The sewing machine

Singer,
You are my great great-grandmother’s sewing machine
Like a propeller sounding machine
And old school gates
You are a metallic taste
You are weight and rust

I give you my memories
Which in turn make you more than just an inanimate object
I give you the stuff of life
Love, meaning and a story

Bring me the understanding and acceptance
that everything that we live happens only once

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I hear it before I see it. Propeller sounding machine. It slows down. Pauses. Resumes. Like propellers ready for take off. Then I see it. Singer sewing machine. It looks just like the one my mother inherited from her grandmother. Looking at this one now, in Bandipur, Nepal, I remember the one back home.

When I was little, I used to sit down on the pedal. It’s all metal, heavy and rusted, and I had a hard time making it move. Even with all of my weight on top of it. I didn’t know, then, how this woman in front of me could be performing her task so graciously and effortlessly. If you step on the pedal as you turn the wheel with one hand, the weight is gone. Suddenly, that heavy surface is moving in waves and requiring very little pressure on it. Because the simultaneous hand motion that keeps the wheel turning is constant.

I also remember the smell of that sewing machine – the smell it left on my hands after I ventured over, under and around it. It smelled like old school gates. Abandoned cars. It smelled of time past. That’s what everyone says you experience in your mouth when you’re on antibiotics. A metallic taste. We all know what that tastes like.

The trick to sowing, so I’m told, is feeding the thread into the hole, sliding the piece of cloth you’re working on and synching it to the speed of the up-and-down motion of the needle. In some ways, it’s like playing the drums. Each of your four limbs is performing a different task, independent of each other, but absolutely complementary and vital to the whole.

My mom’s not into cooking, but she learned to sew. And she’s left handed, which gives her a charming and clumsy flair in anything manual she is undertaking. It’s one of those surprises about her that opened up a window through which I could peek and see a bit of her before maternity. A woman I never met and will never meet. It is both curious and moving to me.

And because time refuses to stop, slow down or speed up, all I get to see is the turning of the wheel. Of the sewing machine. Of koras. Of samsara.

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Three souls at the stupa

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She didn’t give it much thought. She turned each wheel with clutched fingers, stiff wrists and pushed her way to the next one with non-cooperative legs that seemed to want to be still. Yet she pursued, 108 times around the sixteen sides of the stupa, blissfully ignoring her body’s counter will. Pushing through, ignoring the pain in her knuckles, the cold on her fingers, the fatigue on her calves from holstering her body upwards every time a wheel was turned. Yet, silently and doubtlessly acquiescing to her faith.

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He read on Lonely Planet that the Boudhanath Stupa was a sight not to miss. As a diligent traveler and re-teller of his sight-seeings, he did not hesitate or even question the instruction he was given. Inside, iPad in hand, backpack filled with two full bottled waters, hand sanitizer and prayer beads dangling, he observed. Not sure what was happening, but yet respectfully watching, from a distance seemingly unbridgeable between himself and the hundreds of devoted Buddhists circling the stupa. And in their ignorance of each other, neither tourist nor devotee realize their common ground. For he, too, followed to heart his truth. Lonely Planet’s truth.

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No one knows when the dogs first claimed the stupa as their own. They’ve just always been here. Some were bred and raised under the dome of Buddha. Others wandered in accidentally. They’re not all the same size, height or breed. Some look ill. Others, hungry; or just defensive. At night, they claim their turf. They brawl, make love and ruckus under the moon, eat, piss and shit as they wish. At daytime, consciously standing their ground, they scatter their furry bodies over the path of koras, a blunt statement of territorial affirmation. We zigzag around them. We know. They have been here since times unknown. They’re the primordial dogs.

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