Mahua - the fragrance lingers

Living lives of entitlement in Ivory towers of complacency we often forget to acknowledge and stop to appreciate splendid achievements of people who remain unsung. Persons  who are the true faces of great achievements of others.

Mahua Lahiri’s soft voice filled the hall as she gave an emotional account of her journey as a little girl who watched her mother craft excellence to now when she helps and teaches others to craft the same excellence.

She proudly calls herself an artisan - the place where her life began. Her mother was an embroiderer. At the insistence of Ruby mashi her ma spent 17 nights to reproduce a museum kantha piece exquisitely, exactly. Mahua was 10 and remembers this vividly as this launched her kantha journey.  She grew up learning this art from her ma, and got full marks in her work education while the examiner took her artwork for its exceptional quality.

She graduated and got a job ready to contribute to the family kitty. Meanwhile she applied for and got admission into NIFT. She turned down the offer because her income supported her family  and the fees was unaffordable.  Her ma Priti showed Ruby di the admission letter just so that their decision to not send Mahua  to NIFT could be endorsed. Ruby mashi on the contrary ensured that Mahua went there. Her family mortgaged their property and she started studying leather technology,  as that was the only available stream in Kolkata.

In an alien surrounding, despite coming from a Bangla medium school she found her way to the top echelons of her class and eventually was placed in a leather export unit for a huge salary. Her job took her abroad often and she started living the dream with all the perks of a handsome paycheck.

In a Scandinavian country she visited, she found that they took pride in whatever little they had and showcased their identity to the world so grandly. Her heart went back home, to her mother and Bina mashi weaving stories in their kantha wonders. Absolutely wonderful, unparalleled  talent and accomplishment remained unsung?!

We Indians have a rich cultural legacy and provenance, which we singularly ignore. We have always been dismissive of our inheritance.  An outcome of having been colonised for hundreds of years maybe,  but we have never been assertive in the world stage of cultural and art initiatives. Kantha, a craft that  has been embracing sustainability by reusing cloth for many centuries has been relegated to uninspiring pieces of mediocrity. Sustainabilty is a way of life we have been practising since time immemorial. Rituals of putting away fistfuls of rice, using vegetable peels in our cooking, reusing cloth, handing down stories of valour and courage are all symbols of this practice. The world has only recently  been focussing conversations around conservation and preservation. Something that has been built into our lives forever.

Mahua decided to follow her heart. She gave up her blue chip job of ten years and started Hushnohana to train women in Kantha, to reinvent the design elements to modernise the products to make them more acceptable to the demands of modern living. A “sarota’ or betel nut cracker, a motif in the original kanthas have given way to more contemporary designs.

Three years and this savvy entrepreneur has made a mark. Grit determination and vision. Mahua, the flower, the fragrance and beauty lingers. Her achievements have not taken away her simplicity, love and value for the traditional and respect for her original gurus Ma, Bina Mashi, Ruby mashi. Humbling story, relevant to todays world of materialism and modernity with total disregard for our heritage, history, traditional ethos culture or value systems.

A powerful narrative through the Eye of the Needle! Absolutely worth emulating. Check this girl out. I loved her!

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