It has been nearly two years, give or take a couple of days.
It was in May, 2014 that colleagues and I first visited the Rajasthan in order to study hand-woven carpets, the company that gets them manufactured in the fair-trade manner, and how they do that and still manage to be the largest exporter of the hand-woven carpets from India.
In recurring email/phone/skype interactions and iterative visits, I get bigger and bigger glimpse of the lives and work of weavers and other artisans. And I want to know more.
The root of my motivation is in their happiness, seeming comfort with their lives, and generosity. Touched by those, I want to go for more. A deeper, more substantial understanding: not just fleeting images.
When I visited them last, they were warm (their children were curious), slightly shy, but welcoming, and smiling – always smiling in a way that took the unfamiliarity out of the equation. At that time, my purpose was to see first hand, how a carpet came into being, right from the form of bales of wool.
There are wool sorters, carders, spinners and more before it actually gets into the hands of a weaver. These people make something like Rs.200-400 per day. That, with unstable pattern of their working, and disguised unemployment because of micro farming would put them now-in-no-out of poverty line. Yet, as I saw them, moved among them, talked to them, they were going about their business – no one complained or expressed dissatisfaction, or any such thing. As I talked to a number of artisans, I felt that they knew I was there to learn about their work, and they let me understand, by taking time off their work to let me in.
So, my first question was, ‘what makes these artisans happy?’ I am fully aware that my interaction with them was short, superficial in a way, and we had no relation: they had no reason to share their deep anguish if they had one. So, the best way to find out was to spend more time with them.
2. Acceptance of life as it was:
I saw the artisans in their different settings in my first and second visit. The ones I talked to were: a lady who was a friendly quality inspector who helped weavers, a hand-spinner of wool, and another friendly quality inspector who helped the wool processors.
As they showed me how they worked, they also talked here and there, which touched me as sense of looking forward – or optimism, what seemed to me to be their natural sense of direction that built on what was yesterday, flowing into where they were, going on into what would be. That gave me my second, third, and fourth questions: ‘What is the meaning of life to these women? What is the meaning of work to them? How does work fit into their life?’
I would be naive if I simply use cliched expressions such as ‘I was welcomed with open arms’ by the artisans in my first two trips. the fact is, I do not know. At the same time, no Indian would be surprised at the fact that in rural India, generosity and hospitality have nothing to do with the family income. I saw that generosity. To be specific, when the friendly inspector of the wool process took me to her place and emphatically invited me to stay overnight. For her, if I was visiting the village, I could stay for the night, do some more of observation, and then go the next day at leisure.
Or, another lady who was spinning wool at her home, and she insisted that I at least take tea – or something – since I had visited her home. More than them, I was conscious of the fact that they averaged about Rs. 300/- per day in earning. That’s less than six US dollars a day. How could I cost them by accepting their hospitality? So, that question took me back to my questions on the meaning of life, work, and how one fitted into the other.
Additionally, if I could gather some more understanding about their values, it would be great.
That’s my log for the day-4.
Tomorrow is Day -3, and I am going to post some summary on conceptual framework that would guide my three-week stay-cum-study.