Toxic ornaments

Manjula Padmanabhan | Updated on November 06, 2020


Election Day in the US is here. I’m not a citizen, so I’m sitting at home fussing over my current obsession when I hear a scratching sound at my window. It’s my young raccoon friend, Rockette. “Watcha doing?” she wants to know, once she’s inside and munching a chocolate chip cookie.

I show her the thing in my hand. “Oo! Shiny!” she says, chirping softly. “What IS it?” I grin. “I don’t really know what it is — a pendant? A window ornament? — but the shape is something I’m calling an Ankhen-Peace sign.” Rockette cocks her furry head to one side. “Anky-what?” “It’s a combination of two words: ANKH and PEACE,” I explain.

The ankh is an ancient Egyptian symbol meaning “life”. It looks like a cross, but has a loop in the place of the upper vertical member. The peace sign was originally designed to symbolise the end of nuclear war. During the ’60s, in the US, it was overtaken by anti-war protests until eventually it came to symbolise peace in general. “My combination piece is meant to symbolise the hope for a peaceful life that most of us want,” I say. “Especially in an age when it seems harder than ever for any of us to attain that goal.”

Rockette picks up the object in my hand. “It looks a lot like a sugar cookie,” she says, sniffing it hopefully. “Sure it isn’t edible?” I assure her that it’s totally indigestible. “This one is made out of wire, fake-jewels and resin. That’s a type of plastic. If you bite into it, you’ll just hurt your mouth and leave teeth marks on the thing.”

Two clear liquids, one a hardener and the other a commercially marketed polymer, are combined and poured into moulds. The most difficult feature of the craft is waiting for the resin to harden. In six hours it’s dry to the touch, but remains pliable enough to pick up fingerprints. At least 24 hours are needed to harden it completely. It’s not safe for children to use. The fumes may be toxic and can cause eye-irritation. It’s sticky, transparent and hard to control. I wear gloves and goggles when using it.

“Wow,” says Rockette. “Nasty stuff.” But she’s still looking with interest at the small glittering objects I’ve made. “I love the end-results,” I say. “I don’t know if I’ll ever make really professional-looking things but it’s just soooo much fun thinking about new ideas and shapes and moulds!” I’m still experimenting with styles, trying hard not to waste too much time and money on something that won’t have any practical use.

Rockette picks up a heart-shaped locket, holds it up to her right ear and asks me how it looks. “Hmmm,” I say. “I’ve never heard of raccoons wearing jewellery before.” “Me neither,” says Rockette, reaching for a cookie. “How about making edible jewellery?” “Good idea!” I say, reaching for a cookie myself, “and much less toxic.”

Manjula Padmanabhan, author and artist, writes of her life in the fictional town of Elsewhere, US, in this weekly column

Published on November 06, 2020

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