Freshly dabbed vermillion with coconut oil on hair, Purnima Kundu resembles the typical housewife of any village. Devoted to husband and his family, raising kids, running a small grocery shop, helping out her husband at work is what typically defines her day at home. The same goes for her husband Bhola Nath Kundu who wakes up at 4:30 in the morning and once he is done with his ablutions he quietly retires to his ‘tant’ workshop, an adjoining room next to his house. Bhola has followed this custom ever since he remembers, working under the thin twilight and a 250 megawatts bulb, until natural sunlight filters through the heavy bushes.
Bhola is a ‘Tant’ weaver, mostly engaging in making bandage gauze for hospitals and other medical shops. Tant a type of cotton popular in West Bengal and Bangladesh is mostly used as a saree material, but most weavers in Basirhat are into weaving soft bandage gauze.
Bhola says, “It requires less manual labour, making tant saree is a huge task, it requires a lot of time and effort and people here in Basirhat only know to make gauze.”
Not that the weaving gauze was any easy, but Bholu and Purnima have made their peace with it. Although power looms are much easier than hand looms where weavers had to stand the entire day in a caved-in space and mechanically put each and every thread into order, Bhola says it still takes up a lot of time to count the threads and then put them in a wheel from which they need to be attached to the looms. For the intricacies of the entire process, Purnima helps her husband in the working apart from handling household work, and the shop.
A simple Bhola has come a long way from his penury and rejections in life. Earlier he would go house to house and learn the art of weaving, and now he owns four powerlooms and a grocery shop. He has also been able to marry off two of his daughters while the third one is studying in standard nine now.
However, Purnima says not everything was so sunny earlier on. “I had no respect in my family, from my in-laws or my husband. Because of the poverty, there was constant fight, anguish, while I dreamt of sending my children to school. Nothing was materialising until I decided to take a loan from Belgoria Janakalyan Samity to buy a powerloom for my husband.”
Ever since that Purnima has regularly taken loan from BJS and funded her husband’s business. This vigour in Poornima to do something raised her reputation in the eyes of her family, especially before Bhola, who now respects participation of women outside household work.
Although Bhola now has a respected place in his village, he pays a price, daily. “We weavers suffer from respiratory illness, since the wool of the cotton jeopardises the breathing and sometimes gets into lungs creating heavy coughing.”
There is no solution to this, says a neighbour of Poornima whose husband is also a weaver. “We need to eat a lot of bananas to avoid respiratory congestion, but poor people like us don’t get to buy as many bananas. We just work and endure it.”
Despite all the frailties, vagaries, and social stigma, Bhola and Poornima have made it to live a life which they dreamt together. Be it through the help of loan or sheer courage, they now live a content life without being de-motivated or suppressed.