Monday, 24 June 2013

The Violence of A Needle

The other day, my friend Manisha, posted this comment as her status on facebook:
[20th June 2013]
“Nigella chocked, Rihanna battered, Madonna hit on the head with baseball bat, Halle Berry hit so hard that she looses hearing, Whitney Houston with cut-lip & bruised cheek, Mariah Carey too !!! [Delhi Times 19/6]
........dear men of the World.what is it that propels you to such it just patriarchy????...from glitzy Hollywood to our own shores.........for a while I shall avoid asking ''what right do you have to do so?"
[I have reprinted it exactly as she wrote it, spelling mistakes included]
It was late in the evening when I read it and soon after, I picked up my  embroidery. I kept thinking about what she had said. I could not dismiss it. I too have been in relationships that have been abusive and violated my sense of self in physical and emotional ways and I could understand where she was coming from. It allowed me to feel my rage too. Does it happen to all women? Is it about self-respect or lack of it? And what does one do when one has been through such experiences? The newspapers report some crime or other each day. Rape, murder, terror and even the recent flooding in Uttarakhand is no less violent, is it?
With these thoughts circling my mind, I kept sewing. Needle in, pull the thread, needle out, going round and around, tracing the stains with a running stitch. And then I realized that using the needle could also be considered an act of violence. The fabric is mute, it does not protest and just like I made the stains, it seemed that I was subjecting the fabric through the act of stitching, of piercing it again and again with the point of this sharp instrument, to another kind of violence. I looked at this long, slender tool, held between my thumb and forefinger, its pointed tip poised to strike again, waiting to lunge forth into the fabric, at my command.
I stared at it long and hard. It was after all a perpetrator of violence – a criminal like all the men who raped and abused and those who killed, and mother nature herself was not beyond it too. As they say when someone is cruel – what kind of person are you, what are you made of? I have no idea what the needle is made of. I asked it the same question: what are you made of? I looked on the packaging for some clues, but there was no mention of materials used.
Needles have been around for a long time and sewing in the subcontinent dates back to the Indus Valley civilization - needles have been excavated at Mohenjodaro. I quickly did some research and learned that the first needles were apparently made of bone or wood while the modern ones are made using high carbon steel wire which is nickel or 18 carat gold plated to minimize corrosion resistance. The highest quality embroidery needles are apparently plated with two-thirds platinum and one-third titanium alloy. They are tough and pierce through fabric without bending or losing shape - without any kind of compassion it seems.
I had never thought of sewing as a violent activity but as I continued with my embroidery, I learned something.
The layers of fabric in my hands had been subjected to considerable violence. I had burned it. I had shred it and had then stitched these layers with needle and thread, piercing through the warp and weft, tearing the very fabric asunder. But the miracle of stitch is that the needle may wound, the needle may pierce and tear, but the thread it carries, keeps it all together – embellishing the fabric it wounds.
If one considers how beautiful embroidery can be and how much this art is used to embellish our clothes and homes, then the needle doesn’t just wound or violate, it provides for another dimension to be added to the fabric. If one could extend this to the human fabric, could one begin to look at acts of violation as opportunities that add something of value to the fabric of being?
Something to think about.....?


  1. The needle is a tool. One can use it to create a beautiful stitch, one can use it to prick another finger, one can use it to scratch cloth. It is how we use the tool and to what end, that matters, I think.
    We, women are in the habit of talking about patriarchal violence. I talk of it too, a lot. But as women we are not up and above violence ourselves. Look at what women do to their daughters-in-law! And in many place and in many ways, the violence, women exhibit is inwardly drawn, while male is outward. One can see the latter more easily; the former is pathologically unbearable too, when a woman encounters it. Essentially, violence, is with all of us. I am enjoying you Stitch Journal Gopika.

    1. I am so happy to know that you are enjoying this journal Julia, love reading your comments. Many thanks for reading and writing in.

