Peti Charkha

October 29, 2010

When I was through with my cinema theatre business (, I had spare time to look at the wooden boxes that I had found stashed in the ‘delivery room’.

One of them was a 2×1 feet timber box securely latched. I brought it out in the open from the dark delivery room, cleaned it and showed it sunlight. After ample washes of kerosene, the latches became pry-able. But I had to take permission from Grandma Tai to force open it. She said, ‘This belonged to Dada. Why don’t you ask him?’ So I asked Dada Grandpa. He just curled down his lips, which I conveniently took to be his permission.

Open Sesame! I forced open the latches. Inside was an old Charkha.  This was totally different from the one my real Grandpa Anna used daily to spin yarn. The flywheel was mounted inside the lid of the box, and the second, smaller wheel as also the spindle holder were all neatly mounted inside the other half. The Charkha looked unused. I tried to make out how it could become functional.  It looked like the flywheel and the smaller wheel had a common belt which was missing. I tried a woolen rope, but it did not work. I ran to Dada. He said that the belt used to be of leather, as he remembered. The one and only shoe repair fellow in the town said that nobody made such belts anymore, that is, after Gandhiji died. The matter rested there, but not my thought process.

On the weekend when Anna was spinning the yarn on his charkha, I asked him why those belts were not available. He said he will check out at Sevagram, Gandhiji’s ashram if they kept any spares. He did write a letter, the reply of which came in a fortnight. The letter said that these Peti (Box) Charkhas are not made anymore.

Anna then tried to dissuade me. ‘Instead, use my normal charkha’ he said, ‘But on one condition that you will make your own Peloo’s (the cotton roll outs from which the yarn would be spun). We had a Peloo plate and press in the house. When they used to be free from household chores, Tai and Anna’s sister Jiji used to press out the Peloo’s in the afternoon while gossiping. The Peloo plate was a slant timber board and the press a smaller timber board with handle. The Peloo- making was a simple procedure. Just take the spun cotton, roll it lightly around a steel pin and roll press. They both tried to train me in hilarious sessions, laughing and naming my Peloo’s. If my Peloo’s came out hollow and soft, they said it is Gokhale Peloo. If it was too tight, they said it was Savarkar Peloo. If I questioned why, they would say that I shall understand when grown up. To simplify, they would also name some in a way I understood – Birbal Peloo, Hanuman Peloo, Gandhari Peloo… and what not. Everybody got fed up with the quality and quantity I produced in a few sessions.

‘Why don’t you ask Anna if you can help him in sifting the cotton instead? That would be easy.’

Cleaning and de-seeding cotton manually was not an easy job either. I could produce only a handful every day. Sifting it with a bow was interesting and I could gain some mastery over it. This graduated me to touch Anna’s charkha. Spinning was of course out of question, and it took a good year for him to permit me, and me to start spinning a reasonably fine yarn.

Anna would bundle the spun yarn every now and then. It disappeared very often.

“What do we do with the yarn?”

“Well, we exchange it for Khadi cloth. Finer the yarn we spin, finer the cloth we get. We have to send it to Sevagram, the Gandhiji’s ashram.”

We sent yarn, the cloth kept coming and Anna wore only those clothes made of ‘our’ Khadi, till his last day. He even washed his clothes himself because he knew how much wet Khadi becomes heavy, and how it was hard for womenfolks to wash the wet Khadi clothes. Even I had to develop muscles before I could attempt to wash a Khadi dhoti or Jacket.

I developed an understanding for why he had only a few pairs of clothes and why he always wore white or black.

Those days, in summer, the water-man used to bring water from the well in buffalo-leather sacks. Once when he was mending his leather sack, I brought out my box charkha and placed it in front of him. I asked him if he could make a belt. He made it in only a few minutes, paid obeisance to the Charkha and asked me to try. It worked. I had my own Charkha now and vehemently fought battles to spin a yarn.

No sooner than Dada heard that the Peti Charkha was up and running, he took it back saying it was touched once by Gandhiji. Since my project of making the Charkha run was over and I received a few accolades for my efforts from Dada, I gladly handed it back to him.

However, I was bitten by the Charkha and spinning yarn for good. It was coveted qualification during our time.

As for forward integration, I chose ‘spinning and weaving’ as an elective hobby in school, and learnt to weave cloth too.


Anna lived the Gandhian ideology without making a fuss about it. Charkha and Khadi were just one of the visible disciplines. Anna had quit politics after the freedom struggle. He refused offers to contest for the elections for the very first government of the republic and thereafter. But not Khadi.

Simultaneously, he must have been a Tilak follower when it came to starting a school (and then colleges in the name of Tilak) in a backward area.


It took many days, sometime months to get the Khadi in exchange of yarn, since the cloth would be always in short supply. But Anna would not use imported, light, colourful fabric.

Many of his contemporaries made fun of him for wearing Khadi. But he stuck to his vow.

One of my grandmothers recently recalled an incident. Anna was to go to court to defend a case, when his friend told him that his Khadi Dhoti was torn. Anna said it did not matter. The friend said, it was torn at an awful place and things are visible from the hole. Anna simply said “It is not my body part that is going to defend the case in the court. ‘I’ am going to.”


(Image curtsey..Google Images)


4 Responses to “Peti Charkha”

  1. That “Peloo” naming exercise was hilarious 🙂 .. Nice caricature of a true Gandhian. The jury is still out on whether those Gandhian ways are relevant in today’s practical context, but I can definitely say that its rare to find people with such strong convictions about their life and work nowadays!

  2. PeACEMAKER Says:

    Thanks Nikhil. Like Gods should be worshiped, he worshiped Gadhiji as his personal God. I do not remember him thrusting his views on anybody. Later on, he was more of a Tilak follower. He started and managed all the Tilak Smarak Mandirs in that area. The compulsory Bhagwadgeeta, his collection of books, his zeal in education field leaned more towards Sudharaks and Tilak than Gandhiji. His was an ideal, balanced amalgam. May be therefore people called him DeoManoos. It is indeed difficult to find such people these days.
    More about him some other day.

  3. Hema P. Says:

    So much joy out of such simple things and straight-forward principles! The incidents in your story reminded me of some of R.K.Narayan’s stories…

  4. PeACEMAKER Says:

    I was fortunate my relatives let my life flow without constructing too many check dams. RK is a great narrator. On the other hand, I am not exerting much while typing.
    I miss that Charkha. Hope it is still alive and not in its own coffin.

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