Tuesday, December 27, 2011

How Crafty!

In India, there used to be a compulsory subject in school (typically through 6-7th grade) called SUPW. It stood for Socially Useful Productive Work, the phrase embodying an astounding amount of redundancy. It was as socially useful as a charity fund director directing funds towards household expenses due to a strong belief in the 'Charity begins at home' concept, and was as productive as building a supply chain for transferring washed clothes from the washer to the dryer. It should have been called Socially Useless Reductive Work, given the fact that it reduced the time available for more useful stuff. I am sure there was some level of enjoyment in doing it then, more so for others than me, but only the 'work' part of SUPW stands out when I reflect back on it.

It was about students being able to choose whatever they wanted to learn - embroidery and knitting, gardening, cooking, and painting; and was very conveniently chosen by the teacher for the student. It involved, among other things, subjecting the hapless student to accurate reproductions of paintings (landscapes, portraits) using golden thread, fevicol, and a black satin canvas created by sticking the very glue-resistant satin cloth to a cardboard using fevicol. While black satin was the fabric of choice, some knights were created on white satin too for variation - it's tragic that those never reached the end. Once it was painstakingly completed at home with help from parents and distant relatives, it was taken to school for comparison with other awesome products, many of which employed the use of silver threads instead of gold - it was all dependent on market price fluctuations at the time.

The useful product was then proudly put up for display at home, subject to admiration from visitors and validating its social usefulness. After a few weeks the threads used to start giving up their grip on the satin canvas, thus belying fevicol's promise of the toughest grip. The satin, precariously holding onto the cardboard for dear life, would start losing its grip too, and what you would observe on a daily basis was a gradual descent into a total unraveling of the image. Mountains would turn into volcanoes, trees would experience early autumn, and rivers would lose their fish to eels, not to mention people losing face and elegance losing grace. Eventually there would be an utterly undone image beyond salvage, mildly reminiscent of its glorious heyday. And you would be proud, thinking 'I really did some socially useful productive work'!