There used to be a cloth bag hung on a coat stand (remember those things?) in the common hall of my childhood home, stuffed with garments requiring repair. Missing buttons, ripped seams, undone hems, tears sustained during playtime—needing darning, hemming, tacking, or fixing in some way with thread and needle. Through my growing years, all I needed to do if my clothes needed mending was to stuff it into that bag, and I knew that sooner or later my nimble-thimble-fingered mother would fix it. As a result, clothes lasted longer, were worn more regularly, and we thought nothing of putting on a shirt that showed evidence of a small, neatly patched hole.
In many of the stories I read as a young girl, people (okay, mostly women, mostly mothers or grandmothers) were always sitting with their mending, collected in a pretty wicker basket, often on a sunlit porch or by a big window that let the light in as they worked with needle and thread. My mother didn’t have a wicker basket but she did sit in the sun with her sewing, and it got done over conversations with other women in the household, or listening to All India Radio’s afternoon fare. I’m sure repairing rents, tears and casually popped off buttons and hooks was not the most creative of tasks, but it got done with care and precision, a chore that was made a little bit easier with music or radio drama.
If you detect a faint whiff of nostalgia there you would not be mistaken; as an adult I had pretty much given up repairing my clothes unless my mother was within shouting distance. Safety pins and tape were used in emergencies (and at a pinch even a stapler), but mostly those slightly damaged items got pushed way back into a drawer and ultimately given away.
And then, about a year ago I discovered the Audiobook.
Many of my friends had been listening for years, swearing by the convenience of being able to fall asleep to a story being told, or being entertained on a long drive. It was a boon to bibliophiles with vision impairment offered a way to get away from the screen and rest one’s eyes even when your mind was wide awake. But despite being a podcast junkie, I had resisted the audiobook—it seemed not quite the same as reading a book, somehow less than. Yes, I do on occasion listen to fiction podcasts, a favourite being the New Yorker’s The Writer’s Voice, or even the darkly innovative Indian Noir. Another recent discovery was Radioman, an audible original that features a podcast within a podcast, richly engineered in binaural sound.
But books seemed to be another matter. They had to be held and consumed through typeface and white space, the smell of paper and binding glue so intrinsic to the experience. [Okay, I do also own a Kindle...but you get my drift.]
It was an episode of The Lit Pickers, hosted by a delightful if somewhat snooty pair of bibliophiles, that turned me. The recommendation was for the audio version of Nora Ephron’s Heartburn (Virago, reissued 2008), read by Meryl Streep. Maybe it was the voice, maybe it was the story, but it sold me on audiobooks. From there it was a short journey to Tom Hanks reading The Dutch House by his good friend Ann Patchett (Bloomsbury, 2019), then back to Meryl Streep voicing Colm Toibin’s Testament of Mary (Simon & Schuster, 2013), a couple of light crime novels, and then—
Many titles later, I decided it was time to get back to mending.
[What’s the point of a good audiobook if you can’t also get something else done while listening?]
There is a handsome multi-volume set of Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman (Vertigo, 30th anniversary edition 2018) sitting on a bookshelf. I’ve taken them down several times but the weight of the books and the sensory stimulation of the excellent graphics has had me staring at them for long minutes without actually reading. A few weeks ago, the video series started streaming on Netflix. But I would rather get done with the book first, I thought.
Some time ago, inspired by what at the time seemed to be a long period of leave, I started setting aside clothes that needed minor repairs. A missing hook or button, a sari fall that had come unattached, blouses that needed “taking out” (don’t ask why). No wicker basket, but they did pile up. And that vision of a leisurely afternoon in an armchair, needle and thread in hand, beckoned. [No matter that the afternoons in Hyderabad have been mostly cloudy in this monsoon gone climate crazy.]
It seemed like the perfect time to get started on The Sandman as an audiobook. Narrated by Neil Gaiman himself, the cast includes James McAvoy (in the title role), Riz Ahmed (The Corinthian), and Kat Dennings (Death). The voices get into your head, and Gaiman’s voice is perfect for his words.
My work progresses swiftly, traveling through time and space with Morpheus and the other “Endless”, thinking about the nature of life, death, reality, dream. Before I know it, the items in my basket (okay, unruly pile) are fixed and ready to wear.
I’m not dissing those audiobooks any more.
I have to find the first book you listened to or Gaimans sandman. I have been diligently emptying my basket however. Good read Usha.