a lesson in the fields..

This wasn’t the first time I was going for training in the village. I worked for an NGO called Manthan to earn extra spending money though the last two cheques were sent home as ‘my first salary!’ I basically taught the women groups in little fringe villages outside of Ahmedabad the importance of perfecting their products by understanding colour, design and good finishing. Studying in the 5th year of textile design in Ahmedabad, I was only left with finishing off a two courses at my own leisure. My boyfriend, with whom I shared an apartment, was also going on a trip to Bangalore for ten days, so I thought this could be a good experience. I was to go to the village called Patdi about three hours away for a ten day long training, where I was to teach patterns for Indian womenswear. My first long training, where I was expected to stay on field for the entire time even if it was just a three hour car journey.

Well, I expected the worst. For a weaving training in another village, we were to stay for a night in their house, which was basic but a little uncomfortable with family staring at your every move. But when we got into a gate about a kilometer and a half away from the village of Patdi, on the highway, was the impressive campus of Gantar. It was a sprawling area by the side of the road in the middle of barren fields. Lines and lines of young trees were swishing in the strong desert winds. We had driven down in a car with the driver, an on field guide Priyar, the Manthan office Kaka, me and my mom. We unloaded our minimal luggage and walked towards the back where there was a row of little bunglows that resembled a Jain dharamshala. Mom and I shared a room while the rest took a room next to ours. I was still astonished at how sophisticated the place was while being simple. There were lawns in the front with stone benches and swings on the porch. The room was beautifully ventilated with the winds howling and circulating in the room from the four windows and two doors.

My mum was visiting her family in Ahmedabad, and decided to tag along under the pretext of helping me in the training for the initial two days. It helped that my fashion design graduate cousin who was to accompany me, cancelled last minute because of severe stomach pain. Our training was scheduled for 2 in the afternoon. So with the morning free and a car at our disposal, we decided to explore Kharaghoda- the salt desert at the border of Kutch. It turned out to be the Kaka’s 48th birthday, so the trip was a celebration of that. It is said that the best thing that grows here is salt. They sift the sands with water and collect salt. There were heaps as high as a truck of salt in many shades of grey to even a pristine white. In the sands where water was collected, the crystals of salt were forming at the edge of water, looking like a raw amethyst rock cut open. We went on and on into the desert looking for what looked like water at the edge, but the more further we went, the further ahead was the water. Then we realized it was a beautiful mirage, the first we witnessed. Other than the not very romantic patches of silver we see on the roads while driving.

Then we drove down to the venue of the training, the two floored house of an old ailing lady, who was kind enough to rent it to us for the month. The ladies had already arrived, about 30 of them from the surrounding villages, all eager to learn more than they already knew about tailoring. I introduced myself and we got on quite well from then on, becoming more like a part of their group rather than a formal teacher-pupil relation. After all I was their age, or younger! I began with explaining how to make paper patterns of simple to complicated kurtas and then actually doing it on the cloth I had bought along with me. It was astonishing how well they picked up and their energy and interest did not waver one bit. My friend had been training them for the last 10 days, and I was here for the second leg of the month long training. She had already told me pointed out the talented lot and the mischievous ones…

As the training took up only 3 hrs of my day, I was lost as to what to do for the rest of the day. Being forewarned about that too, I had two fat books in my suitcase and a lot of food to snack on all day. But still there was way too much time, something I was not used to since the four packed years at college`, where there was one or the other submission to do at the same time as a particular book to finish or a family dinner to attend, all in a day!

The first three days at least mom was around. She loves to talk. Priyar was interesting subject for her and she would not let the poor thing alone for even half an hour! But it was nice to hear them talk of the stars and the planets that govern our lives while we lay flat on the grass gazing at them in the night. There, I confronted mom about my impending marriage, to the guy she had set her mind against. Well, I was already 22 and in my last year heading towards my graduation, and very eligible for marriage in the next two years. But I had already chosen the prospective groom, a ‘South Indian (keralite)’, against my ‘gujarathi jain’ upbringing. All mom could see were our cultural, physical (he was a much darker shade than I) and monetary differences. During the day we sat on the swing discussing all the possibilities of this match, with me urging mum to at least consider him, and meet him. It seems in the quiet of this remote oasis of trees battling the strong winds of the desert fields around it, mom actually listened to me, rather than just hearing me out. In the last entire week of being at my aunts place, we did not get a chance to really talk at all, instead we had just argued about how I was home late for lunch, or she never came back in the afternoon from the visit to a friend, etc. here, we had no choice. Our conversation took on such a turn that when I was being grumpy about putting on sunscreen lotion, she said do “You want to look like a dirty rag, all tanned when you go meet his parents? Go put it on this minute!” I looked at her surprised, and then we both burst out laughing… really laughing from our hearts, as the tension of the future eased away from our minds, to be thought about some other day.

It was not very easy to pass our times, as the day seemed eternally long with only 3 hours of productive work. So we napped, at odd hours. I had carried my water-colour box, brushes and a small sketch book. As a young girl mom had been an enthusiastic painter with many paintings that still hang in their old house in Ahmedabad. She did one recently when my younger sister begged her that she didn’t want anything else as a gift, but a painting on a canvas we had bought her long ago. So on the second day I took out my book and tried painting the many dried leaves in the lawns while mom was boasting about my talents to Priyar and he was happily encouraging her by telling her stories of the other short trainings we had done together. It was getting a bit embarrassing to hear my mom exaggerating though secretly I was reveling in the fact that she was so proud of me, as a person, who I had turned out to be. To divert her attention, I asked her to paint. She hesitated, and finally took the brush and book from me and sat up on the bench looking around for a subject to draw. I sat at her feet reading so that she would not feel awkward and under scrutiny. But when I glanced up she was drawing a bush with red flowers. I had not noticed any flowers yet on this campus. But then she pointed out to the hibiscus plant that had just bloomed with a solitary flower. I must say her observation’s way better than mine, even with glasses at 50!

When we went to have our meals in the canteen, there was rule that after eating, we are required to wash and wipe our plates and spoons dry and place them in the rack. The three days mom was here she’d take my plate away from me and wash it for me. I felt like a little kid every time she did that, and it was a very nice feeling. As if I don’t have to take any responsibility as for those big important things mom was always there. But on the last day I asked her, “now when you are gone, who will do my dishes?” she smiled lovingly at my pout and said “that was what I was just thinking, my baccha.”

We finished the training early that day and mom spoke to the elderly lady, who was the local trainer, to take good care of me and help in every bit that I might need. She also asked Priyar to keep me entertained and when I looked up at her, she looked so worried that I felt like hugging her. “Mom I’ll be fine!” I said asserting my 22 years of age with a scorn to cover up my sudden feeling of helplessness. She got a van immediately that took her to Ahmedabad in less than three hours. My cousin called to confirm when I was back in the room, that evening, alone.

Immediately I missed her presence, the drone of her conversations with people outside on the swing while I slept or read in the bed. When I got up the next day morning to brush, I noticed her bindi stuck to the mirror and smiled. Yes, I miss my mom. She had invariably accompanied me on almost every trip I made related to work or studies. We had spent 10 days together having a lot of fun in Goa for my craft training. She had even followed me to Paris when I went on an exchange there for 5 months. But they were the best 10 days of our stay where we felt alive again as food that tasted like home was cooked everyday and our lunches were packed and we had somebody to come home to in the night.

She calls at one in the afternoon to check if I had my lunch, and asked for a bit of jaggery as the food is always a bit spicy. Then she says with laughter in her voice, “don’t forget to put sunscreen, you have to look good in front of your in-laws, remember?”