From darkness, abject poverty and distress to weaving dreams with colours and contours, Lovely Bibi is a winner. Lovely, a 33-year-old housewife turned entrepreneur, lives with her two school going daughters and husband in Nanoor block of Bhirbhum District, West Bengal. Birbhum of West Bengal is a hub of Kantha embroidery stitched by skilled artists to create a magical thread-work. Women of Birbhum weave Kantha in almost every household. Lovely though minimally educated knew the nuances of Kantha weaving since the age of 15.
“There is a large congregation of women doing Kantha embroidery in Nanoor block of Birbhum. Almost every woman in our village is adept in the skills. I too learnt weaving as a hobby in my childhood from my sisters. Kantha for the Bengali folk means embroidered quilt. Kantha stitch comprises of the simplest stitch in the language of embroidery – the running stitch. The origin of this craft traces its history to a period not less than a thousand years. Since then the tradition has come a long way today when the artistic brilliance of the women artists have found expressions in lifestyle products like saree, dress materials, bed and cushion covers etc.,” proclaims Lovely proudly.
Hailing from a community where child marriage is rampant, Lovely was a child bride. Her husband had a government job until he was diagnosed with mental illness and was laid off. Eventually his pension stopped and left the family in utter peril. With moist eyes she says, “The only way the family could survive was on the pittance my in-laws were able to provide. There were days when I had to beg for food and money. We did not know if and when our next meal would come.” Since her husband, who was the only earning member of the family, was incapacitated, the responsibility of feeding the family of five fell upon Lovely.
Once in distress, Lovely found solace and a means of earning money in her artistic skills. Talking about her initial years as an artist she says,
My rudimentary skills learnt in childhood was not enough to make an artist out of me. To further hone and organise my abilities, I joined and completed the Rural Craft Hub (RCH) programme run by Banglanatak dot com, a not-for-profit organisation in Kolkata. That done, I participated in the Diageo-British Council Young Women Social Entrepreneurship Development Programme in Kolkata last year.
A new beginning
Once armed with new and modern design techniques and also with the knowledge of the market Lovely
embarked on her journey as a Kantha artist. However, Lovely was hesitant. Her lack of education, her responsibilities as a homemaker and a nurse to her ailing husband, as well as her low self-esteem all contributed to her lack of confidence. She was unsure about her abilities in the beginning but with constant encouragement from Banglanatak she finally made up her mind. Once she began, there was no stopping her. Lovely had an abundance of enthusiasm and was filled with the energy of a new beginning. Imbibed with confidence, vision and a pathway for the future Lovely has proved that anyone can emerge a victor if one has the belief in one’s self.
The winning saga
Things slowly changed for me. Today I have created business linkages with many small shops in my area as well as in the city of Kolkata. I have travelled to Goa to showcase my products in an exhibition there. My daughters too have started taking interest in the art and have made designer jewellery with Kantha embroidery,
informs the artist. To everyone’s surprise Lovely also approached the Panchayat Pradhan of her village through whom she started providing mid-day meals to a local school, thus supplementing the income she gets from the sale of her Kanthas. She now earns a sizable amount of Rs. 8,000 – Rs. 10,000 a month, which has changed her family’s life. “Today my family’s next meal is certain, my daughters have been reintroduced to school and I am able to pay a doctor to treat my husband’s illness,” says Lovely with great fervour. “I want my daughters to be highly educated and will not let them succumb to the pressures of child-marriage like I did. That is what will give me ultimate happiness,” says Lovely as her face breaks into a lovely smile.