A couple of minutes later, Kii Ran emerged with the woman. He explained to her about Milaap, me and why we were there. She smiles and apologizes, “People keep coming throughout the day even after being told to come only in the evening. Sometimes they even take their clothes saying they will pay later but forget to do so. It is difficult to running a business like this.”
Kii Ran then introduced me to Ibemacha - and described her as one of the most diligent borrowers. “Working with people like her is easy. She understands that all business, whether small or large, need to run by certain rules,” I could not disagree with him. She gave us a few stools to sit on and we start talking.
Ibemacha with her characteristic grin in the backyard
Ibemacha runs a dyeing business out of the backyard of her house. I could see two large tanks, a pair of boots and gloves, several bottles of colour, buckets and tubs behind her. “It is wedding season in Manipur. I dye about 500 clothes daily. There is plenty of demand so it gets crazy at times,” she says. Kii Ran further explained that October-March see the maximum number of marriage ceremonies throughout Manipur and hence the high demand for fresh, dyed clothes.
But 500 is a big number. How did she manage it, I asked. “See the tanks and the tubs over there? They are filled with clothes,” pointing to her backyard, “I dye clothes the whole day. That is why I ask my customers to come in the evening,” she says.
Dyeing a chunri
“I leave it in the hot water for about 60 minutes. This gives time to the colours to settle on the fabric. If the customers want a deeper shade, then I leave it overnight.” While she made it look really simple, I realised that the dye solution was really hot. She did all this barehanded! When asked about it, she laughed and told me that her hands had become used to it. Her left thumb had permanently turned a shade of indigo. Perhaps this is also a part of her simplicity.
The blue thumb
As she hands it over to him, the man tells that he would pay her later because he did not have money on him. This annoyed Ibemcha but she let him off with a scolding. Once he was gone, she turns towards us and says, “How can I not give him his wedding dress? This is going to be the most memorable day of his life.”