Amuda’s home is a haven from the sweltering heat outdoors. Her house has a conical thatched bamboo roof, that stands out on the street where she lives. Thanks to this, her house remains cool no matter how hot it gets outside.
As part of the Milaap Fellowship, I met Amuda at an embroidery and design training workshop for rural women. She is a trainer for Gramalya Microfin Foundation. She begins her workshop by showing a white bedspread adorned with embroidered designs, glittery flowers and painted peacocks. As the participants marvel at the designs, they are also seeing what is possible with the skills they pick up at this workshop.
Over the past four years, Amuda has selected work done by the women in her workshop and stitched them together to form what can only be described as a patch work quilt. During the two day workshop, she teaches the attendees 3D design and working with coloured glitter, beads, stones and sequins. These rural women form shared-liability groups and start small enterprises. They jazz up sarees, blouses and kurtas in their village with glittery 3D designs or appliqué work, earning an alternate income.
Amuda poses for a picture in her 'photo-worthy' finery
Amuda has trained over 50 groups so far over the last four years. For each batch, she is able to suss out the ones who show an aptitude and takes special care to teach them. From 2002 to 2009, Amuda also conducted tailoring classes for local girls (in association with Gramalya). She is a full-time trainer and gets paid only Rs 250 per training session. It is clearly not about the money.
She does it because this is her way of giving back to the society. She teaches women design, gets them involved in creating beautiful things and becoming financially independent. The attendees of the workshop can earn anything between Rs 50-1000 per project they decide to take up, because of their new skills. "So many of these participants come back and tell me about how they have improved their lives. They develop a curiosity about what more can be done. Some call me to bounce off their ideas. This is my reward," she says.
A glimpse in to Amuda's design ideas
Having lost her husband at only 21, Amuda understands the importance of financial independence and security. Pointing to a 17-year-old photograph of her, she still remembers her own fears as she applied for a loan from Indian Overseas Bank for her first sewing machine. She learnt tailoring and then started a tailoring business to sustain herself. She has also legally challenged her in-laws for possession of her husband's home.
Today, she owns seven more machines and takes tailoring classes at home, under the name ‘SBM Tailoring Institute’. She has even designed certificates for her students. The certificate helps them get jobs with tailoring shops or access free sewing machines provided by the Tamil Nadu government. As a tailor, she takes great pride in her work. She has a stash of sarees and blouses that showcase her designs. Each design has a meaning that she carefully explains to her visitors. The intricate embroidery had its own stories to tell, crossing over from being a tailor to an artist.
Amuda, holding the Sri S.B.M Institute certificate awarded to her students
Amuda sees an opportunity a mile off. She sells her rangoli designs in a book for Rs. 20. The book is made by stapling together photocopies of her drawing. She feels pride at having sold 50 copies at the Gramalya Virpanai Kanagtchi (Business exhibition).
She herself has trained in multiple fields. She attended an Entrepreneur Development Programme training organised in her district on how to start and run a business in 2001. She also attended a NABARD workshop for designing paper, kundan and terracotta jewellery. Despite her versatile skills, Amuda does not earn more than Rs 5,000 (less than $75) a month and you'd not know that going by her cheerful countenance. I commented that she had a keen business sense. She replied that it only happened due to the support she got at the right time. "When I was just widowed, I was terrified to even go to neighbouring shops, but the people at Gramalya have given me the confidence to hold my own as a single woman."
With a hesitation, I asked her why she never thought to remarry in all these years. Amuda surprised me with her answer. "My husband and I were very happy for the five years that we were together. There was a lot of love, and I did not want to remarry." The pink walls of her home are adorned with different sizes of the same photo of her husband. Even her tailoring machine has a passport size photo stuck to it.
“Life handed him a lemon.
As life sometimes will do.
His friends looked on in pity,
Assuming he was through.
They came upon him later,
Reclining in the shade,
In calm contentment, drinking
A glass of lemonade.”
- The Optimist (The Rotarian - 1940)
This poetic rendition of the contemporary proverb about life, lemons and lemonade is an ode to M. Amuda.