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  • Shila Desai

Early morning in a desert village

Early one morning on our Kutch Textile Tour, we stumbled serendipitously upon a village with a rich textile tradition. (Actually, all villages in Kutch have a rich textile tradition. It just makes for a great start to my post).

Now, this Meghwal village is a favourite with E.Y.H.O. textilers.

The landscape here is harsh with a fierce sun and desert scrub for vegetation. With frequent droughts and periodic earthquakes, life is difficult. It’s a wonder its people aren’t cowed by the harshness. Instead their response is vibrant and vigorous embroidery.

Embroidery is more than an embellishment for household goods: it is a conduit for personal, social and spiritual expression. Embroidered articles are painstakingly fashioned over a decade or more by women to form an integral part of their dowry and exchanged between individuals and families in order to mark life passages, most commonly marriage.

In the past when child marriage was the rule, mothers taught daughters early on to embroider in order to gather a sizeable dowry.

Early on that sunny morning, we traipsed into the village. Smiles appeared on now-familiar faces, and greetings of “Kemchho!” rang out. Cooking fires sent out wafts of fragrant smoke. Mothers, readying children for school, coaxed freshly oiled hair into plaits.

Readying for school

Kids deemed ready tried to stay out of trouble.

A grandpa convened with a newspaper.

Although some women laid handcrafted merchandise for sale, we were benevolently ignored while the chores of the day got underway.

In a doorway, a young woman made surmah (eyeliner) by swiping the soot off a blackened pot. By her feet, the brass surmah container was encased in a richly embroidered and absolutely beautiful cover. Surmah is prized because it beautifies a woman and wards off the evil eye.

I peeked into a home, and was rewarded by a dazzlingly mirrored and patterned wall. Bonus: a schoolboy proudly posed for a photo.

After the requisite show and tell of the village’s handiwork (for sale, no pressure) we eventually wandered into the nearby school. The children were thrilled at a disruption of their routine—many tall women from aborad! At their teacher’s cue, the children sang their hearts out in a morning prayer.

Reluctantly, we made our way out after promises to return the following year. I look forward to visiting a favourite.

Our beloved textile tour to Gujarat-Kutch-Rajasthan takes off in January. Join us!

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