  2. My point exactly Julia, violence is a part of life. It is what we do with such experiences that matter rather than looking for ways to avoid it. No-one is above it so we cannot avoid it. That is not to say that I condone violence. I cannot even watch it on TV or movies. It also bothers me to read the newspaper or news about such incidences,but I have learned that there is no ideal state or equation and while some pass on the cruelty they have faced by consciously or unconsciously punishing others for what they themselves may have endured, I find that creative work has the capacity to sublimate this, enabling us to deal with such situations with greater finesse.

    1. hello Gopika
      I think I sorted the sign in. Been thinking about your work. The meeting of the violent needle and the corporeal stain speaks to me of the fragility of life. Reading your creative process has made me think a lot about the power of universal symbols such as needlework.

    2. Dear Olga,

      I am glad that the glitch over the comment posting has been sorted out. A lot of people seem to face it and I have no idea why.

      Thanks for visiting this site. Your work which was written about by Maggie has been well appreciated here, so its good to have your personal voice here too.

      I tend to agree with you that the violent needle and stains speak of fragility, but I would say it was more about the fragility of the mind than life itself, in this context.

      And yes, I too have been discovering the power of needlework which is a universal symbol. It is something which enables me to connect with people across the world and even with illiterate craftspeople across India, where the language of stitch is a strong bond - more so sometimes than anything communicated through a written or spoken word. Everyone who does needlework/stitches, knows what goes on, how they feel, what they experience and they also know that the process connects you to your humanity in a way that nothing else quite does. It is powerful when you connect through such practices or symbols are you have referred to it as.

      Powerful thought. Thank you for adding it here and allowing me to reflect upon it too.

  3. dear gopika ma'am I read your stitch journal.It is beautiful and thoughtful.It force you to think in different prospective also.
    Violence against women take away her dignity and her self confidence,shred her into pieces,while needle make the fabric more beautiful and valuable.Different stitch enhance the soul of the fabric.I wish may someone also mend the soul of men in the same manner

  4. Dear Reena,

    Thank you for reading the stitch journal.

    I am delighted that you liked it and you think it helps one look at life from a different perspective.

    I appreciate the underlying sentiment behind the latter part of your comment regarding violence taking away the dignity of a woman and about men and particularly liked the way you say that each stitch enhances the soul of the fabric. Attributing fabric with a soul is a wonderful thought and only someone with a love for textiles would be able to do this - lovely thought.

    Thanking your for writing in.

  5. Gopika –
    To begin with, congratulations on the blog posts. These are very well written – I enjoyed reading both the thoughts and language!

    You rightly say, violence, if seen in broad sense, is present everywhere. I feel the objective of the act of violence is what needs to be questioned and fought with. Act of a farmer violating the surface of his field and then cutting ripe fruits or grains, a doctor cutting his patients heart open, or a potter hitting and smacking his clay and then putting it in fire are all acts of violence but for a purpose. Taking it to another level – a parent hitting child for a wrong doing, a teacher/coach pushing the limits of his disciple, at the cost of huge discomfort and fatigue, is for a positive and intentional outcome. Violence against women that we read about in papers these days is for a frivolous cause of showing dominance by few men. It is this thought that needs to be abhorred.

  6. Thank you Rahul. I am delighted that you enjoyed both the language & the content. Thank you also for your elaborate explanation of violence that has positive effects. I was recently in hospital with typhoid. My immune system had been low & I knew it but did not really take action in the sense of slowing down enough to let the body's natural healing process take place. So when I had to endure multiple cannulas & intravenous drugs that were really painful, I told myself exactly what you have implied with just a small difference & that was that with my neglect, I had brought it upon myself. I realise that it may not seem politically correct to say this, but it seems that the acts of violence you say we should abhor ( & I don't disagree with that sentiment) are the result of similar kind of neglect, not of an individual per se but of the society as a whole, especially when it's domestic violence where many choose to turn the other way.... Life is complex.

  7. Images are beautifully evocative and so are the sentiments expressed.I have always found working with hands very therapeutic.It kinds off carries you way in a gentle flow .

    1. Thank you Archana, for stopping by, reading and writing this.
      Always reassuring to know that working with hands is therapeutic for others too. And you are so right it does carry one in a 'gentle flow' and it is actually this 'gentle flow' that allows one to centre, to feel and more. Thank you for reminding me.