms!

Her passion to create marvels of “upcycled” products never ceases to astound us. On each of her visits her one request is that I help her design the next in a line of beautifully crafted creations. Our favorite outings are to craft stores, and our discussions are usually about how she can embellish her latest project. From the minute she wakes, right up to dinner time, she is consumed by her need to create. And her greatest reward is when we share her creations with friends and family as gifts.

She has used her unique talent in creating memory quilts for each of her grandchildren. Painstakingly piecing together fabric from baby clothes I had saved, she spent hours making my daughter a patchwork of love sewn together with her strength and courage. It is a brightly colored legacy, and will be cherished for all of time.

My mother did not choose to be a career woman. She chose instead to devote her life to bringing up her daughters instilling in them her firm notions of right and wrong. And she led by example, that being female did not make us feeble, or less in any way. Her single minded devotion and support was the backbone of my sister Divya Raghavan’s singing career when she first started. She was, and remains ambitious for us hoping that we scale every path we traverse to achieve the things that she could not.  But the biggest lesson she has taught us, is in accepting her shortcomings while continuing to live with grace.  The label she affixes to every piece she creates speaks volumes:  “Crafted with Love”.

Much has been said about the bond between mothers and daughters. Having experienced nearly half a century savoring the many nuances of this relationship, I can only say that my respect for my mother has deepened with every day that passes. That much is true. On the cusp of her 70th birthday, it is only fitting that I acknowledge her fighting spirit, her creative passion and her ability to stride ever onwards – changing, evolving and nurturing.

This is a tribute in words during Women’s History month for a woman I cherish.

Happy 70th Amma!