Village near Nabha (Punjab, India) - 2000.
It wasn’t until I saw some men beat up my uncle that I realized there were “rules” in the village that my Caste needed to live by. We were what they called, ‘Meheras’ – a caste lower than the predominant Jat Sikhs, farmers who owned land. We owned, well, next to nothing! Living on the outskirts of the village, our women were only summoned to help do the dishes & other domestic work when the higher caste women needed us. I think I am almost sixty years old (chuckles; her toothless smile is most unforgettable) and yes, things are very different now. I recall several decades ago, the drought wiped out our small crop and my mother and grandmother bought some wool and started making these beautiful “flowers” using the cluster-stitch on homespun *Khaddar. “I was a quick learner”, she continues, (while deftly embroidering what she calls a “high caste flower stitch”. With caste-boundaries blurring, older caste-based motifs and stitches are fast disappearing) and soon my sisters and I were producing shawls, scarves and Phulkari pieces that the higher-castes wanted to buy from us. I requested my father not to marry me off too far from our village else my passion would be lost! Who knew if my in-laws would let me sew and embroider as much as I wanted. Luckily for me, they found a family not too far away from our *Pind and I was promptly married off. My husband, a very kind man, and I soon had three beautiful daughters all of whom are now part of my Phulkari Self Help Group. My girls are creative, innovative, enterprising and wherever they go, I am reassured they will be able to look after themselves financially. That is the biggest lesson I learnt from my mother and grandmother that year when the crop failed and all we could do was sew and earn a few coins to get by everyday. We were poor but we felt free and we were happy together as a family. I still have my Dowry Trunk sitting inside our house, a big green trunk with peacocks that my mother and sisters painted on it – a symbol of memories and motivation for me. I want to embroider Phulkari until the day I die.
*Khaddar: home spun coarse cotton; *Pind: Village