Geetha’s tribute to her mother

She may be the principal of DAV Boys Senior Secondary School, Gopalapuram, Chennai, but she qualifies to walk into our archaeology department for the passion she has for anything that is ‘old’.

Entering Geetha Balachander’s house is itself a refreshing experience. There are dwarapalakis – tiny women statues, that are installed on either side of the doorway. Facing them are two Bhoodhakanams, carrying fruits on their heads.

Once inside, the décor takes your breath away. It was Navarathri time, but even without the traditional padi-kolu, the interior decoration was dignified and ‘enlightening’.

The 5-step Kolu runs from wall to wall. It is filled with massive dolls that have been handed down to Geetha and some which she procured. She collected over years the various dolls that go to make up the Krishna Leela that was on the right side of the main Kolu and the Ramar story on the left side of it.

There is a two-foot-tall Murugan doll, matched by a rooster and peacock that are half the size of the doll. Geetha informs us that she got them separately! Fancy that!

Opposite the main Kolu is a massive cot (in olden days it was called mother cot, informs Geetha – and, yes, that is also a legacy from her mother’s time), that has been converted to house hand-made dolls of the 63 Nayanmars and 12 Alwars.

“My friend Raji made each one of these dolls. You will find that each one is different. That is because she delved into ‘Periya Puranam’ for the physical details of the Nayanmars, even to the minutest detail of whether they had a beard or tuft, and if they were tall or short,” enlightens Geetha. She has placed small ‘nameboards’ in front of the saints for better understanding.

So, this is an exceptional Kolu, you might argue. But the other things that are not on display evoke greater interest. The display cabinet, that is part of the Kolu, is filled with bead work that her mother made. Her mother, Susheela Krishnamurthy, was an accomplished woman who managed her time between her children, running a smooth home, doing handicrafts and evening conducting tailoring classes. Of course, there was no TV to distract her with weepy serials then.

She has made all kinds of dolls with beads – dogs, elephants, human beings, slides, chairs, young girls, and even bottle covers – that is usually a part of the seedhanam in Nagarathar families, remarks journalist Prema Narayanan. Susheela has not just covered bottles and vessels with beads, but has also made bead work ‘inside’ bottles with narrow necks. That is definitely a keepsake as the craft has almost disappeared from among Tamilians – there was a time when every house used to boast of such bead bottles.

The pride of place goes to Geethopadesam done with beads. Susheela bought a model from near Chennai Parthasarathy temple and then got down to work. She made the massive chariot and four horses to boot with the help of beads. A suitable Krishna and Parthan are seated on it.

Geetha’s mother was also a wizard in crochet and cross-stitch and her pieces still adorn the walls of the principal’s house – preserved with love and care. Not wishing to lose a crochet appliqué that her mother had made on a saree that was part of her wedding trousseau, Geetha found an equally talented tailor-friend to remove the crochet – a girl holding flowers in both hands – and transfer it successfully to a silk saree that she proudly wears now.

What did Geetha learn from her mother? “My mother was also a voracious reader. I have got that habit. I was never into bead-making but did crochet, tatting and learnt basket weaving also,” she smiles.

It is common knowledge among her relatives that before you dispose of any ‘heritage’ or ‘old’ item from your house you first ask Geetha if she wants it.

“I like old things,” replies Geetha simply.


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R Chitra

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