Two separate exhibitions provide women a chance to step out of their homes and share their talents

Raniben Jivabhai Ayar, a 46-year-old from Gujarat embroiders a pretty kurti. Next to her is Nazish from Pakistan, who does Phulkari work on a tunic. A bunch of textile students huddles around them, watching their fingers move.

Raniben and Nazish are at Brookefields to take part in the handicraft exhibition, organised by RmKV and Self Employed Women’s Association’s (SEWA) Trade Facilitation Centre. The exhibition showcases craft from South East Asian countries and other parts of India. Weavers from Afghanistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Gujarat have come to participate in it.

SEWA, a trade union for women, working in the informal sector, has tied up with Sabah, an organisation funded by SAARC Development Fund, to help craftsmen in South-East Asian countries.

“Our aim is to bring alive dying crafts and help these women become self-reliant,” says Sangeetha Tomar, who handles marketing of SEWA.

“Most of the garments have been left the way the artisans created them,” she says. “We want the weavers to learn marketing techniques. By participating in these exhibitions, they will be in touch with the customers’ needs. In this way they can stick to their traditional craft and still make them relevant in the contemporary world.”

Devumaya Nimpu from Nepal sits weaving a blue sari on a loom. “We also make topis. A shawl takes three days but this sari will take me at least 14 days,” she says.

Saris, stoles, cushion covers, sweaters and home décor featuring Baluchi kandaharjoshi, sapma and tigma weaves, jamdani, patchwork, appliqué and intricate hand embroidery are on display here. Pema Tshering and Gem have carted table mats, shawls, sweat shirts, laptop bags and pouches, made of yak wool, all the way from Bhutan.

Tandin Wangmo, another artisan from Bhutan, sews up a kira, a traditional Bhutanese dress. “We wear Western clothes in Bhutan but, at the end of the day, kira is the most popular dress,” she says with a smile. And there is Anandi, from Kumbakonam, who weaves a bright red Kanchipuram sari.

The crowd around Raniben and Nazish have thinned out. The three women stretch their hands and relax. Nazish says she treasures these moments when she participates in exhibitions across the world. “Before we joined Sabah, we were not even allowed to go out of our homes and talk to neighbours. I love meeting new people and seeing places. This is my second trip to India. I am happy,” says Nazish. Raniben says the best part is she gets to show her work to the world. “Would you have seen my work if I had stayed within the four walls of my house?” she asks. The exhibition is on at RmKV store, Brookefields till January 12

Women power

Self Employed Women’s Association’s (SEWA) was formed in 1972. It has a membership of over 13 lakh women workers from nine states of India. The objective is to offer women workers income, food security, and self-reliance.

The exhibition, says K. Sivakumar of RmKV, is their bit to support women weavers. “To help them focus more on the skills without getting physically exhausted, we have introduced pneumatic looms,” he says.

Women entrepreneur bazaar

Here’s a quick recipe for chola maavu cutlet — mix chola maavu and mochai avarai, shape them and then shallow fry, says S. N. Damayanthi and lets you sample her saththu maavu at the Women Entrepreneur Bazaar organised by FICCI Ladies Organisation. Meenakshi Subramaniam shows off her crochet embroidery table mats and P. Muthulakshmi from Singanallur displays colourful plastic wire koodais that she has hand-made. The stalls dedicated to women entrepreneurs from the grassroots have an interesting line-up — jute bags, millet cookies, pickles, savouries, home-made chocolates, sarees, decorative items and more. Some homemakers have turned entrepreneurs with things they are familiar with — they make healthy snacks. As you sample cholam ribbon pakodas, and raagi murukkus, they brief you about the health benefits of millets. Others make fresh fruit juices, squashes and ready-to-serve juices. Some of them do brisk business as they actively market their range of cookware.

Vanaja Ramraj of FLO says the exhibition this year has more participants. “Thirty six women entrepreneurs from Coimbatore have put up stalls. There’s a dedicated space for established designers. For the upcoming entrepreneurs supported by JSS of Avinashilingam and Wobeda, the bazaar provides a good marketing platform for their products.”

Rama Sivakumar has come here for the second time and she has her Deetya line of chanderis, salwar sets, and kurtis. She is happy that the visitors are mostly serious buyers and not just a floating crowd. At Nyshka Design Studio, the focus is on bridal wear, embroidered blouses and anarkalis. City designer Aparna’s stall buzzes with quirky prints, trendy jackets, crushed georgette sarees, tunics, embroidered headbands and the Bhusattva range of organic silk and cotton fabrics. She also specialises in customised prints (reprinted from a photograph) on cushion covers, bags, blinds and curtains.

The exhibition concludes today at Sri Ramakrishna Kalyana Mandapam. It is open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Entry is free.