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Kantha is a flower of lotus

I have been working with reliable partner for these products in North Bengal but I wanted to see how it is made and who exactly make these. I woke up at 4 am and went to the local station before daybreak. It was a really busy station at that early hour. Out side the station there was a wet market with people selling farm produce. At that station, countless trains repeat arrival and departure, several passengers are packed in the train and get on and off train like big waves. It was still 5 am but all kind of fragrances and smells swirled around me, meaning the station is full of life and is chaotic early in the morning.

On the floor of the station, many homeless live in there after arriving from the suburb as they couldn’t find any jobs in their local village and have some to Kolkata in search of work. They have become daily wage laborers. Some people were brushing their teeth, one woman was trying to change the diaper of her baby. It seems every one was doing what they wanted to do.

Station in Kolkata

This was my first experience in an Indian Railways sleeping train for me in my life. I wanted to sleep but there was no announce of next arrival station and noisy sound of snore from next passenger so that I was almost awake all the way to the destination and wondered, “How do Indian people know the station to get off?”
After arriving at our destination in rural north Bengal, I was surprised by the chaos and over all lack of infrastructure. The initial picture was overwhelming. Lots of people everywhere, it had rained heavily due to the heavy Indian monsoon and the roads were worn out and puddled, one could see animals, children and people all living and mingling on the streets.
Unfortunately I felt that the civic sense was quiet low. Many negative emotions came up to my mind, I just thought “ how can people be educated with their sanitary consciousness? Can I say this situation is made by only lack of education? Do they need legal control not to waste any trash like Lee Kuan yew did in Singapore to develop his country?” So many thoughts went around in my head but I couldn’t find appropriate answer.

At the station in north Bengal

More of residents are Muslim in this community, most of girls aged 15 to 18 years old are ordered by their parents for arranged marriage. Meanwhile, many prostitutions and human traffic occur because this area is very close to the boarder between India and Bangladesh, Nepal. I remember that founder of one organization in Kolkata that was founded to rescue girls from the prostitution said “ When I trace the origin of these kind of prostitutions, I found most girls are coming from Northern Bengal.”

The organization we visited was located in a community 1 hour driving distance from the station. I could visit the founder, as my father in law had set up the meeting with her. She was very kind and impressive lady. While we were eating a lunch together, she told us her dramatic background that she had in her life that made me completely speechless. She told me she was born in here and had a fixed marriage at her 16 years old with a man 32 years old. She born 2 children right after the marriage but unable to stand with her husband’s domestic violence, she divorced with him and escaped from her community. “ It is not allowed to ask the divorce from woman in Muslim community so I was disown by my father and lived in the station in Kolkata for 2 months. I could finally find the job after that.” She spoke to us very powerfully. However, holding her strong will that she wanted to do something more meaningful for the society, she started social activity to give an education opportunity for street children in Delhi with her second husband. This is how she started her long and challenging activity, meanwhile she started Kantha production with women in her old Village. There was a school that she established next to her atelier, she uses the exceeds from Kantha production to school managements. Seeing and hearing her firm and solid attitude and voice, it was clear that she made so much efforts when she has to struggle/ fight with all kind of unfairness like woman discrimination, dubious look from neighbors.

Production of Kantha

While she kindly guided us all divisions of production, she told me “As you can see, there are many kinds of motifs and actually they have their own unique name. For example, this motif looks like Tabla (Indian drum) so it is called Tabla.” her expression broke into smile after a while. I think she loves these beauty of Kantha looks like pointillism more than any other people do. When I talk about the history background of Kantha, it developed from “Dowry (At a marriage, a family of bride have to offer valuable goods or money)” system in India. In this area families, especially mothers, starts stitching Kantha once she born girl and continues that embroidery until her daughter gets married to give as gift for her daughters future married life. So to say, Kantha is an unique and one of kind gift from mother to daughter. I wonder what imagination in the mind does mother have when she was stitching. Does she pray for her daughter’s health and happiness as usual mother in Japan does? Or does she do that for her duty in her community.

A beauty of time taking Kantha

After seeing around her atelier, I slept on the bed in her accommodation. As I was extremely tired with the heat, humidity and long journey to this place made me sleep deeply. After that we said good bye and headed back to the station. While I was seating down in the train, I was looking vacantly at a big photo of Rabindranath Tagore hang on the wall of train, my most respect poet born in Kolkata. I was asking him “I feel I am coward because I feel so happy to go back home. I am nothing but spoiled girl luckily born in Japan, don’t you think so?”

The beauty born in that environment reminds me of Lotus blooming from the mud. I just want many more people to wear that double beauty of appearance and also story when they wear Kantha products.

(Written by Chiaki)