Meenakshi Shedde: Dutchwoman spins the charkha
One of the great perks of my work in films, is getting to travel worldwide and meeting really interesting people
One of the great perks of my work in films, is getting to travel worldwide and meeting really interesting people. One of the most special people I know is Adriana — Addie — who lives in Duivendrecht, 12 minutes by train from the heart of Amsterdam. Imagine, the only living person I know who actually spins a charkha, is this Dutch woman, living about 7,000 km from India. Addie has been travelling to India for years; we have known each other for decades and she has often stayed with my family in Mumbai. She is very impressed by Gandhiji, his spinning of the charkha, his belief in non-violence and struggle for India's freedom. But, in fact, she had started to spin the wheel in her youth, once popularised by the hippies in the 60s, as she found its repetitive tasks meditative.
And, as the Netherlands is cold in winter, Addie spins wool, instead of cotton. She buys wool from shepherds and spins the 'raw' wool into woollen yarn on her charkha. Her charkha is not in the familiar, cycle-spoke style, but a terribly stylish one with a wooden disc, made by the Louet company. She tells me there is another charkha called "Schippertje" (small ship), a more compact model. Her sister Ria even has a portable, folding charkha which she carries during her travels. Gandhiji's mind would have boggled. They dye the wool in natural colours, which Ria also makes — onion peel becomes bright yellow; walnuts exude red-brown. Addie is forever knitting sweaters, scarves and stoles, which she generously gives away to friends and visitors.
The other impressive thing about Addie is her acute sense of time and using it enjoyably and well. I sometimes visit her after the Berlin Film Festival in February, and when I email her in December for ideal dates in end-February, although she is always welcoming, it takes some time to coordinate the best dates. Although she has retired — she used to be a therapist for challenged children — her diary is always full. She's an active painter, working in her studio upstairs that is bathed in light and joy. She is a busy gardener: she and her husband Joost have moved from Amsterdam to the outskirts so they could have a larger bungalow with a garden: directly behind the garden gate, a stream flows, with swans, ducks, geese and moorhens floating about all day amid the weeping willows. Each season, Addie plants fresh seasonal flower bulbs; earlier she also volunteered with a women's group working a medicinal herb garden. She regularly visits her mother, and her husband's mother regularly visits them for lunch. Twice a month she also goes with a friend, who is in a wheelchair, to the leafy zoo, where they both paint all afternoon. She teaches Dutch to refugees from Eritrea and Iraq, and to a small Polish boy. She's doing a course on the history of art. She loves to cook and each day, when I visit, there's a new treat, as she keenly follows recipes from her favourite cookery books, including by Yotam Ottolenghi, an Israeli-British chef.
Addie, I discovered, has adopted a Tibetan family in a distant village, off Dharamshala, if I remember right. She has actually tracked down a Dutch-Tibetan dictionary to communicate. She has helped them build a pucca house, helped pay for the children's education and marriages. She is lean and fit, cycles everywhere, is a vegetarian and practises yoga. Although older with white hair, going by her lust for life — and the radiance of her skin and eyes — she seems 20 years younger than even me.
Meenakshi Shedde is South Asia Consultant to the Berlin Film Festival, award-winning critic, curator to festivals worldwide and journalist. Reach her at email@example.com
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