The legacy of the spinning wheel and a visual of Mahatma Gandhi at the charkha preoccupies us as one meanders through the lanes of Delhi University to reach Gandhi Bhawan. Usually one of the more deserted institutions on campus, it seems to have an unusual crowd. Even though there were over 50 students, silence prevailed. Seated on the cemented ground in small groups, they are engrossed in spinning the spindle, effortlessly drafting thread from raw cotton, making it seem like child’s play.
The impression, however, would completely alter in the next hour. As their tutor Sita Bimbrahw, a retired Hindi professor of Kamla Nehru College, handed me the spindle, it was just the beginning of a long ordeal. “Spindle in the right hand, cotton in the left,” she instructs. While I manage that bit, it’s getting the two in rhythm to draft the thread that leads to frozen fingers. The spindle revolves but I don’t have the thread winding, like others do. Bimbrahw repeats the instructions. “Don’t squeeze the cotton. Just let it rest on your fingers as you pull back. Be slow, let the charkha do its work,” says the 78-year-old. I finally manage to pull some strands out after almost an hour, the result is not completely satisfactory though — it’s lumpy, uneven, thin in places and breaks innumerable times. “Patience and dedication will lead to perfection,” promises Bimbrahw. She would know.Teaching the art at Rajghat since 1969, she fondly recalls tutoring former foreign minister of Ireland Gerald Collins, who visited India in 1991. “When he first asked me to teach, I was in a hurry and bluntly said I only teach the art to khadi-clad people. His team arranged for a khadi kurta in minutes. I was embarrassed for not recognising him…He picked up the art quickly, dedicating his yarn to the Mahatma,” says Bimbrahw.
The 12-week certificate course at Gandhi Bhawan started in February this year. With one-hour-long classes, once a week, each student is required to attend 24 hours of spinning the yarn. The number of students has multiplied from 20-to 100 in the second batch. “It’s meditative,” says Sanjeev Kumar. A student at Zakir Hussain College, he believes the course has helped reduce his migraine. Neetu Prajapati, student at Aditi College, travels from Bawana to the university every Wednesday for the course. “It makes us understand Gandhi better. Also, one feels at peace,” she says. With interest in the course increasing, Nisha Tyagi, Deputy Dean (Academics), Gandhi Bhawan, is working on the logistics. She hopes to get more box charkhas and also those that can weave cloth from yarn. For now, the bundles students make are kept away. I, however, return home with a few inches of yarn, some cotton roving and lessons in patience.