Nanimaa looked old. Having lunch had left her a bit tired. All she wanted to do now was take a nap. But she knew that I was waiting; waiting to talk to her. After traveling for 5 hours across unknown desolate roads, I was too overwhelmed to feel any guilt. Kutch, the desert district located in the Western Indian state of Gujarat, is home to various organizations dedicated towards preservation and revitalization of traditional Kutchi art works. Parmaben, whom I respectfully call Nanimaa, used to work with one such organization ‘Shrujan’. To generalize Shrujan’s story in one sentence, it was an initiative taken by an enthusiastic urban woman to develop a unique, sustainable means of income generation for village women. This was one part of the story. I wanted to hear the story of the rural women for whom this project was initiated.“Iske pehle hum maati uparte the. Aur kuch kaam nahi tha karne ko.” I had no idea what ‘maati uparna’ meant, so Nanimaa explained it to me.In 1969, Kutch experienced a particularly severe drought. Similar to Nanimaa’s family, a lot of other families were mainly dependent on agriculture at that time. Drought left them thirsty as well as unemployed. So they started digging ponds. The hope of finding or collecting water was all they had left to leverage.“Few people went to Karachi in search of work. Most of them settled there, and never came back.” As she said this, a lot of memories came unbidden to Nanimaa’s eyes. I listened quietly as she shared recollections of a neighbor whose image is almost faded, and an elder sister who fortunately came back.[caption id="attachment_6920" align="aligncenter" width="2560"] Nanimaa and her daughter[/caption]“We used to do various types of embroidery work. We have been doing it for generations. But it was only for us. We never sold anything. Kakimaa (Chandaben, the founder of Shrujan) wanted me to make a Sari for her. That was the first time I sold my embroidery work.” A journey which started with a drought and a few Saris changed Nanimaa’s life. After her, her daughter and later her granddaughters also got involved with Shrujan. A skill which had been handed down from mother to daughter for generations, finally left the Rann of Kutch and was appreciated far and beyond. Today, Shrujan is working with 16 different styles of embroidery, done by 3,500 women across 100 villages.[caption id="attachment_6913" align="aligncenter" width="2000"] One of the woman working with Shrujan[/caption]Different things motivate people in life. For Chandaben, it was the empathy she felt for a drought stricken people which led her to start Shrujan. Nanimaa always had an amazing skill, and a slight appreciation was all it took to inspire her to go beyond the usual norms. For me, walking down the memory lane with a complete stranger, and discovering a simple yet vibrant tale in the seemingly desolate land of Kutch was motivation enough.
Kutch: An assortment of untold tales