“MEENA” AND HER SMALL SHOP IN THE MOUNTAINS…
Myth says, “A Dream catcher lets your positive dreams slip through and trap the negative ones”. Keeping the legend alive, as much as the story fascinates me, there are still a handful of people who believe in the power of this Native American – Indian charm, which found its birth when twigs, sinews, and feathers were woven together since ancient times by the Ojibwa tribe, hung above bedsides to give the sleeper, peaceful and beautiful dreams…
I still remember being introduced to the mysterious world of the Dream Catcher, while crossing the Oxford Street, London in 2009, where I saw a group of tribal American buskers performing live music in a lively spirit, with cd’s and dream catchers for sale. As I stood to watch, I knew the charm amused me at every glance and more so the unknown story behind it. Without even the slightest of thought I bought one, and since then it found a happy place both in my room and in my head.
And then it was in 2012, in Mcloedganj, Dharamshala, where yet again I stumbled across an old little shop which had the most mesmerizing dream catchers hung all along its roof, with the most intriguing woman I have ever met in my lifetime, the owner of the shop – Meena. A resident of Dharamshala since her birth, her love marriage with her husband and two kids, her two unique pigtails and her stone studded neckpieces, were her most identifying features.
While I entered her shop, she looked at my puzzled, surprised and happy face in delight, as if I had almost found the keys to a Pandora’s box, and said, “Hello! I am Meena. I teach a lot of courses here, and I sell stones. I teach how to make macramé, mala, wood carving, and Dream Catchers”. In that instant I knew how much I wanted to make one, and I did.
It was almost like she was unveiling the legendary world of Dream Catcher to me, while she spoke about its significance, its origin, how it is made, going on to a both happy and sad story of how people perceive it today. Amid all the information, I knew the art was close to her heart, and her belief in the charm was flawlessly strong. Since then every time I met her, I could feel how she must have passed on her belief to the endless clients, tourists and travelers she has had over the past 8 years, making her a lot more than just a businesswoman for everyone in this small town in the mountains.
“So why and how Dream Catchers, Meena?” I asked, while she took a thoughtful moment and with a nostalgic smile she replied, “My husband opened this shop 22 years back giving classes for wood carving to travelers, even before my son Amarsh was born, who is now carrying on the art and teaching. I was just helping my husband to run the shop. It was only 8 years back when a girl called Paggy from Austria came and taught me how to make a Dream Catcher. I experimented when she left, practiced, and took it up professionally, passing on what she taught me. I was surprised how famous the charm was with the Americans and till date they give me good business, but somehow it failed to gain its popularity amongst the Indians. Including you I have only taught 4 Indians how to make it till date.”
Starting with my first dream catcher, Amarsh, now 21, who goes to Dharamshala College to get his degree in BSE, found a comfortable seat next to me, and one by way took me through the process, as Meena kept on explaining….
“Every element in a dream catcher has its own relevance – The hoop, the web, the semi precious stone in the centre, and the feathers. While the size of the Dream Catcher does not matter, it is the web that needs to retain its traditional form, for the charm not to modify into a mere showpiece”. Reading though the legend, to satisfy my curiosity, the Native Americans believed that the night air is filled with dreams both good and bad. The good dreams know how to pass through the dream catcher, slipping through the outer holes and slide down the soft feathers. The bad dreams which are often confusing, not knowing the way get tangled in the dream catcher and perish with the first light of the new day.
Started around the hoop, a symbol held in the highest esteem in the past which signified strength, unity and the cycle of life, was made by bending branches of trees in the shape of a circle by the nomads back then, which is now made in iron by Meena, for the ease of traveling and carrying the dream catcher back home at long distances by people. Even the web which was anciently made with the stalk of the stinging nettle, is now made with cotton polyester yarns, in an array of colors, making the charm look a lot more contemporary. What remains intact is the use of natural feathers and one single semi precious gemstone in the centre, because there is only one creator in the web of life.
“The gem stone magnifies the powers of the dream catcher. Also the stone you pick, suggests your current state of mind as every stone has its own power, and one may never forget – It is not you who chooses the stone, but it is the stone, which chooses you.” exclaimed Meena, as she futher told me about the stones. While the crystal quartz, the stone of Himachal, is a master healing stone that signifies clarity in thought, amethyst has intuitive powers, and malachite which possesses natural rings in itself when cut is the most commonly used stone in a dream catcher in foreign nations.
Taking almost 3 hours to finish it was easy to be friends with Meena and Amarsh, giving all their homely nature, and I am sure everyone else who knows them would agree. Taking such a wholesome experience back with me to Delhi, yet again in 2013 I ended up revisiting them with happy hugs, almost feeling like family, only to end up making my second dream catcher, which was 3 dimensional this time. Conceptualized and introduced by Amarsh within this one year that I was away, he surely is expanding the family business with new ideas and great passion.
Sharing her thoughts once again in a friendly and dilemmatic mood, I found Meena still believing in the very idea that the tradition of the dream catcher should carry into the future generations, but I also found her failing in passing it on to the young Indians. “This charm is very popular with foreigners, and they have the passion to learn it. Even though they are very weak with tying a simple knot, they manage, they experiment and create. Most of the wandering travelers take it up professionally, and make their own dream catchers to sell them at the rainbow gatherings, in fetes and fairs in different countries. But Indians, I am still not sure why they don’t want to learn it. Our new generations know more about technology than showing any interest in traditional handworks. The only thing off late that made the charm famous with young Indian girls is ‘Bella’, and her dream catcher, Thank god to ‘Twilight’!”
Well, this is pretty much my story and connection with the mysterious world of the dream catcher and I am sure I am not the only one who feels this connection so strong. And my prettiest memory and thought today is the fact that somewhere high in the mountains, there is still someone who is keeping the legend alive, and I only wish and hope, that more and more people embrace the tradition for the future as well…