‘Sanginee' presents ‘Okhai,' products created by tribal women of Okhamandal.

The dry drought prone region of Okhamandal in Western Gujarat is home for many tribal women whose nimble fingers transform textile and garments into dense field of appliquéd and embroidered flowers, full of stylised animals, birds and trees, set amidst glinting ‘abala' mirrors. The imagery which embraces folk memory and nature's beauty often reflects folk expressions of the tribal way of life, their rituals and legends. Embroidered clothes and artefacts with vibrant colours define a way of life for the Ahirs, Rabaris, Charans and Lohanas, particularly during ceremonial occasions.

It was in this fertile soil of creativity that Tata Chemicals Society for Rural Development (TCSRD) began a pioneering NGO movement aimed at bringing tribal embroidery to the contemporary milieu. It gives women artisans an alternative source of employment. This is the ‘Okhai' movement which has built Self Help Groups around the tribal woman's badge of identity: the ‘bavalo' stitching, the fine appliqué craft, the beautifully placed ‘abala' work and the shimmer of ‘badla' work.

Innovative designs

Today around 450 women are part of the TCSRD's ‘Okhai' experiment. Among them are Lakshmi Bori, Rami Dhula Nagesh, Sabhai Punraj and Zarina Quresh, each handles a specialised job. While Rami works at turning out impeccable embroidery designs, many of them her own innovation with a team of 10 women, Sabai explains quality parameters and  Zarina is an active member of the tailoring unit. Says Okhai Project Manager, Nusrat Dayakumar, “There is a lot of involvement in the area of design by NIFT students, though the process also involves the innate design sensibility and aesthetics of the women embroiderers.' The women do the work at home as they have always done. There is continuity of tradition in the craft work, while new design formats and garment concepts take them to the exciting contemporary world. Pure handloom cotton, Bagru and dabu block prints and other block printed fabrics are used to tailor smart kurtas, kurtis, shawls, stoles and bags. Exquisitely etched elephants and peacocks lend an exotic touch to ‘Okhai' garments and accessories while the juxtaposition of block prints in kurta, stoles and dupattas is an added attraction.

Summery, colourful and purse friendly, the elegant ‘Okhai' garments are about an organic, sustainable way of life both for the weaver and the embroidery-creator, a woman, in the remote villages of Okhaimandal.

The exhibition and sale of ‘Okhai' handcrafted clothing is on at Sanginee, C.P. Ramaswamy Road, Alwarpet, till April 12. ‘Sangini' also showcases handcrafted clothing, saris and accessories of NGOs such as Sasha, Dwaraka and others.

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