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Knitting lady by the Lake

if you haven’t been to the morning Lakes for a while, it’s time you did. If for nothing else, to meet Sadhana Dutta. Amidst morning joggers and fresh-air fiends, the 80-year-old is perched on one of the benches with a band of faithfuls. Take a closer look and you find her fingers moving deftly, threading the edge of a small piece of cloth. Tatting is what Dutta does at the Lakes in the morning, a hobby that has drawn many to her. So, more often than not, the little old lady is the centre of attraction.

Dutta lives close to the Lakes, on Sarat Banerjee Road. “The idea of tatting was thrown in casually by a neighbour, Golap Sinha Roy, a relative of the late Sachin Dev Burman and Moon Moon Sen. But it was much later that I gained expertise in the artwork,” says Dutta, sitting amidst a ball of thread. When most other grandmas prefer to while their days away, Dutta keeps herself busy with needlework, something she started at age six. These days, she teaches a lot and earns little from her passion. But it gives her something far more significant — a reason to carry on.

At Coomilla in Bangladesh, where she hails from, Dutta “like any other Bengali girl”, picked up sewing and embroidery from childhood. Initially, she honed her skills by stitching clothes for her siblings. “In those days, I used to watch girls from Burma (now Myanmar) indulging in some kind of lacework between classes. I used to be fascinated by them, but did not know what exactly they were doing. Much later, I came to know that this was called tatting,” says Dutta, who now gives lessons on tatting to a group at the Lakes, for free.

So, while the rest sweat it out, shedding that offending adipose, Dutta and her students churn out napkins, handkerchiefs, tablecloths and bed covers. “These girls are bright and we spend a lot of time chatting and tatting,” smiles the octogenarian.

Following her marriage, Dutta came to Calcutta and started sewing for fun and friends. Her family would not hear of her opening a shop or running a full-fledged business. “I remember, once at Monobina Roy’s place (film-maker Bimal Roy’s wife), I was holding a small exhibition of my knitted stuff when word came that my father-in-law was furious. I rushed back home to pacify him,” recollects Dutta.

“In the 70s, I bought a knitting machine from Park Street which I use to create gifts. I am also associated with a club called Ekayan Samity from where we go over to the Saroj Nalini Institute in Ballygunge to give away our knitted stuff.”

Dutta says she’s happy earning her pocket money by knitting kids-wear or woollen stuff and selling them to those who know. And early mornings are for the girls, to pass on her skill and spread some cheer.

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