By Aniruddh Naik
My mother has been using a sewing machine since I was five years old. She learnt it while she was in college and found it enjoyable.
But then times changed when I turned six and the company in which my father worked shut down. Too many things to worry about: my education, home loan, monthly expenses and so on. She knew sari fall beading and started doing it for a fee. Money, although in small amounts, started flowing in. Later while growing up I realised that sewing machine symbolised more than a means to contribute to the family's earnings.
Until this day my Mother rues being unable to fulfill her dream of working in a bank. She excelled in shorthand, both Kannada and English. After my birth, she, unlike millions of other mothers, faced two choices -- work or resign. She chose to quit work to take care of me. So when we bought a sewing machine, it became her natural ally and a means to live her unfulfilled dream of working, even if not in an office.
Later, my father got a new job but she didn't stop sewing. She felt it was a productive investment of her time and that it empowered her to earn money.
"A simple sewing machine can be the key to a woman's independence, empowering her to earn for herself and her family."
Many times, when she bought me something she'd proudly announce that the money came from her sewing machine kitty.
A second part of her job entailed networking with other women in order to get various stitching assignments. This led to a long-term relationship with a group of women who not only helped her get more work but also served as a social support system. She was proud to say that she was a busy with work, but also a homemaker.
She told me other stories of women who with the help of their sewing machines saved enough to buy a new house, educated their children and helped their families rise from poverty. Most of these women sewed dresses, blouses and other garments in their kitchen or hall as they had no funds to set up a shop. One such success story is of a woman named Sudha. She did her Bachelor in Arts and struggled to get a job in government schools and colleges. She didn't have any luck there, but she did know how to sew well. With no choice left she started stitching from her house and soon orders poured in. She earned enough money to buy a 100 sq ft shop. She began holding sewing classes for women like her. The shop was only meant for teaching while she continued her business from home. She not only bought a new flat but also educated her two younger brothers.
My mother regrets not being proactive enough to learn how to sew blouses and dresses. Had she done that, she would have earned more and believes she could have bought another house.
This observation reminds me of Bollywood movies of the 70s and 80s where actresses like Nirupa Roy, Lalita Pawar, Sulochana, Achala Sachdev and Leela Chitnis, acting as the Great Indian Maa, were never too far from a dilapidated sewing machine. It epitomised the suffering of a poverty-stricken family, the lone mother (who often had a hacking cough) bearing the responsibilities of running the household and sending her children to school, often unable to afford medicines.
In the real world, though, the sewing machine is more a symbol of empowerment than oppression.
According to a recent report in The Indian Express, many girls in rural and tribal areas opt for sewing courses over other types of vocational training. Most of them start earning as soon as they finish their course. They become entrepreneurs, and that too from the comfort of their homes. Conversely, many boys find it difficult to secure good jobs after training.
A simple sewing machine can be the key to a woman's independence, empowering her to earn for herself and her family. For me, the sewing machine brings back memories of my mother's dreams.
I believe that leading brands such as Usha and Singer will be doing a public service if they emphasise in their advertisements how a sewing machine can bring self-sufficiency, pride, freedom, and societal acceptance. There are many Sudhas residing is every area, in every village, every town, every city. We need to get their stories heard!
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