Yes, those two words do conjure up my near neurotic devotion to the HBO series, but this is not about my turning into a basket-case over the Wire. It’s about a craft that involves making shopping baskets out of plastic wires, something my aunt Madhavi mami has been doing for decades.
Madhavi mami has made hundreds of these, and gifted one to nearly everyone in our extended family on my mum’s side on some occasion or other; my parents have brought the veggies home from the market in the one she gave us, for twenty-three years. It was getting rather frayed at the handles of late, so she gave them another one. While I was visiting her some time back, she was making yet another, so I decided to capture the process in a photo-essay.
Kits for these baskets are available, in solid or multi-coloured packs, in that great mecca of crafts in Pune, Tulshibaug. I haven’t been able to trace how the wires themselves are made, or from what kind of plastic. The wires are flat, slightly curved, and are in long spools of 20-odd metres per colour. You start off by cutting off strips of equal length (there is some odd maths involved here about the ratio of the primary to secondary colour, one being slightly shorter than the other to ensure the rectangular shape of the basket).
Then you make the first knot of two tightly interlocked Zs, folding one wire into a Z, and then threading the other sideways into it. Once they are locked in the vice like grip, you have the basic unit of the basket.
This is not as easy as it seems, and the main problem is sorting out which wire goes where, and keeping the knots tight. It takes not so much physical strength as deft wristwork to get the knots to sit snugly, and takes a bit of practice. I tried a few after a very long time – my aunt taught me this basket making when I was a kid, and the bits I helped her make were very easy to spot in the finished basket: loose, half-hearted patches in the middle of the tight, determined weave. They weren’t much tighter this time round either, but I was certainly determined!
You then add knots in all four directions of this initial knot, making the central spine of the flat bottom of the basket. Once you have the length and breadth you want, you “turn” the knots upwards into a rectangular tube, and keep weaving till you have a basket deep enough. When done, you weave the wire ends inwards into the basket, leaving it with a sturdy edge.
Then you braid a nifty handle for it.
These bags were probably the height of fashion a long long time ago, and when I was in college it was simply not cool for a certain set, especially the urban elite in Pune and Bombay, to be seen grocery shopping in them. They are, I guess, the shopping basket equivalent of crocheted granny squares, and over the last couple of decades, it’s breathtaking how almost everyone has taken to the flimsier, disposable “carry-bags” as not only more convenient, but a consumer’s free right. In this utterly warped sensibility that views plastic bags as modernity and progress over cloth and straw, clogging our drains and brains alike, these baskets are quaintly unfashionable, stubbornly utilitarian, and odd: they too are plastic, but reusable and heavily durable. Does anybody who has seen these in Pune or elsewhere know whether they are, or can be made of some kind of recyclable plastic?