“Please come in the evening. Your shirt is not done yet!” says a loud female voice from inside the house even before I get off the bike. I look at Kii Ran, my companion and accompanying field officer for the visit, looking for an explanation. I knew it wasn't addressed to me, but I wasn't so sure about him. He parked the bike and with a smile on his face, strode inside the house. Not sure if it was a borrower visit, I waited outside for a while, wondering if I should go after him.
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.
I had never seen clothes being dyed before and asked her if she could show me how it was done. She smiled and she picked up a chunri (a kind of shawl) and lowered it gently into a steel bucket that had hot water and dye solution. She ensured that the chunri was dipped in the solution completely. She rinsed it several times so there were no dry spots remaining.
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
I then asked her about the dyes she used. She showed me two bottles of Amway, a rather expensive brand. “These give the brightest colours. My customers always appreciate bright, fast colours.”
So how had the loan helped her out? She smiles again. “Quite a lot, actually. Earlier my children cycled to school because it was far. They would be so tired going to and coming from school that they would simply dose off while studying.”
And now? “Now, I send them to school in the school bus. They can’t make stupid reasons and avoid studies anymore.” At which point, we all had a good laugh - her good humour was contagious.
As we were talking, a young man walked in. He was the groom and had come to collect his wedding clothes. Ibemcha had readied the dress the previous day. She folds it neatly and places it elegantly inside a plastic cover.
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.”