“There were times when our kids needed medical attention, but we couldn’t even go to the dispensary at the Nizamuddin basti. Things are getting better now. We even go to the bank and manage our accounts.”
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THESE women from the Nizamuddin basti avoid breaking rules. Lest violations like “coming in news” rob them of an opportunity to return to Aashiayana, a creative wing under the Hope Project which provides employment to them. The basti is home to many women embroiderers and since 1980 they have found support in Aashiyana. But when it comes to letting people know about their art, it has to be from behind the veil.
“We don’t want any hassles. You can focus on our fingers and the cloth,” says Firdaus, a senior craftsperson at Aashiayana, directing the photographer. Firdaus and her 29 colleagues are better known for their embroidering skills then stitching.
Their products, including shawls, wrap-arounds, silk pouches and kurtas, are selling fast. They call them Sufi Products.
Their latest client is People Tree, the shop in CP that’s popular with Delhi’s campus crowd for its T-shirts and accessories. Here, among stacks of T-shirts stamped with political sarcasm, the contribution from Nizamuddin basti stands out for the fine floral motifs. Their trademark, however is the sacred heart and the wings symbol, the symbol of the Sufi order, propagated by Hazrat Inayat Khan who was buried near the Nizamuddin Dargah.
“We can sell our products usually during Hazrat Inayat Khan’s Urs (which takes place twice a year marking his birth and death). Our products are very popular among Sufis in the West. We try reaching out to local markets during lean periods.”
Sameena grabs a bowl of sequins as soon as she returns from her Friday prayers. The shy teenager, who studied up to class VII, finishes doing a waist belt, tugging the sequins and running through the length with twists and turns of gold thread. There are a couple of designers who guide her. “I am getting faster at this.” The eldest among six siblings, Sameena supports her family.
Then there is the go-getter Atiya. When it’s haggling with retailers for more assignments, Atiya willingly volunteers to go for the “talking job.” She says it was the first time she stepped out of Nizamuddin to take an auto rickshaw to Lajpat Nagar, and CP was like going to another town. “There were times when our kids needed medical attention, but we couldn’t even go to the dispensary at the Nizamuddin basti. Things are getting better now. We even go to the bank and manage our accounts.”
“I have worked here for nine years now. Things were moving really slow here then. There were not enough women coming to Suvidha. But gradually madams (social workers) created space for us to conduct the namaz at the workplace. And things became easier.”
Those who still can’t come out to work, are handed over the material and threads at home. “It gives them the option to earn but it’s really inconvenient for us to go collecting samples from everywhere,” adds Firdaus. No fixed working hours, no problems about working in shifts during ramzan and an all-girls workplace, that’s enough for the time being to help the girls focus on their work.
Eyes on the needle, the heart on the ground and wings flying. That’s really living up to the Sufi philosophy.
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