7 LIFE LESSONS FROM 7 WOMEN WEAVERS OF ALMORA
Perched on the top of a lush green hill in Almora, stands the Hans Himadri Handloom Centre. Its red brick walls buzz with the hushed voices of the women who work inside in synchronicity with the sounds of their looms in motion. Large wooden blocks laced with finely spun wool gives shape to not just velvety pashmina shawls, colorful nettle stoles or neatly tucked woolen caps but also to the dramatic lives of these women.
‘Himadri Hans Handloom‘ began almost 20 years back with 5 local women of Almora. It had a simple objective—of getting women out of drudgery and reviving the dwindling art of weaving in the mountains. Two decades later, the initiative boasts of two weaving centres where almost 200 women gather together to create hand-spun and hand woven products of materials like Pashmina, Alpaca, Merino and other Natural Fibres.
A few weeks back, I had the honour of sitting across some of them and learning, not only the nuances of their craft but the learnings of their life stories as well, each, emerging out of a personal quest to build quality products and a better quality life for themselves. Seven women shared with me seven life lessons they have learnt so far in their lives and from their looms:
1. The loom is as disciplined as you are
As Hema noticed my struggle of getting the shot right, she whispered to me gently, “Trust the loom and it will trust you back.”
She further added that every craftsman’s tools are a reflection of his/her style, personality and discipline. For a writer, his pen and page are as workaholic and worn-out as he is. For an artist, his brush and canvas are as unfailing in creation or laced with colour as he or she is. The tools are trained with practice and polished with effort. She said that if she skips a day of work with a silly excuse, her loom too will bunk a day of work.
Fuelling the thought in my mind that perhaps this perspective allows us to derive motivation in not just serving the world with our skills but also our tools. To be a good leader, worker, artist, mentor perhaps begins with being engaged with your apparatus of creation and showing respect by using them lovingly and consistently.
2. Threads are fragile like relationships.
If you ever head to a handloom unit and ask for the easiest job to do, you will most certainly be guided to a wheel and asked to fill in the thread reels. These little cylindrical cardboard holders are used to wrap threads, used by the weavers in the process of sewing. You start by aligning one empty reel on the upper handle and move the wheel at a speed that the full reel loads on to the empty one. It might sound like an easy job but in reality it is far from being effortless. The thread breaks often if you are not careful, it gets stuck, comes off the wheel and all the things that you’d never quite anticipated follows soon after. Even if you don’t master the filling in of the thread, there is an imperative learning that you cannot miss here i.e. Threads are fragile like relationships. Not matter how much you try, some threads are bound to break. And there will be knots. That’s the inevitable part of the process but what you can work towards is ironing them out in the overall outcome.
The lady weaver who assigned me the task asked me not to hold the thread too tight for then I was guaranteeing its damage. Perhaps, it’s metaphoric to the message, “real love liberates”. If you control too much, you might be hurting more than building a relation.
3. The will to learn is the first step towards becoming a master
I recall the life lesson of another master craftsman in Uttarakhand who said, “No one is born a teacher, every teacher must learn to be a student first.” The pre-requisite to a good payoff is a greater participation.
If you have the willingness to immerse in the learning routine then all other challenges are beatable. Some people however, don’t even make an attempt to do so because the threat for them is too high, the obstacles too big and the loss to deep. But the truth is—one shapes up one’s knowledge based on the motivation one holds within to learn and improve.
4. Start over. Start over. Start over.
The first time I sat on the loom, I was prepared to shine bright. Noticing the other weavers I thought I would be able to wing it as seamlessly as they were. One shot to the right, one to the left and the foot follows the rhythm- 1, 2, 3, 4… But here, not only was I withdrawn from my capability, but also disillusioned by the notion that anything can be accomplished in one take.
Mamta, the bright-smile, small eyed weaver, who politely taught me to work with her on her loom chanted every single time her thread broke or the piece de-railed or got stuck. She chanted “Start over. Start over. Start over.”
The more time you spend on feeling dejected, the more time you are taking away from making it work again in your favour.
5. Borders are the building blocks
This was fascinating to me as I couldn’t have guessed this on my own. Who pays attention to the borders I thought? It’s the main fabric that needs to feel smooth, look good and interlace evenly. I was corrected though i.e. in case the central part has knots or over-layered threads it can be fixed later with a trick of the needle but if the borders aren’t veracious or well-defined, one will have to restart midway or discard the product completely at the end.
I learnt in this process that defining boundaries is important but taking care of them is imperative. It allows us the room to fail, course-correct and to prepare a proof-read structure around the juicy-meaty content we wish to fill-in centrally.
6. Drafting is crucial as it is the beginning of the process
In life, drafting is a metaphor of having a plan. You cannot sit at a loom and aim for it to magically throwback a colourful patterned shawl. Each crafted product is a vision someone held for it. Thread by thread on the loom block, the pattern was crafted so that the swings of the shot, the lines of the thread and the eyes of the weaver can follow a path.
Having a good draft or a blueprint allows us to return to the original idea every time we drift away due to distraction or self-doubt or over-confidence. Each weaver, at the unit emphasised on the need of drafting well. Any error here would instantaneously translate to weaving a mistake later.
7. Coordination laced with balance equals to contentment
Pushpa laughed when she said, “The loom is an analogy of my life. To weave an impeccable fabric, I have to ensure my legs coordinate with my hands, my hands work parallelly with my eyes and my eyes are following the lead of my mind. It’s the same at home. I have to balance field work with cooking for my children, taking care of my in-laws with that of my husband’s work timings. Each component needs to be well timed and evened for it to work fluently.
So, she wakes up at 4: 30 am, heads to the field to gather pasture for the cattle, returns back at 6am to fetch water. And at 7 am, she prepares breakfast for the kids while getting them ready for school. The husband heads to work at around 9 and at 9:30am she catches the bus to her centre. At 10am she begins to weave. At 5pm she heads to the field again to take care of the farming. At 6 pm, she returns home to prepare for dinner and spend time with her kids. At 8pm everyone is fed and left to watch TV or finish homework. She tends to minor household chores by 9 pm and at 10, she plans for her next day’s to-do list.
“If I slack in any one department” she says “all other arenas will suffer too. Life and loom both are choreographed dance routines”, Pushpa adds poetically.
The courage of these women stands tall as the mountains they belong to, their resilience as vast as the skies that envelope over their homes, their generosity as soft as the river that flows through the crevices and their lessons as powerful as their looms.
Photo Credits: Silvercord Films