The Possibilities of Ribbons

Mandira Pattnaik


Stop hating ribbons, for a first. 

            You may trace your  dislike of ribbons to when the Physical Training teacher, a man, said that all girls should wear ribbons, whether short-haired or long. With them on, the girls looked like girls and not like boys because, of course, the six-year olds in the class would look just the same if everyone had their hair snipped. Your hair, short, glued to the skull with the use of ample hair-oil, refused the flimsy satin thing. The next time Mum put two black clips which badly hurt, to secure the ribbon in place, your scream summoned Dad to the bedroom.



Be grateful for the time and patience of your elders. Learn to save the ribbons from your birthday presents. Roll them into neat balls, secure with a rubber band, and shove into the dark corner of grandma’s drawer, the same place where she stacked the glossy magazines for cut pictures. Find mismatched buttons that refused to stay fastened. Find paper to rewrap around stuff to regift. Be thankful to the ribbons when they emerged, nicely curled and ready to party, ready for decking the fake Christmas tree. 



Think of connections: ribbons of breeze, ribbons of skies, ribbons of acquaintances, ribbons of relationships floating around your house—the ones discarded like dead skin, the ones embraced like they were tied, knotted tightly, the tails folded twice and fastened back.



Remember your wedding rituals, the handfasting ceremony. The particular fancy of something as delicate as a ribbon, tied to wrists, while the bride blushes and the groom smiles before exchanging vows. Smiles frozen in a frame for the gilt-edged album. Even small things can outburn the sun. Address the Sun of your Universe, remain lovingly tied in countless ribbons of invisible sunshine.



Make yourself the drawings of a ribbon, a band, a rainbow stripe Make yourself a Rakhi on Rakshabandhan (Raksha, the vow of safeguarding, and bandhan, the string or thread tied around the right wrist), the celebration of brother-sister bonding. Use silk threads remaining unused from your embroidery school. You have no brothers to tie Rakhi to, no words of promise from brothers to protect you over several lifetimes. 



Close fists. Unfurl. Look at the fingers, each so unlike, like ribbons tied to the wrist, let afloat.  Reckon ribbons as strands. When your America-born cousins come visiting, tell them about your family tree, about their grandparents, your uncles and aunts. Find them gaping when you tell them about this great cousin or that younger brother. Remember what strands bind you very different people in, like what ‘blood relations’ mean.



Your friend dies on her honeymoon. Her family and you are even more distraught by the circumstances than the fact you’ll never see her again. Nobody calls or checks on the husband, or if what was reported was indeed true. It is a freak accident, everyone says. The knot they tied to suspend her mid-air at a Himachal resort that offered bungee-jumping was faulty. On a perfectly sunny day, the icy mountains around her, your friend had freakishly plunged 300 metres into a gorge. Support her mother when the coffin arrives and you two walk across the lawn. Learn how to pleat the ribbon for the wreath from her mother, while she strokes your back.



Be wary of people talking about ribbons in the context of computers, printers and browsers. Ribbons like that might spoil the fine balance of remembrances you’ve collected. You’d hate to unspool the unfortunate ones, and nobody really needs to scroll through e-pages to recall the happy, delicate memories.



As you pile on the years, fill your hours with the accounts of what-you-did in life, what-you-didn’t, and when they don’t tally, think of them as ribbons fluttering from the top of a pole, never enslaved by the vagaries of the outdoors.



Love the ribbon-like packaging in every cell of your body, coiled many times around proteins, coiled many times around names — with meanings you do not know, names of people your own, names of strangers who’ll be your own. Acknowledge the wonderous possibilities you’re a part of, and those you will be.

Mandira Pattnaik’s writing has appeared in Best Small Fictions 2021, Hypertext, Timber Journal, Penn Review, Watershed Review, Passages North, DASH, Miracle Monocle, The McNeese Review and Press53 among other places. Visit her at

© Variant Literature Inc 2021