It was in December 2015 that Sriskandh and I first visited Barmer in Rajasthan, to identify handicrafts that have not yet found a way to the market. The idea was not just to connect the unconnected to livelihood opportunities, but to understand the process of making it so that it could be made as environment-friendly as possible.
The flip side of taking a road less travelled most often is that the community welcomes you with a lot of apprehension. It is extremely challenging to get into a village as a stranger, and get buy-in to create something that’s unfathomable, but naturally. Trust is not built overnight and subsequently change happens with a lot of hard work and genuine intent. It needs to be topped with persistence, good timing and ultimate creation of value for those at the helm of things.
In January, this year when I went back to the community, I explained to them how they can use their traditional needle work to not just create clothes for personal use; but cushion covers for sale further. I used the medium of (an imaginary) film narration and wove a screenplay where every woman sitting there became no less than a hero, as her product reached the living room of those in the city and beyond. I told them how they could be responsible for making their village known on the map, if they had the will and a shared vision.
After receiving an affirmative yes, next day I went to the market, bought some cloth and stitching material. The only change being that instead of the traditional plastic thread, I replaced it with similar looking cotton thread. This way we could eliminate the use of plastic from this traditional Islamic craft called ‘Kalavat’. Once I reached the village with all the material, the women gathered again. I drew on paper the modified designs that were less energy intensive, and could be quickly turned around.
Among those gathered was Nemat Bano ji, who even at 75 years of age has energy so infectious. With her intervention, the younger women folk understood easily what needed to be done. She helped me cut the cloth to the size of cushion covers; not only motivated women to try something new but even monitored the amount of material that should be given to each of them. She, with her enthusiasm, became a brand ambassador of the new “Soche” in her own village.